If you have “Tomorrow” stuck in your head, you’re not alone. NBC’s Annie Live! hit the small screen with an unrelenting message of optimism and hope. And while the musical takes place during the Great Depression, there’s no denying we certainly need those sentiments right now.
No really, it was the epitome of a feel good musical. We genuinely felt better after watching it. And not much in the world currently has that effect.
TV and movie vets Harry Connick Jr. and Taraji P. Henson guided newcomer Celina Smith through all the fan favorite numbers, with Smith admirably carrying the show on her young shoulders.
She embodied the positivity and spunk Annie is known for, but never let her performance veer into cheesiness. There was definitely nervousness in her vocals, but they got stronger as the 3-hour show went on.
And let’s not move past the fact that countless little Black kids watched her be Annie, and saw a future in the arts for themselves. It hasn’t been talked about enough, but the diversity of this cast is going to help a lot of theater kids feel accepted.
Since Miss Hannigan is a character you can’t go too far over the top with, Henson took advantage, chewing up every piece of scenery in sight, and we loved every minute of it.
Seriously, her full-throated hatred of the orphans in “Little Girls” was hilarious and also a little heart-breaking. In a few quiet moments she brought an unexpected depth to Miss Hannigan, making us feel a little sorry for her.
Henson and Smith had a fun rapport that made us want to see the two work together again in something more grounded and emotional.
First things first, Harry Connick Jr. was great. That’s not a surprise, he’s extremely talented. What was a surprise was how bad that bald cap was. Honestly, it would’ve been less jarring to just let Daddy Warbucks have hair. It almost distracted from his performance.
If we’re being honest, his dancing also left something to be desired, but Connick Jr. is a jazz artist, so he’s not doing a lot of intricate choreography on stage.
He and the audience got a particularly fun moment when Warbucks revealed he could play the piano and Connick Jr. really got a chance to shine. Other than the Party City bald cap, our only real criticism is that he played it a little too straight.
Even when Warbucks was supposed to be emotional or joking, the character felt overly serious.
As usual, the show stopping moment came with the orphans performing “Hard-Knock Life.” The kids handled the choreography like pros, which some of them probably are, and never let their energy waver. It was the best number of the show.
Other supporting cast members Nicole Scherzinger, Tituss Burgess and Megan Hilty were all good, but only got a few moments to stand out. In fact, Scherzinger blended into the background most of the time.
This is NBC’s sixth musical, and ranks somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t the powerhouse of The Wiz Live! or Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, but it wasn’t the mess of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical either.
Now if we could just stop singing “Tomorrow.”