Harry Connick Jr. Headlines Annie Live!

Harry Connick, Jr. tackles the role of Daddy Warbucks in NBC's production of Broadway's timeless hard-knock orphan story

Harry Connick, Jr. tackles the role of Daddy Warbucks in NBC’s production of Broadway’s timeless hard-knock orphan story

Thanks to Harry Connick, Jr., a certain musical is getting one of the most fit Daddy Warbucks ever.

The Emmy and Grammy winner and Tony nominee is the latest performer to embody the billionaire who becomes a surrogate father to the title orphan, as NBC presents Annie Live! this 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, with Taraji P. Henson (Empire) as sinister orphanage operator Miss Hannigan, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt alum Tituss Burgess and Broadway dynamo Megan Hilty as schemers Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, and Nicole Scherzinger as Warbucks’ assistant/love interest Grace.

“I’m approaching this like I do anything, kind of like a blank slate,” friendly New Orleans native Connick says of playing a character that has a lot of history, dating back even further than Annie‘s 1977 Broadway debut. “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 allows 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.” (Thomas Meehan wrote the show’s book.) “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.”

The choices for the remainder of the Annie Live! cast please Connick, who credits producer Meron with knowing “who to put in place for whatever he’s trying to accomplish. You should do it anyway, but you bring your ‘A’ game with a guy like that.” As for his Annie, Connick calls 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.”

Annie Live! airs Thursday, December 2nd at 8 p.m. on City & NBC