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NBC’s ‘Annie Live!’ was perfectly pleasant, but these were some of the weirdest moments

The cast of “Annie Live!": Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell; Harry Connick, Jr., as Daddy Warbucks; Celina Smith as Annie; Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan; Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan; and Megan Hilty as Lily St. Regis. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Unless you’re a fan of musicals or happened to be seeking some family-friendly programming on Thursday night, you probably tuned in to NBC’s “Annie Live!” for one reason: to see if it would be a train wreck.

We cannot blame you — live television is thrilling for that very reason. And based on the celebrity-studded musicals on broadcast networks in recent years, you just never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s a delightful version of “The Wiz”; sometimes it’s a “Little Mermaid” production with a demonic-looking Flounder puppet.

So if you missed the three-hour broadcast, we can report that it was completely fine. Perfectly pleasant, even. Twelve-year-old Celina Smith, who starred as orphan Annie, was clearly the breakout star and often surpassed the singing ability of the adults around her. She was surrounded by other very talented child actors playing the orphans, who exuded theater kid energy to the highest level — particularly during “It’s the Hard Knock Life” — and showed off some acrobatics amid the performances.

Celina Smith, who stars as the titular character in NBC's “Annie Live!” musical, reflects on what the iconic role means to her. (Video: AP)

Taraji P. Henson was terrific — and served as comic relief — in her role as cruel orphanage boss Miss Hannigan. Harry Connick Jr. and Nicole Scherzinger did very passable jobs as billionaire Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. Tituss Burgess and Megan Hilty (filling in for Jane Krakowski, who tested positive for the coronavirus) were fairly entertaining as the evil Rooster and Lily, who try to kidnap Annie.

In interviews leading up to the show, executive producer Neil Meron emphasized that it was the perfect time to revisit “Annie,” one of the most successful Broadway musicals in history since it debuted in 1977, because we’re living in some pretty bleak times and it’s a musical about optimism. (Indeed: At one point, Annie helps fix the Great Depression by bursting into song.)

While this may be true, in addition to many reminders that the sun will come out tomorrow, there were also several weird moments throughout the production:

Harry Connick Jr.’s haunting bald cap.

Okay. What happened here?

Twitter obviously had a field day mocking the unfortunate costume choice, which was a major part of Connick’s press-tour talking points before the show.

“I’ve never had a bald cap on. I kept looking at myself. I was blown away. How do you do that? It’s such an art form,” Connick said on the “Today” show, adding that the bald cap process took two hours each time.

The odd camera work.

As might be expected during a high-pressure live show, there were some errors.

In addition to the cameras just blocking the actor’s faces a couple times and some bizarre angles, there were also moments when the camera seemed to be pointed at nothing.

The disappearing Sandy.

Note to TV producers: You cannot introduce an absolutely adorable and well-behaved dog in the first half-hour and then have the dog just … disappear.

Thankfully, Sandy — played by a rescue named Macy, a seasoned theater veteran who has performed in many other “Annie” productions — returned for the end, but we were certainly not the only viewers wondering what happened to Annie’s beloved pet.

Actually remembering the plot.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how wild the plot of “Annie” actually is, especially the original musical; Meron, the producer, told the Associated Press, “We’ve basically gone back to the original Broadway version and more or less have followed the structure of that show.” So if you were more familiar with the popular 1982 film, or the 1999 TV movie adaptation, or the critically-panned 2014 remake, you might not have recognized the ending.

In short: Set in 1933, lonely business titan Daddy Warbucks decides he wants to adopt 11-year-old orphan Annie. But even though Annie loves being suddenly rich, she doesn’t love that plan because she thinks her birthparents are still looking for her. Warbucks decides to help her find her mom and dad and offer a $50,000 reward; Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster, along with his girlfriend Lily, come up with a devious plot to trick Annie into thinking that Rooster and Lily are her real parents.

But before they can kidnap her and run away with a certified check, Warbucks gets suspicious and calls up his pal at the FBI — director J. Edgar Hoover, naturally. The FBI drops everything to track down Annie’s parents and they quickly uncover the Rooster/Lily scam. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Alan Toy) helpfully shows up to have his Secret Service agents arrest them. And Warbucks officially adopts Annie, after she learns that, sadly, her real parents actually died years ago. Then everyone dances and sings one more time. The end!

And of course, we cannot forget the earlier scene where Warbucks and Annie travel to Washington to meet President Roosevelt, who is distraught about the Great Depression and feels like the situation is hopeless. But Annie starts singing “Tomorrow,” and it’s so lovely that FDR gets inspired and demands the White House staffers sing along. “I’ve just decided that if my administration is going to be anything, it’s going to be optimistic about the future of this country!” he roars.

After they all sing, a lightbulb goes off, and the staffers decide to create 1,000 federal projects to employ millions of people and create the New Deal — all thanks to Annie.

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