Taraji P. Henson brings something a little unexpected to the role of villain Miss Hannigan in NBC's upcoming Annie Live! musical event. Her co-star, Harry Connick Jr., even called the former Empire star "seductive" in the role played by Cameron Diaz in the 2014 Annie movie and Carole Burnett in the 1982 movie. Annie Live! will debut on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
"Taraji P. Hannigan is seductive as Taraji. She's such a powerful presence in the most wonderful way," Connick Jr., who plays Daddy Warbucks, told E! News' Daily Pop earlier this week. "Being seduced by Miss Hannigan maybe isn't quite as pleasant as being seduced- potentially-by Taraji P. Henson but she's so good at it, I think people are going to love it."
Henson admitted she was a little nervous about singing alongside Connick, a Tony-winning veteran of the stage, but the Miss Hannigan costume helped her shake those nerves. "If I had to be Taraji, I would probably pass out or clam up," she said. "But because I'm Miss Hannigan and she's so zany. It's literally the most fun I've had in a long time, and I've been doing this for a while."
Annie Live! features newcomer Celina Smith, 12, in the title role, while The Masked Singer star Nicole Scherzinger plays Grace Farrell. Tituss Burgess also stars as Rooster Hannigan, while Alan Toy places President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Burgess' Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-star Jane Krakowski was originally cast as Lily St. Regis, but she left the production after she had a breakthrough case of COVID-19. Broadway veteran Megan Hilty came in to fill the part.
The broadcast includes Neil Meron as one of the executive producers. Meron, along with his late producing partner Craig Zadan, helped revitalize the live TV musical genre with the 2013 broadcast of The Sound of Music featuring Carrie Underwood. It is NBC's first live musical since 2018's Jesus Christ Superstar production since the 2019 Hair broadcast was canceled. Last year's Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Musical was not live due to COVID-19 protocols. This year, producer Bob Greenblatt thought Annie would be the perfect, family-friendly musical to do to get back to live productions.
"We thought, 'If anyone's going to do a live musical, it would be this one," Greenblatt told USA Today. "It's a big, family-friendly, fun, optimistic musical. And there aren't that many blue-chip musicals with titles that are just known to everyone."
They also took a color-blind approach to casting. Henson told USA Today she was excited to bring Miss Hannigan to life in a way no one else has yet. "This is a role I certainly didn't think I would ever play," she said. "I haven't seen a Black woman portray Miss Hannigan yet ... and that's the beautiful thing about these plays that have been around for a long time: just getting different people to play the same characters with their interpretation."