Before the first commercial shutdown, NBC’s Annie Live! offered: newcomer Celina Smith completely successful performance of “May”; a group of orphans hobble and spin their way in “It’s a Hard Life”; the introduction of Taraji P. Henson’s twisted interpretation of Miss Hannigan as The Grinch who tried to steal an orphan’s Christmas; a very good dog; and Smith concluded the national anthem “Tomorrow”.
That’s all in 20 minutes and if I stop watching Annie Live! and call it a night, NBC will have a small victory on its hands – a production better in every way than the dismal and absurd success The sound of music that started the craze for live music Peter Pan Live was almost killed and the COVID pandemic froze for a year (the delay in mounting Jennifer Lopez has long grown Bye Bye Birdie space is added). Those 20 minutes probably won’t equal your admirably high energy Hairspray or realistic artistic ambitions of The Wiz, but they will accomplish exactly the goal that NBC has chosen Annie in first place six months ago.
A flawed but well-timed musical tailored for less-than-optimistic audiences.
Annie is a musical about finding optimism in the most desperate of circumstances, the story of a little girl with a lot of hardships during a decade of living in an orphanage and an economic downturn. The label “awesome” because its vastness, not its quality, can’t stop her from sticking her chin out, grinning, and looking forward to better days tomorrow. Annie is the musical that America needs now. Or at least it was the musical that distilled its message in such a clear way that NBC could handle and promote its simple optimism.
Surely, if you look deeper, the real musical’s message is that if you can find a rich benefactor, you’ll never need to eat dough again. That’s an even bigger emptiness today, as anyone who’s really paying attention knows that the 2021 version of Daddy Warbucks will be less interested in adopting hordes of girls – the less said here, the better. better – than chartering your own excursions into space and twittering with progressive statesmen. Instead of, replace, Annie Live! was fueled by Halcyon’s optimism for a world in which a white billionaire, a Black orphan, and Franklin Roosevelt could come together and bring the country out of turmoil. And who wouldn’t want to believe that?
To paraphrase the great, late Stephen Sondheim, Annie Not good or bad, it’s just good. It’s a warm cocoa-flavored beverage that lacks enough natural ingredients to call itself “chocolate”. But with a few good performances, one can overlook that Annie insanely preloaded and just keeps replaying three of its best songs to pass the time in the second act; that Daddy Warbucks is a character with no arc at all; that Miss Hannigan, undeniably the show’s best character, disappears for much of the second act; and it’s presented as a fun musical, where the climax is a creepy rich guy excitedly telling a kid that her parents are actually dead, not a couple rubbing has the last name “Mudge”.
Of course, these are problems with Annie like a musical and not necessarily a problem with NBC’s Annie Live! They also just happen not to be problems that director Lear deBessonet has any power to mitigate, and problems that certainly don’t get any better when you let NBC break the commercials every seven or eight minutes once.
So what worked in this Annie? Obviously starting with Smith, who sang beautifully – one could point out the many big notes she cut off instead of keeping, perhaps as much a product of anxiety as anything else – was brilliantly danced and great acting, providing all the sad hope that makes Annie a fundamentally winning character, without being as belligerent as some of our more familiar Annies.
Luckily, if what you want is brooding over child actors, the orphanage group is happy to oblige and I wouldn’t even say that’s an insult. “It’s been a tough life” comes out too early on the show to be a showrunner – and even if nothing in the next 150 minutes comes close to matching its spirit, it’s a happy number, fueled by Sergio Trujillo choreography and perhaps the only time in the entire show where live TV director Alex Rudzinski just put the camera in place and showed us the staged.
I think Henson’s performance is probably better viewed from the mezzanine and Rudzinski is sometimes unfavorably hers jamming the camera in her face. However, the delightful fun Henson gets in the dirtier, more ruthless aspects of Miss Hannigan is still contagious, and it’s the show’s fault, not this production, but the character’s appearance. too lifeless. Tituss Burgess and Megan Hilty are a bit more restrained than I am as I like the Rooster and Lily St. Regis, but they arrived at a time when the show was late and they offered to pick me up. However, does anyone think I would complain about Burgess being so restrained?
As the humdrum final Daddy Warbucks, Harry Connick Jr has a much better address than a part usually devoted to worthy singing. When you sit Connick down at a piano and let him play, he’s amazing, and in “Something Was Missing,” I’m temporarily not distracted by a bald onion-shaped hat that looks as if it’s playing. auditioning for a movie reboot Aliens. I wish Nicole Scherzinger had given Connick more acting, but I never thought of Grace as a major character, aside from the first feature film, when Ann Reinking’s dance was masked for lack of text.
Did not reach the advanced production design level The Wiz (and even Peter Pan, it’s not “nice” to compliment anything about that), Annie Live! did some evocative content with the occasional cave setting, especially in the orphanage and Hooverville scenes. I also appreciate the lack of a distracting stunt cast that has sometimes spoiled these NBC productions. It’s “just” a solid chorus, perhaps keeping as many performers off Broadway as possible.
A mention of Broadway getting back on its feet received one of several loud shouts from the audience, which made the audience feel at ease for any major emotional beat and barely laugh at all. before a quality joke by Harpo Marx. The audience at the venue is happy to be there, and the audience at home is probably happy to have the live TV musical return. And when everyone is happy, Annie is right in its element.