Annie Live: Premiere Date, Cast And Other Things We Know About The NBC Holiday Special

Little Orphan Annie Comic

Annie is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. The story of a spunky, kind-hearted orphan has melted the hearts of many for over 40 years, which is why it makes perfect sense that NBC would want to create their own version of this beloved musical. Annie Live! is quickly becoming one of the most highly anticipated events of the 2021 fall TV schedule and holiday season.

Like previous musical events, Annie Live! will play out live during its broadcast. This will give the show and its performers the same adrenaline and pressure as a live theatrical production. The cast can’t mess it up. Luckily for NBC, Annie Live! has a very talented cast, who will not only bring this beloved musical to life but keep the show from going off the rails. As we wait for Annie Live!, let’s look at some things we already know about NBC’s latest musical production.

Annie Live logo

Annie Live Premieres On NBC In December

Following in the tradition of many other NBC musicals, Annie Live! is a December event. Like the musical that started it all, The Sound of Music Live!, Annie Live! Premieres in the first week of December. It will air on December 2nd at 8:00 p.m. EST.

This NBC Musical is likely to have a runtime of over 2-hours, so make sure to make room in your TV schedule for this one.

Taraji P. Henson in Empire

Annie Live Includes An A-List Cast Led By Taraji P. Henson

Annie Live! has one of the most impressive NBC musical casts yet. It has an array of talented actors and singers. Taraji P. Henson will be the dubious Miss Hannigan. Many greats have played this character, but fans of the 1982 movie version may remember Hannigan best with Carol Burnett’s version.

Many may know Henson from her role as Cookie on Empire. She has also appeared in films and shows such as Hidden Figures, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Think Like A Man, and Person of Interest.

Harry Connick Jr. is playing one of the other main adult leads, Daddy Warbucks, the man who Annie comes to live with and she warms his cold Scrooge McDuck level heart. Daddy Warbucks was most recently played by Jamie Foxx in the 2014 version of Annie. The character in that Annie was called Will Stacks.

Harry Connick Jr. may recently be known to some for his judging stint on American Idol. The musician/actor also appeared in the films Hope Floats, Independence Day, P.S I Love You, and Dolphin Tale. Connick Jr. also had roles in Cheers, Will & Grace, Kevin Can Wait, and Law & Order Special Victim Unit.

Nicole Scherzinger plays Grace in Annie: Live. Grace has been played by many but some of the most recognizable versions have been played by Ann Reinking, Audra McDonald, and Rose Byrne. The former Pussycat Doll lead singer has been a judge and mentor on various international versions of X-Factor. More recently, she's a judge on The Masked Singer. She also appeared in Ralph Breaks the Internet, Dirty Dancing (the 2017 TV movie), Moana, and How I Met Your Mother.

Annie: Live will give us an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reunion with both Titus Burgess and Jane Krakowski appearing in Annie Live! Tituss Burgess will be playing the role of Miss Hannigan’s brother Rooster Hannigan. Jane Krakowski will be playing Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s partner in crime.

Krakowski recently showed off her musical chops in Schmigadoon! She also recently appeared in Dickinson, At Home with Amy Sedaris, and The Willoughbys. Burgess appeared as James Cleveland in Respect.He also recently appeared in Central Park, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, and Dolemite is My Name.

Most of the Annie Live! cast have prior Broadway, play, or musical experience.

Celina Smith in Young Dylan

Annie Live Will Star 12-Year Old Celina Smith To Play The Title Character

For the lead role of Annie, NBC cast newcomer Celina Smith. Smith’s main TV role has been as Rebecca in Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan. Smith also played Young Nala in the national touring company version of The Lion King.

When Smith was announced as the lead of Annie Live!, she released this statement:

It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of the talented young ladies who have played Annie before me and I can't wait to start this journey.

We’re excited to see Celina Smith put her own stamp on the role. Quvenzhane Wallis played Annie in the 2014 Annie.

Sarah Bareilles and John Legend in Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert

Annie Live Is NBC’s First Live Musical Since 2018

NBC has made a string of live musicals since 2013. They include Sound of Music Live!, Peter Pan Live!, The Wiz Live!, Hairspray Live, and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. In 2020, NBC released The Grinch Musical but it was pre-taped. This means that 2018’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert was the last actual live musical from NBC.

Annie Live! will be the Peacock network’s return to live productions after a three-year hiatus. This likely pressures NBC to try to reignite that passion and interest that sparked in 2013. At one point, live musicals were so popular that other networks were trying to repeat NBC’s success. For example, Fox did their own versions with Rent: Live and Grease Live!

Even if NBC doesn’t repeat the success of some of the highly viewed live musicals, it should score decent viewership for NBC because of the general popularity of Annie.

Aileen Quinn in Annie

Annie Live Has An Impressive Production Team

Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron, and Alex Rudzinski will be executive producing Annie Live! Neil Meron and Robert Greenblatt have produced nearly all of NBC’s musical productions--excluding The Grinch Musical. Neil has also produced Drop Dead Diva, Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias, Smash, and Chicago.

Robert Greenblatt was executive producer of Six Feet Under and One on One. Greenblatt is best known for running many networks, so he’s helped develop many hit TV shows, like The X-Files, Dexter, and The Voice. He was the chairman of NBC Entertainment from 2011 until 2018.

In 2019, he took over as chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment until his departure in 2020. Lear deBessonet and Alex Rudzinski will be directing Annie Live! deBessonet has been a part of the theater scene for a while, and in 2019, she took over as Artistic Director of Encores! Rudzinski has directed episodes of The Masked Singer, and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Hairspray Live!, and Grease Live!

The Annie Live! team also includes Sergio Trujillo, who is managing choreography. Jason Sherwood, who is overseeing production design, Stephen Oremus, who is directing the music, and Emilio Sosa, who leads the costume design.

Quvenzhane Wallis in Annie

Annie Live Was Chosen Because Of Its Ability To Inspire Hope

The story of Annie is a very hopeful one. It’s about a young orphan who goes from poverty and loneliness to a life full of wealth, love, and happiness. That’s one reason why Robert Greenblatt and others chose Annie as the next live production.

When Annie Live was first announced, Greenblatt had this to say about the story of Annie and its relevance to today:

Even though it was written 40 years ago, ironically in the aftermath of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam war, I think people are looking for hope after a time of so much division and the isolation of the pandemic.

In an interview with Forbes, when asked why he was adapting Annie for NBC, Greenblatt gave this response:

From my years at various networks, I know how hard it is to find big, family musicals. There aren't that many. The show is set in 1932, not long into the Roosevelt administration. The country was rebuilding. People compare the time of the musical to the challenges we’re facing today. It's a show about optimism and hope and the power of this little girl to change the world. It’s a perfect show for our time.

You can catch Annie and the gang when Annie Live! premieres on NBC on December 2nd.

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.