Thanks to Harry Connick Jr., a certain musical is getting one of the most fit Daddy Warbucks it's had to date.
The Primetime Emmy and Grammy winner and Tony nominee is the latest performer to embody the billionaire who becomes the surrogate father to the title orphan as NBC presents “Annie Live!” Thursday.
The latest of the stagings brought to the network by executive producer Neil Meron (along with his late, longtime professional partner Craig Zadan earlier) casts Celina Smith as the spirited Annie. The cast also includes Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) as sinister orphanage operator Miss Hannigan; Megan Hilty (replacing the COVID-19-impacted Jane Krakowski) and Tituss Burgess as schemers Lily St. Regis and Rooster; and Nicole Scherzinger as Warbucks' assistant Grace.
“I'm approaching this like I do anything, kind of like a blank slate,” New Orleans native Connick says of playing Warbucks in the show that originally opened on Broadway in 1977.
“I've done my homework to figure out who this guy is. Even though this comes from a comic strip from almost 100 years ago, I've tried to figure out what makes him tick. I've tried to build him up slowly, and that's what rehearsals are for, at least for me.”
Though Connick acknowledges that Warbucks typically has been depicted as “kind of a heavy-set guy, I don't really think that matters. What does matter is that he's bald and he's obviously dressed for the part. This guy is worth a heck of a lot of money, and he enjoys the finer things in life.”
Connick came to “Annie Live!” as no stranger to the score's music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, encompassing such standards as “Tomorrow,” “It's the Hard-Knock Life” and “You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
“I've seen the 1982 film countless times,” Connick reports. “I watch it with my kids. And 10 or 15 years ago, I did an album of songs from productions that brought me back to when I was a kid – and I did four songs from 'Annie,' so I know that music pretty well.”
As for his Annie, Connick declares Smith (who previously was in a national tour of “The Lion King”) “an amazing child. She's incredibly bright and just a powerhouse performer. Whatever I dish out, she'll throw right back, and I feel like I'll be friends with her for years to come.”