Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti
Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.
Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.
The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti
Dance Spirit: How did you first get involved in the project?
I’ve been involved with A Bronx Tale since 2014 with choreographer Sergio Trujillo. I also was supposed to do Thoroughly Modern Millie at New York City Center last year with Lear deBessonet. When I saw the announcement that Sergio would be choreographing Annie Live! and Lear would be the program co-director, I knew I wanted to be considered for a part in the production. I’ve always loved Annie, and watched the movie so often growing up that I could recite basically every line.
DS: What did you have to do for the audition?
I received the audition material while I was on my honeymoon, so I ended up filming my self-tape in Hawaii! My husband graciously offered to be my scene partner, and I submitted a dance combo, sides and a song all at once. They started casting based on those self-tapes, and I found out by August that I was going to be in the ensemble. Since I’m pretty short and look young, I was double-cast as an orphan, too.
DS: What was the rehearsal process like?
Sergio did a good amount of pre-production before company rehearsals began, so the majority of the choreography was already set. As an orphan, I started rehearsals a week earlier with the children and two other double-cast adults, and then the rest of the cast joined in. We hunkered down and learned all of the dance numbers right off the bat, so all of the show choreography was pretty much taught within the first few weeks, and we layered on from there. In the end, we will have rehearsed seven weeks in total.
DS: How has it been working with COVID-19 protocols?
We have the same COVID-19 team that’s on deck at our facility every day and knows us by name, so I feel really safe. We’re all tested three times a week at minimum and wear masks the entire time, unless there’s a specific reason we need to run a number full-out without them. And everyone within the show has to be fully vaccinated, as well as the crew that we’re working with. So no matter where you are in the building—costumes, lighting, screening, design—everyone is truly on the same page.
DS: What was different about dancing in an on-camera production versus a normal musical?’;/
It’s a whole different beast—more like a 1,000-piece puzzle than 100. First off, there are no “wings,” so the audience can see you from all sides, and your “front” is constantly flipping, depending on what camera you’re guiding towards. Also, there are literally cameras around you at all times, but the operators know when to get out of the way and how to move around you, almost like they have their own choreography too.
During rehearsals, Sergio and his associates, Morgan Marcell and Paul McGill, would walk around and film us on their phones, so we could get used to where cameras would be once we started rehearsing on the soundstage. Then when we first got there, we did what’s known as “dry blocking,” where we literally go step by step, count by count, to make sure no props or people are colliding or blocking the cameras. Some things had to shift dramatically, and others worked out perfectly, so it was very much about staying ready to adapt. But it’s been amazing to see so many different departments all collaborating to make the show work.
DS: What’s been the most difficult part of this experience?
It was more just jumping back into a full schedule after two years. I had to get back to taking care of my body mentally and physically and start up routines I used to have, like doing yoga every morning. But it’s just so nice to be around people again, and we all have a different appreciation for what we get to do. The energy I felt coming into this project was different than most other shows I’ve done. It feels easier each day to find the fun and positive things instead of the mundane things, because everything still feels super fresh and new.
DS: What number are you most excited to perform?
“Hard-Knock Life.” It’s so fun to dance with the kids, and their energy is unreal. It makes me perk up and say “OK, I have to give 100 percent, because these 9- and 10-year-olds are going full-out every single time.” I’m also excited to do the show in front of a live studio audience, which I didn’t know not every “Live” show has.
DS: And what are you most excited for viewers to see?
Our version of Annie is pretty similar to the movie and musical, but there are unique elements that have been added in that are catered to the cast and their talents, which will set Annie Live! aside from any of its previous incarnations. I also think that the show’s storyline and setting have some interesting parallels to what we’re going through right now as a nation. I think it will speak to a lot of people on a much deeper level than they’d expect.
Catch Annie Live! only a day away, December 2 on NBC.