Taraji P. Henson talks NBC musical’s colorblind casting
BETHPAGE, N.Y. – The sun will come out tomorrow. But Sandy will have to wait.
It truly is late afternoon on a labyrinthine Extensive Island soundstage, wherever the solid of NBC’s “Annie Dwell!” (Thursday, 8 EST/delayed PST) is accomplishing the first entire costume rehearsal of the clearly show just two days just before Thanksgiving. Mop-topped “orphans,” some of them masked, are bemoaning the hard-knock daily life as they clap, stomp and tumble across the ground with cleansing rags in hand. Taraji P. Henson, who plays seedy orphanage head Miss Hannigan, is fanning herself and chugging drinking water from a prop vodka bottle concerning scenes.
Celina Smith, the 12-year-old newcomer picked from 2,000 girls to play plucky ragamuffin Annie, is making ready to serenade stray pooch Sandy with the musical’s signature tune, “Tomorrow.” But the actress’s 4-legged co-star – also named Sandy – is sitting down out this particular rehearsal as crew associates tinker with established changes and digital camera blocking. At any time the consummate experienced, Smith gamely pets the air and cuddles an invisible mutt although she belts out the coronary heart-tugging anthem.
“It feels strange, but it is gonna have to do for now,” Smith says of her pantomiming. “Singing the tune is entertaining, so I never actually head!”
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“Annie Live!” is a splashy Television creation of the vintage Tony-winning show, which initially premiered on Broadway in 1977 and has spawned three film adaptations (most recently in 2014, starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis). The musical, based mostly on a 1920s comedian strip, tells the timeless tale of a cheerful orphan named Annie who wins in excess of grumpy billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Harry Connick Jr.) even though being at his mansion for Christmas.
The demonstrate is NBC’s initial live musical due to the fact 2018’s critically acclaimed (but modestly rated) “Jesus Christ Celebrity Stay in Concert” starring John Legend. Like fellow broadcasters ABC and Fox, NBC has discovered combined achievement with its dwell musical gatherings, which kicked off in 2013 with Carrie Underwood’s “The Sound of Songs Stay,” drawing a strong 18.6 million very same-day viewers, according to Nielsen. Ratings sagged for extra new productions of “Peter Pan,” “The Wiz” and “Hairspray,” the network’s lowest-rated are living musical at 9 million viewers in 2016.
“If we fall short, anyone goes, ‘Uh! We won’t be able to do a musical any more,’ and the complete style receives place on the shelf,” states former NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, who’s generating “Annie.” “There is been a couple reside musicals over the several years that have not done that effectively, like ‘Rent’ and ‘A Xmas Story’ (on Fox). Each time that comes about, we go, ‘Oh, shoot.’ ”
Following NBC canceled its 2019 broadcast of “Hair” due in aspect to the fraught political local climate, Greenblatt arrived at out to government producer Neil Meron during COVID with the notion of undertaking “Annie.”
“We believed, ‘If anyone’s likely to do a are living musical, it would be this one particular,” Greenblatt suggests. “It truly is a big, household-helpful, enjoyment, optimistic musical. And there are not that several blue-chip musicals with titles that are just recognised to all people.”
As opposed to the 2014 movie, which was set in current working day and used pop/hip-hop preparations, “Annie Live!” is trustworthy to the show’s authentic Broadway score and Wonderful Despair-era setting. But it even now resonates today: Warbucks can make a everyday remark about “Broadway having back on its toes yet again” in spite of tough moments, which feels primarily poignant coming off the 18-month pandemic shutdown of New York theaters. Producers also took a colorblind technique to casting with stars like Tituss Burgess as con artist Rooster and Nicole Scherzinger as Warbucks’ head of domestic Grace.
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“We thought, ‘It’s 2022 almost – let us just place people today in these roles that we enjoy,’ ” Greenblatt says.
“In phrases of variety, ‘Annie’ is a vintage and each and every era demands to have their classics,” provides Meron, who with late manufacturing husband or wife Craig Zadan was powering several Television musicals, including ABC’s 1997 “Cinderella” starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. “It was the same theory even then: If you are heading to be redoing it, you want to allow the new generation very own it. And I assume the way we solid (‘Annie’) and we are approaching it is for the latest audience.”
Henson grew up venerating Carol Burnett’s Hannigan in the 1982 “Annie” film. “This is a job I certainly didn’t consider I would at any time perform,” she claims. “I have not observed a Black lady portray Skip Hannigan nonetheless … and that’s the lovely factor about these plays that have been all-around for a prolonged time: just obtaining different men and women to perform the similar characters with their interpretation.”
The “Empire” star examined musical theater as a drama student at Howard University. While she sang on “Saturday Night time Reside” and A few 6 Mafia’s Oscar-successful “It is Difficult Out In this article for a Pimp,” “I will not assume a whole lot of my supporters know this about me,” Henson claims. “This is genuinely a probability for people today to see me complete in this gentle.”
Like Henson, Connick was acquainted with “Annie” by way of John Huston’s film and has a theater qualifications, starring in the hottest Broadway revival of “The Pajama Recreation.” He appreciates the “advanced” nevertheless “superb” romance between Warbucks and Annie – a dynamic that Smith elevates.
“If you notify her something, she incorporates that into her (overall performance) quickly,” Connick says. “She’s really existing, so intelligent and just a serious pleasure. I totally adore her.”
Smith, an Atlanta native, has appeared in Nickelodeon sitcom “Youthful Dylan” and the nationwide tour of Disney’s “The Lion King” as younger Nala. But she’s the very first to admit she under no circumstances saw herself as an actress and pursued gymnastics for a long time.
“As my mother likes to say, my cartwheels ‘weren’t obtaining any better’ – which is a complete-blown lie,” Smith says, guffawing. “My cartwheels had been high-quality.”
At 7, she got her to start with style of doing when she sang Jessie J’s “Price tag Tag” at an arts summer months camp. Flash ahead 5 several years: Smith landed “Annie Live!” after a number of auditions around Zoom. “She felt reliable and not like a child accomplishing Shirley Temple,” Greenblatt says. In addition, adds Meron, “she sings like ridiculous.”
As Thursday’s stay broadcaststrategies, “I am most excited for my close friends and spouse and children to arrive to the exhibit,” Smith suggests. “I hope they’re as blown away as I was when I acquired the information I’m enjoying Annie. I just want to signify for my persons that I like.”