BET YOUR BOTTOM dollar that the sun will come out tomorrow for Celina Smith, the 12-year-old playing plucky orphan Annie in NBC’s live adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical. “She’s extremely smart, and every once in a while you forget she’s a kid and what’s being asked of her is enormous,” says Harry Connick Jr., the real-life dad of three daughters who costars as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the Depression-era billionaire who reluctantly welcomes Annie into his home as a publicity stunt and then into his heart. Rounding out the cast: Taraji P. Henson as boozy, mean orphanage matron Miss Hanni gan, Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski as the scheming Rooster and Lily, and Nicole Scherzinger as Grace, Warbucks’ warm chief of staff. Here, Connick (left, with Smith and a dog actually named Sandy!) tells us more.
We’ve got to start with the bald cap. What was it like the first time you put it on? It took probably two hours. It was kind of shocking. But I definitely feel like Oliver Warbucks when I’m wearing it!
The musical is set during the 1930s. How will audiences connect with it today? Everybody knows that the show is about hope and everything is going to work itself out no matter how bad the times are. But one thing we’re concentrating on is making sure that this young girl, and all the young women, are being treated with a high level of respect. There’s a lot to Annie: her confidence and poise, her self-esteem.
How has it been working with Taraji? [Laughs] She’s no joke. I had never really seen her do anything like this before. The choices that she makes and the risks that she takes— she’s just a super talent.
You’re a Broadway vet. How will you feel on show day? I’m not the nervous type. When it comes time, let’s go! —Jim Halterman