Illustration of characters from the movie Annie
The iconic characters have certainly changed with the times, but their essence stays the same in each adaptation. (Illustration by Molly Posten, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

NBC’s ‘Annie Live!’ Is the Newest Adaptation of the Classic Musical

The musical has a long history, but people continue to maintain their support and excitement for this beloved story.

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Illustration of characters from the movie Annie

The musical has a long history, but people continue to maintain their support and excitement for this beloved story.

Decades after its initial creation, the heartfelt story of Little Orphan Annie continues to capture the hearts of many. If you have not heard the story or seen any version of “Annie,” then you were robbed of your childhood. It has been told repeatedly over generations, and while the overall plot remains the same, each rendition features differences that keep audiences invested.

“Annie,” set during the Great Depression, is the story of an optimistic and energetic 11-year-old girl named Annie, who has lived in an orphanage run by a drunken director since she was an infant. When she was left on the doorstep of the orphanage, her biological parents left half of a locket around her neck and a note explaining that they had the other half of the locket and would come back for her when they could. As she grew older, these two keepsakes maintained her hope that she would eventually be reunited with her parents.

One day, a polished secretary by the name of Grace Farrell visits the orphanage in search of an orphan to stay with her boss, billionaire Oliver Warbucks, for a week. Grace lays eyes on Annie and instantly chooses her. Over the week, Oliver, who has always been devoted to his work and concerned only about himself, grows fond of her, and he eventually wants to adopt her. Upon finding out that her biological parents passed away, Annie accepts Oliver’s proposal to be her adoptive father, and the story ends.

NBC debuted the latest version of the musical, “Annie Live!,” on Dec. 2. The live performance was nothing short of spectacular. The cast, including the well-known actress Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, executed each song with passion, bringing the musical to life. Everyone did an outstanding job of getting into character and making the audience feel the appropriate wave of emotions as the story developed on stage. Celina Smith, who played Annie, had real tears roll down her cheeks when Oliver attempted to replace the locket around her neck.

In addition, the choreography of “Annie Live!” was entertaining and in sync. For most performances, people would say that you had to be there to get the full experience, but in this case, watching it on the TV screen would make you feel as though you were there watching it in person. The performers maintained their characters so well that it is easy to forget that you are watching a live musical. And while today’s generation may have only just discovered Little Orphan Annie, her character has been around for years, and her story has been retold several times.

The story is inspired by a true story outlined in “Little Orphant Annie,” a poem written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885. Her story began to develop in the New York Daily News in the early 1920s as a comic strip titled “Little Orphan Annie,” and it became popular among adults and children alike. The comic strip about the red-headed orphan was canceled in 2010.

In 1977, “Annie” was turned into a groundbreaking Broadway musical. Many people grew to love the brave, adorable, determined and sassy character. In 1982, the first “Annie” film was released, and ever since then, producers have continued to develop reboots of the musical and put their spin on the cast and story.

No two on-screen renditions of the musical are alike. Producers have made sure to keep the overall theme consistent while also making slight changes to grow and evolve the story with the world. For example, when Annie was first introduced, she was a Caucasian girl with short, curly red hair. Quvenzhané Wallis became the first Black Annie in “Annie” (2014) starring Jamie Foxx. The most recent “Annie Live!” (2021) also cast an African American girl to play the role of Annie. The character’s initial image was created during a time of little diversity in Hollywood, but as minorities have become more influential in the film and television industry, producers have made their casts more diverse.

Of all the renditions of “Annie,” the 2014 version starring Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx contains the most variations from the original, likely due to how much the world has changed since 1982. The 2014 film was more modern: Annie wore decent clothes that were not dirty or ripped, and her hair was short and kinky. All of the classic songs were included within the film as remixed versions, and the director, Will Gluck, added new songs like “Opportunity” and “The City’s Yours” that cannot be found in any other version of the musical. This version also places Annie in a foster home because orphanages no longer exist in the United States. It is safe to say that the drastic differences in the modern “Annie” were refreshing for viewers.

The legacy of Annie’s uplifting story has grown over the years, and people continue to faithfully support each new version. Why is this? Maybe people continue to tune in to the live productions and various “Annie” films because they are curious to see how producers will make the story different.

When people find out that a show or movie from their childhood is going to be rebooted, many people still watch the rebooted versions, despite knowing that they will not be the same or often as good as the original. However, people watch reboots to experience the nostalgia of it all. The different creations of “Annie” may be an attempt to keep a classic story alive while also appealing to the most current generation.

A few years from now, “Annie” may be remade yet again. One thing is for certain: No matter how many times people change and remake the timeless musical, the story of the hopeful Little Orphan Annie and catchy songs like “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” will live on in our hearts forever.

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Re’nesia Mills

University of Tampa
Journalism major, minor in Communication

Re’nesia recently graduated from the University of Tampa and is hoping to soon begin graduate school. Her goal is to one day become an investigative news reporter.

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