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With Annie Live!, "hate-watching" NBC's live TV musicals has evolved into "begrudging appreciation-watching"

  • "Annie Live! was a good version of the musical Annie. That isn’t intended as a compliment," says Kevin Fallon. "We could convene a salon to discuss the questions that this show brings up from a 2021 perspective. What is Annie, if not government propaganda? Why do we praise Hamilton when Annie pioneered the idea of Cabinet meetings as a musical number? Who will be brave enough to allow Daddy Warbucks to have hair? And, mostly, how have we gaslit ourselves into thinking Annie is a good musical? This is where the tension lies. I can make fun of so many aspects of Thursday night’s Annie Live! broadcast on NBC, but those things are an issue with the material itself and, mostly, not to do with the wholesome enthusiasm with which the production was mounted. And, on this cold December night, it was a genuine hoot to snuggle into my throw blanket with a glass of wine and do as my sexuality compels: Support Megan Hilty’s career in any way, shape, or form. It’s rewarding to see that 'hate-watching' has evolved to 'begrudging appreciation-watching.' Those live versions of Sound of Music and Peter Pan were Patients Zero and One of the 'hate-watching' phenomenon, where people tuned in with ravenous giddiness to mock and insult. As a person who adores musical theater and every day wishes he was talented enough to do it, it’s a pleasure to have these live musicals broadcasts, both for families to watch and for bitter gay men drunk and alone on their couch. When I scrolled through Twitter Thursday night, I saw people poking fun, sure. But it was mostly in the spirit of 'aren’t we lucky that this even exists to make fun of?'"


    • Annie Live! was a likable reprieve from current hard times -- it felt like the best sort of community theater: "The show’s staging allowed songcraft and showmanship to be the stars; numbers played out against minimalist backdrops, and the live audience was largely heard in eruptive applause but seen only in shadow," says Daniel D'Addario. "The scant amount of stage dressing — an American-flag scrim for Annie’s meeting with Franklin Roosevelt, a bouquet on an end table and a staircase to evoke the grandeur of Daddy Warbucks’ home — seemed intended to rhyme with the show’s message of scrappy resilience and high-spirited hope. Even as viewers surely understood they were watching a broadcast bolstered by the resources of NBC, it was possible to believe that this was something like the best sort of community theater. Which means that certain flaws could get written off by the viewer somewhat easily. Before moving on to the full-throated praise, it’s worth noting that, say, Harry Connick Jr.’s iffy styling in a surrealistic bald cap pulled focus, and was best explained away as an occupational hazard of trying to make a star ready to play the role of a famous cueball. Connick’s occasionally being a beat behind on lines suggested, to the charitably inclined viewer, just how far the cast in general had come in order to bring this production to air at all. It feels unsporting, after all, to pick on a production that seemed so resolutely determined to entertain — and one whose key flaws may be inherent in the source material, a show one loves, if one does, because of its flaws as much as despite them."
    • Annie Live! finished strong after a rough start: "The Annie Live! ensemble is simply fantastic," says Valerie Complex. "They are the most exciting part of the show and are the glue holding the production together. These talented people don’t miss a beat. There are some stand-out performances and fun, memorable numbers in the production. The ensemble and their ode to President FDR’s downfall is harmonized to perfection. Scherzinger delivers a lively performance as Miss Ferrell, and her best musical number is when Annie first enters the Warbucks mansion. 'You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile' is a cute number, and the young ladies are having a good time just being a part of the production. But it isn’t perfect. The staging of the set is sometimes awkward. Some shots show audience members sitting behind set pieces with no way to see what’s happening in front of them. Outside of the distracting staging, the show starts with shots out of focus and shaky and that aren’t rectified until 90 minutes in. It adds some new components to the story to give it a 2021-relatable feel, but adding and stating that Warbucks is a Republican adds nothing to the overall story. That wasn’t an issue of contention before, so why add it in now? It’s wince-inducing and unnecessary."
    • It helps that Annie Live! just feels like a nice thematic fit for our current moment: "There’s something poignant about its lighthearted look at the power of optimism in the face of the Great Depression," says Caroline Siede. "(Hope you enjoyed that Herbert Hoover history lesson, kids!) Plus its celebration of found family is lovely too. Though this is definitely a fun-first show, I actually found myself surprisingly moved by Connick Jr.’s mournful reprise of 'Maybe' when Daddy Warbucks thinks he’s going to have to say goodbye to little orphan Annie. And by the time Annie and Warbucks expressed their love for one another after she finds out her biological parents died years ago, I was full-on tearing up. Annie Live! does what these live musicals should have been doing from the start: Pick strong source material, cast it well, and embrace the unique format of live theater, rather than try to turn it into something else. Perfectly paced and anchored by Smith’s star-making breakthrough performance, Annie Live! proved to be a lovely way to spend a Thursday night amidst the busy rush of the holiday season and the general scariness of the world right now. While so many of the previous live musicals have felt like fleeting ephemera I’ll never rewatch again, Annie Live! is one I might actually be tempted to revisit tomorrow."
    • Celina Smith and Harry Connick Jr. really delivered portraying Annie and Daddy Warbucks, respectively: "As Annie, Celina Smith brought a clear voice and all the sunny enthusiasm necessary to carry the show," according to Kathryn VanArendonk and Jackson McHenry. As for Connick, they write that it was great to have a Daddy Warbucks who could sing: "Of course most stage productions cast excellent vocal performers for Warbucks, but in many movie versions or the high-profile filmed performances, Warbucks tends to go to actors who have the gravitas and gruffness over the voice. A Warbucks who’s almost hammy during the songs, as Connick plays him, is a fun shift for how the character is often portrayed. It makes him warmer, but it also feeds into the character’s ego in a way that feels right for such a pompous guy."
    • Annie Live! was perfectly fine, but there were some weird moments, from Harry Connick Jr.'s bald cap to the odd camera work to the disappearing dog
    • How Nicole Scherzinger pulled off an Ann Reinking tribute: “No one’s ever really done this song since Ann,” Scherzinger says of Reinking, who died last year. “I really want to make her proud. So I told (choreographer Sergio Trujillo), ‘I want this to be something really special. I want to push the limit and really be challenged.’”
    • Harry Connick Jr’s "Daddy Warbucks" bald cap earned quite a Twitter roasting: As EW put it, "the crinkly skin folds, the unnatural blending, the covering up of Connick Jr.'s perfect head of hair — it's all such a sin. The cap had EW staffers dreading any time the crooner had to turn his head lest He Who Shall Not Be Named burst forth. Annie doesn't have to have bright red hair, which begs the question: Why did Daddy Warbucks have to be bald?"

    TOPICS: Annie Live!, NBC, Celina Smith, Harry Connick Jr., Nicole Scherzinger, TV Musicals