Broadway’s “Annie Live” kicks off as an NBC network exclusive, reaching millions of households with a diverse cast and a timely presentation of a holiday classic.
Rising young actress Celina Smith showcases her ability to embody a wise, witty and street smart “Annie” that is full of emotion and depth. Smith’s natural ability to project emotion in her facial expressions and vocal delivery marks traits of a seasoned actress within a young, budding star.
Other stand outs include former Pussy Cat Dolls lead singer and solo recording artist Nicole Scherzinger with an impressive take on her role as “Grace,” embodying the poise, sensitivity and vulnerability as Mr. Warbucks’ rock and Annie’s nurturer and refuge.
Taraji P. Henson, a pop culture icon whose most notably known for her role as Cookie Lyon on the hit tv series “Empire” and a slew of cult classics, showcases her diversity as an actress and vocalist. Although her role as Miss Hannigan can be a bit campy at times, the feisty, comedic timing keeps you intrigued without overshadowing the main character.
Other cast members offered a nice balance of non-competing characters that complimented each other and allowed the story line to flow with ease. This included Mr. Warbucks’ character, played by Harry Connick, Jr.
Some special additions to the original cast included characters F.D.R., played by Alan Toy and First Lady Roosevelt, played by the first Broadway “Annie” actress, Andrea McArdle.
The production faces both praise and criticism from some viewers due to “Annie” being portrayed as an African-American girl. It will not be the first time, as the role of “Annie” was portrayed by Quvenzhane Wallis in the 2014 movie version, with similar critiques.
However, the race of the cast is not at the forefront of the “Annie Live” production. The seamless dialogue and interactions of actors and actresses are seemingly racially ambiguous.
With the issue of race not overtly expressed, the visual of an African-American “Annie” may be more purposeful than realized, further cementing the themes of rising above oppression and being an outsider.
This is especially evident within the scene of “Annie’s” interaction with a street cop. In the scene, “Annie” thinks fast to save a stray dog. It is evident that “Annie” emotionally identifies her own plight with that of the dog that no one has claimed. The classic scene gains more layers in modern times when portrayed by an African-American “Annie.” On the other hand, it could possibly be a case of “tokenism” as some critics perceive. Nonetheless, race takes a back seat to the skill and brilliant performance provided by the diverse, talented cast.
With occasional political jokes, and references to Broadway returning after a pandemic-spawn hiatus, the production is a fresh and vibrant welcome to a return to theater. A beautifully crafted reminder that tomorrow can indeed bring new beginnings, as the world bounces back from trying times to gain a glimpse of nostalgic inspiration in the form of a Broadway classic.-Angela Fedrick-Lewis