HomeArts & EntertainmentTV & ShowbizAnnie Live! thrills audience with Celina Smith, 12, dazzling in title role...

Annie Live! thrills audience with Celina Smith, 12, dazzling in title role of legendary Broadway hit

Celina Smith stunned while playing the title role during the Annie Live! presentation on Thursday of the legendary Broadway musical on NBC, alongside superstars Nicole Scherzinger and Taraji P. Henson.

The  actress, 12, starred as little orphan Annie in the production and blew the live studio audience away from the start with her powerful performance of the show’s iconic song Tomorrow.

The three-hour long show began with an unconventional start with cast members including Celina taking the stage wearing cozy jackets and sweatpants. They ran on stage and then quickly removed their outer layers to reveal their show costumes underneath. 

Speaking before her appearance on the show, Celina said: ‘I want to be able to represent the role the best way I can and add my own personality to it. Before the 2014 version, there wasn’t a lot of representation. I want little Black girls like me to see me as Annie, and I want to be a role model.’

Stellar performance: Celina Smith stunned while playing the title role during the Annie Live! presentation on Thursday of the legendary Broadway musical on NBC

Following the spellbounding opening, Celina, who also stars on Tyler Perry’s show Young Dylan, took center stage to sing the show’s opening song Maybe wearing an orange cardigan as other young actors could be seen plopping down behind her onto their beds on the orphanage set.

The mesmerizing performance by Celina was on par with the commanding presence of Empire star Taraji, 51, who played the mean orphanage master Miss Hannigan. Taraji’s eccentric character appeared to relish punishing the other orphan cast for Celina’s escape attempt and ordered them to scrub their room. 

The punishment gave Celina’s co-star orphans Molly, played by Felice Kakaletris; Kate played by Cate Elefante; July played by Sophie Knapp; Tessie played by Tessa Frascogna; Duffy played by Arwen Monzon-Sanders and Pepper played by Audrey Cymone; a chance to shine by singing a rousing rendition of It’s A Hard Knock Life. 

They not only sang but mesmerized the audience with a synchronized dance number to the song that included acrobatics from backflips to cartwheels. Their performance also included a rousing step routine in which they stomped around in unison.

Strong performances: Celina delivered along with Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell and Harry Connick Jr as Daddy Warbucks

Strong performances: Celina delivered along with Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell and Harry Connick Jr as Daddy Warbucks

Orphanage life: Annie ran away from the orphanage in a futile attempt to find her parents

Orphanage life: Annie ran away from the orphanage in a futile attempt to find her parents

Taraji, wearing cat-eye glasses with a purple dress, did not hold back when she belted out her song Little Girls.

‘If I wring little necks surely I would get an acquittal,’ she sang as she angrily ripped the head off a doll and threw it across the room. ‘Some women are dripping in diamonds, some women are dripping in pearls. Luckily me. Lucky me look at what I’m dripping with Little Girls.’

Miss Hannigan screamed when the girls ran around her and then blew her whistle to make them stop. She appeared to relish showcasing the mean side of her character and told Celina ‘I’m going to snatch your face off,’ when she was returned to the orphanage by Officer Ward.

Dramatic entrance: Taraji P. Henson, 51, who played the mean orphanage master Miss Hannigan, made a dramatic entrance during the three-hour live performance

Dramatic entrance: Taraji P. Henson, 51, who played the mean orphanage master Miss Hannigan, made a dramatic entrance during the three-hour live performance

Great voice: The Empire star impressed with her strong singing voice

Great voice: The Empire star impressed with her strong singing voice

Center stage: The spotlight was on Miss Hannigan as she took center stage for Little Girls

Center stage: The spotlight was on Miss Hannigan as she took center stage for Little Girls

Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole, 43, put on an elegant, sophisticated display for her portrayal of Daddy Warbucks staffer Grace Farrell. Her outfits that ranged from a sleek blue suit paired with a blue hat and later to a flowy yellow slim cut dress complimented not only her acting but also her dancing.

Nicole dazzled when she danced and sang We Got Annie in the yellow dress effortlessly doing slow motion splits in the air as she was lifted by another dancer during her performance. When the dance ended, she was a little out of breath and took a moment to drink some water. 

Harry Connick Jr., 54, played Daddy Warbucks, and received a rousing applause from the live studio audience when he made a sly reference to Broadway rebounding.

Sophisticated star: Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, 43, put on an elegant, sophisticated display for her portrayal of Daddy Warbucks staffer Grace Farrell

Sophisticated star: Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, 43, put on an elegant, sophisticated display for her portrayal of Daddy Warbucks staffer Grace Farrell

Curly hair: Annie pointed to her curly hair as Grace told Miss Hannigan about the characteristics that Warbucks was seeking in an orphan for the holidays

Curly hair: Annie pointed to her curly hair as Grace told Miss Hannigan about the characteristics that Warbucks was seeking in an orphan for the holidays

Yellow dress: Nicole dazzled when she danced and sang We Got Annie in the yellow dress

Yellow dress: Nicole dazzled when she danced and sang We Got Annie in the yellow dress

Big city: Daddy Warbucks, Annie and Grace danced while enjoying time in New York City

Big city: Daddy Warbucks, Annie and Grace danced while enjoying time in New York City

‘I’m glad to see Broadway getting back on its feet in spite of the hard times,’ said Warbucks, who spoke in reference to the Great Depression but earned an applause from the audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage, New York, as his line resonated in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The bald cap worn by Harry to play Warbucks was mocked on social media, but the actor stood out while singing N.Y.C. and also played piano and sang Something Was Missing while dancing with Celina.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess, 42, who played con artist Rooster showed up with Megan Hilty, 40, who played Lily St. Regis and did a fun group dance number to the song Easy Street. Tituss and Megan were also entertaining when when they showed up later in costume to falsely claim they were Annie’s parents.

Starring role: Following on from the 2014 movie adaptation of the show, in which Quvenzhané Wallis played the role, Celina spoke about wanting to bring further representation as another black girl in the part (Quvenzhan

Starring role: Following on from the 2014 movie adaptation of the show, in which Quvenzhané Wallis played the role, Celina spoke about wanting to bring further representation as another black girl in the part (Quvenzhané, pictured) 

Rich guy: Harry Connick Jr., 54, played Daddy Warbucks, and received a rousing applause from the live studio audience when he made a sly reference to Broadway rebounding

Rich guy: Harry Connick Jr., 54, played Daddy Warbucks, and received a rousing applause from the live studio audience when he made a sly reference to Broadway rebounding

Broadway reference: 'I'm glad to see Broadway getting back on its feet in spite of the hard times,' said Warbucks, who spoke in reference to the Great Depression but earned an applause from the audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage, New York, as his line resonated in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Broadway reference: ‘I’m glad to see Broadway getting back on its feet in spite of the hard times,’ said Warbucks, who spoke in reference to the Great Depression but earned an applause from the audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage, New York, as his line resonated in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Terrific trio: The terrific trio of Megan Hilty as Lily St. Regis, Taraji as Miss Hannigan and Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan danced together while they plotted their scheme

Terrific trio: The terrific trio of Megan Hilty as Lily St. Regis, Taraji as Miss Hannigan and Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan danced together while they plotted their scheme

Presidential role: Alan Tay as President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Annie performed Tomorrow again and was joined by the president and his staff

Presidential role: Alan Tay as President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Annie performed Tomorrow again and was joined by the president and his staff

There were only a few minor technical glitches in the live performance when a camera and a cue board made it into the shot. Even some of the commercials from Walmart , Fisher-Price, Mattel, Wendy’s featured iconic Annie songs and references.

For the show’s finale, Celina, dressed in the iconic Annie costume of a red dress with white sash and collar, took the stage with the entire cast for the inclusive big dance number to the song A New Deal For Christmas. They were even joined by members of the audience who danced behind them.

Annie’s beloved dog Sandy also was on the mark during the live production and ran to Annie when she called for her while being questioned by Officer Ward and also ran up to her during the final number.  

Nice try: Miss Hannigan went along with the plan by Rooster and Lily to pretend they were Annie's parents

Nice try: Miss Hannigan went along with the plan by Rooster and Lily to pretend they were Annie’s parents

Big finish: For the show's finale, Celina, dressed in the iconic Annie costume of a red dress with white sash and collar, took the stage with the entire cast for the inclusive big dance number to the song A New Deal For Christmas

Big finish: For the show’s finale, Celina, dressed in the iconic Annie costume of a red dress with white sash and collar, took the stage with the entire cast for the inclusive big dance number to the song A New Deal For Christmas

Happy family: Warbucks was able to adopt Annie after the FBI intervened

Happy family: Warbucks was able to adopt Annie after the FBI intervened

Annie Live was NBC’s first live musical since its triumphant Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert in 2018. 

The live production closely followed the Annie musical that premiered on Broadway in 1977 and was revived in 1997 and 2012. The 1977 original show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran for 2,300 performances. 

The Annie musical has been adapted many times for the screen, including a 1982 film version featuring Carol Burnett as Miss Agatha Hannigan, another in 1999 featuring Kathy Bates as Miss Agatha Hannigan and one in 2014 starring Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role and Cameron Diaz, 49, as Miss Colleen Hannigan.

Good dog: Annie's beloved dog Sandy also was on the mark during the live production and ran to Annie when she called for her while being questioned by Officer Ward

Good dog: Annie’s beloved dog Sandy also was on the mark during the live production and ran to Annie when she called for her while being questioned by Officer Ward

Following on from the 2014 movie adaptation of the show, in which Quvenzhané Wallis played the role, Celina spoke about wanting to bring further representation as another black girl in the part. 

She told Ebony: ‘I want to be able to represent the role the best way I can and add my own personality to it. Before the 2014 version, there wasn’t a lot of representation. I want little Black girls like me to see me as Annie, and I want to be a role model.’

On advice given to fellow young actors, she said: ‘My advice is not to get too attached to the role. There will be “no’s,” and you’re going to have to get used to it. You’re going to want to yank your baby hairs out. It’s a matter of patience and time; it’s going to suck. But just know, your time is going to come.’

Final number: Sandy also ran up to Annie on cue during the final number

Final number: Sandy also ran up to Annie on cue during the final number

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