On Dec. 2, NBC will air a live performance of “Annie,” the latest in the network’s string of musical broadcasts.
That’s only middling news. “Annie” is only a middling musical. The good news, as far as I’m concerned, is that “Annie Live!” will feature Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan and Jane Krakowski as Lily St. Regis. Talk about an inspired pairing.
Rooster is the con-artist brother of villainous orphanage matron Miss Hannigan (to be played by Taraji P. Henson), and Lily is his equally unscrupulous, gold-digging girlfriend. Intent on reaping a $50,000 reward, Rooster and Lily pose as the orphaned Annie’s parents.
It’s a delicious prospect, this teaming of Burgess and Krakowski. Both are brilliant comic actors, both have plenty of musical-theater experience, and both are very high up on my personal “How on earth did they never win an Emmy?” list. I can’t wait to hear them (and Henson) sing “Easy Street,” that ode in “Annie” to the joys of shady dealing.
Their work together on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (2015-19) was a treat to watch. On that series, which starred Ellie Kemper in the title role and also featured the immortal Carol Kane, Burgess played Titus Andromedon. Titus’s personality was larger — much larger — than life, and he would stop at nothing to become a big star on Broadway. He was represented by Krakowski’s socialite-turned-talent-agent Jacqueline White, whose self-absorption was second only to his.
In one memorable episode, Jacqueline persuades Titus to portray a bumbling nerd in an instructional sketch before an audience of high school students. When Titus realizes he has more in common with nerds than he realized, he deviates from the script and delivers an impassioned plea on behalf of their humanity — while Jacqueline frets in the back of the auditorium that her client’s improvisation will jeopardize her $20 commission.
Burgess’s portrayal of the utterly singular Titus earned him five Emmy nominations but no victory. (He was also nominated for his voice work in “Central Park.”) Krakowski got one nomination for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and four for her great performance as the narcissistic and neurotic Jenna Maroney on NBC’s “30 Rock” – without a win.
Jenna, of course, would burst into song on “30 Rock” at the slightest pretext (need I say more than “Rural Juror”?), and so would Titus on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” with Burgess’s high tenor soaring into the stratosphere. On Broadway, Burgess has performed in such musicals as “Guys and Dolls” (where he played Nicely-Nicely Johnson), “The Little Mermaid” (Sebastian), “Jersey Boys,” and “Good Vibrations.” A partial list of Krakowski’s Broadway credits includes “She Loves Me,” “Nine,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Company,” and “Starlight Express.”
In addition to Henson as Miss Hannigan, the cast of “Annie Live!” will include Celina Smith as Annie, Harry Connick Jr. as billionaire industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell, secretary to Warbucks.
But it’s Burgess and Krakowski I’ll be tuning in to see.