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Original Broadway Annie joining cast of NBC's 'Annie Live!' in new role

See Andrea McArdle, the star of the 1977 Broadway musical, meet the new Annie (and her soon-to-be co-star), Celina Smith, live on TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

There can only be one Annie — at a time.

When NBC’s “Annie Live!” airs this December, the orphaned girl who’s had “a hard-knock life” will be played by 12-year-old Celina Smith. But as fans of the musical learned Friday morning, a former Annie is also joining the cast to take on a completely different role.

Andrea McArdle, the original Tony-nominated star of the 1977 Broadway production, visited TODAY to celebrate that good news and to meet the girl who’s carrying on her musical legacy.

Annie is played by Andrea McArdle
Andrea McArdle played Annie when she was just 13, and starred alongside actor Reid Shelton as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks.Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

"I was so pleased," McArdle said about the chance to work with Celina, whom she called "the brightest, shiniest, (most) positive, talented" young actor.

And it was clear, even just moments after they met, the admiration is mutual.

Annie Live! - Season 2021
"Annie Live!" will feature Celina Smith as Annie, Sandy as Sandy the dog and Harry Connick, Jr. as Daddy Warbucks.Paul Gilmore / NBC

"Oh, my gosh!" Celina told the stage star. "It’s so iconic. I mean, I never thought that I would ever, ever meet you, but when I heard you were going to be playing Eleanor Roosevelt, I freaked out!"

Yes, McArdle will play the part of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in “Annie Live!” and while it’s traditionally a small role in the story, it’s one that will have her singing a familiar tune, as the character typically raises her voice alongside others for a rendition of Annie’s most memorable song, “Tomorrow.”

Though both actors shared that their favorite song from the show is actually "I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here."

For McArdle, returning to the classic story again is her second chance to revisit "Annie." In 2010, she played orphanage matron Miss Hannigan in a production of the play at the North Carolina Theatre — where she also met a familiar face from TODAY.

"For me, it’s already come full circle, when I played Miss Hannigan and Al (Roker) came down and interviewed me there," she recalled. "It was fun."

And she expects more fun on her horizon.

"This cast, I’m really excited," she added. "I just think they got it right. I love the director, Lear deBessonet — just her flavor, it's inclusiveness, it's positivity. She kind of shakes it up a little bit."

Actor and activist Alan Toy will appear with her as he takes on the role of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And that's just part of the cast.

Taraji P. Henson, Harry Connick Jr., Nicole Scherzinger and Tituss Burgess are all part of the stacked cast of “Annie Live!”
Taraji P. Henson, Harry Connick Jr., Nicole Scherzinger and Tituss Burgess are all part of the stacked cast of “Annie Live!”TODAY

Earlier announcements revealed that Taraji P. Henson (Miss Hannigan), Harry Connick Jr. (Daddy Warbucks), Nicole Scherzinger (Grace), Tituss Burgess (Rooster) and Jane Krakowski (Lily St. Regis) will bring a few of the major supporting characters to life in "Annie Live!"

Fans of the beloved musical first learned that Celina would be taking on the leading role back in August, when she stopped by TODAY to talk about her big opportunity.

The Atlanta native, who’s already a stage veteran after playing young Nala in a national touring production of “The Lion King,” said at the time, “It’s just so amazing to be able to perform with such an iconic cast, and I’m so excited for this journey to start.”

And there’s no doubt fans of the musical are excited to see her tackle the role.

“Annie Live!” will air Thursday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.