After a national search, NBC has cast 12-year-old Celina Smith in the coveted titular role in Annie Live!, a holiday spectacular set to premiere in December.
Smith is a triple threat hailing from Atlanta and will perform some of musical theater’s most beloved songs, including “Maybe,” “Tomorrow,” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” as orphan-turned-heir Annie. She will join Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, Harry Connick Jr. as Daddy Warbucks, Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell, and Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan when the musical is performed live on December 2nd at 8 p.m. on NBC.
“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,” Smith said in press materials.
The ingenue began her career as Young Nala in the national touring company of The Lion King. Smith has played Rebecca Wilson in Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan since 2020. The series stars rapper Young Dylan, Carl Anthony Payne II, Mieko Hillman, and Hero Hunter.
Based on the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie that debuted in 1924, the musical Annie premiered on Broadway in 1977 and initially ran for over four years. It is one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and has won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Annie has been licensed and performed in 50 countries and translated into eight languages.
Annie Live! will be executive produced by Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron, and Alex Rudzinsky, with Lear deBessonet and Alex Rudzinski sharing the directing duties. Choreography will be led by Sergio Trujillo, who also choreographed 2014’s Jersey Boys film and 2022’s Jersey Boys Live!. Jason Sherwood will oversee production design. Stephen Oremus will orchestrate the music direction. Project Runway alum Emilio Sosa will lead costume design. The live event is being produced by Chloe Productions.
We’re looking forward to seeing Smith take center stage as Annie opposite Henson, who said she’s eager to play the role Carole Burnett made famous, “I’m such a huge fan of the show and an even bigger fan of Carol Burnett … She made me laugh when I lived in the hood … That was my escapism, so I’m really honored, ‘cause she made that role … I love a good challenge, and this is a great one.”