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`Annie Live!` has found its title character in Celina Smith. (Photo by Kahran Bethencourt/CreativeSoul Photography/courtesy of NBCUniversal)
"Annie Live!" has found its title character in Celina Smith. (Photo by Kahran Bethencourt/CreativeSoul Photography/courtesy of NBCUniversal)

NBC finds its Annie, and her name is Celina Smith

Press Release

Tue, Aug 24th 2021 12:30 pm

Following national search, 12-year-old actress lands coveted title role in holiday spectacular ‘Annie Live!’ set for Dec. 2

√ Burgess and Scherzinger also added to cast

After a nationwide search that brought forth the country’s most talented and exuberant young performers, Celina Smith has landed the title role of Annie in NBC’s upcoming holiday production of “Annie Live!” 

Already a triple threat at the age of 12, Celina will light up center stage with an all-star ensemble that includes Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, Harry Connick Jr. as Daddy Warbucks, Nicole Scherzinger as Grace and Tituss Burgess as Rooster. The live musical event will air Thursday, Dec. 2 (8 p.m. ET/PT), on NBC.

The Atlanta ingénue will perform some of musical theater’s most beloved numbers, including “Maybe,” “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Celina began her career as Young Nala in the national touring company of “The Lion King” and can also be seen on the series “Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan.”

“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,” she said.

“Annie” is one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has been licensed and performed in 50 countries and translated into eight languages. Based on the Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” that debuted in 1924, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1977 and initially ran for over four years.

“Annie Live!” will be executive produced by Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron and Alex Rudzinsky, with Lear deBessonet and Rudzinsky sharing the directing duties. Choreography will be led by Sergio Trujillo. Jason Sherwood will oversee production design. Stephen Oremus will orchestrate the music direction. Emilio Sosa will lead costume design. The live event is being produced by Chloe Productions. 

•Six-time Emmy Award nominee Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) will be scheming and dancing his way to Easy Street in the scene-stealing role of Rooster.

“I've always wanted to be a villain,” said Burgess, who will play the underhanded brother of the ruthless Miss Hannigan, played by Henson. Together they will hatch a plan to deceive Connick Jr.’s Daddy Warbucks and Scherzinger’s Grace to make a fortune off of little orphan Annie.

Burgess earned five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series and two Critics’ Choice TV Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his work in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” He can currently be seen in the animated musical comedy series “Central Park” and appears as Rev. Dr. James Cleveland in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect.”

A veteran of the stage, Burgess made his Broadway debut in 2005 as Eddie in “Good Vibrations” and has held many memorable roles, including Hal Miller in “Jersey Boys,” Sebastian the Crab in “The Little Mermaid” and Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the 2009 revival of “Guys and Dolls.” 

•“We think she’s gonna like it here!” 

Global superstar Scherzinger will take on the role of Grace, Daddy Warbucks’ chief of staff who welcomes Annie with open arms and a loving heart, in NBC’s “Annie Live!”

“I’m so excited to be playing the role of Grace Farrell for NBC’s ‘Annie Live!’ Musical theater has always made my heart soar, so I’m over the moon to join this amazing cast for such a great classic,” Scherzinger said. 

Scherzinger is best known as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, one of the world’s biggest girl bands. Grammy-nominated Scherzinger has accrued No. 1 singles globally with expansive music accomplishments across a multitude of genres, including performances with opera legend Andrea Bocelli and an Olivier Award nomination for her role in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” in London’s West End. Having reunited the Pussycat Dolls in 2019 with a viral television performance and a new No. 1 music video, Scherzinger is set to lead their reunion world tour post-COVID-19. 

On an international platform, Scherzinger maintains a global presence with multiple television formats, including, “X-Factor” in the U.K., “Australia’s Got Talent” on 7 Network in Australia, and is about to begin the sixth season of “The Masked Singer.” In film, Scherzinger voiced the role of Sina in Disney’s animated blockbuster “Moana.”

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