Top-Ten Musicals That Deserve a LIVE Television Production
Considering the final products of both the LIVE television productions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan in the last two years, I probably wouldn’t wish this format on any musical. I do, however, think that taking musicals with iconic, beloved film or television versions and recreating them as live television productions is just asking for trouble. People adore Julie Andrews’s in The Sound of Music, Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp was bound to pale in comparison, no matter how hard she tried.
Now we have LIVE productions of Grease and The Wiz priming themselves for the small screen. Grease will be watched by everyone. It will be a critical nightmare because everyone wants to relive the film, but it will never achieve the impossible goal of making audiences forget about the iconic John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing performances. Heck, I have a hard time imagining Grease without Didi Conn and Dinah Manoff. The Wiz, on the other hand, will be a harder sell, mostly because people are trying to forget the creepy atrocity that is its 1978 Sidney Lumet-directed film version. Despite boasting an all-star cast including Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, and Richard Pryor, the film is like an uncomfortably long drug trip inside the creepiest of crack houses. Audiences shouldn’t confuse the film with the far superior stage score and script. All of the joy of the Broadway production of The Wiz was missing in the film, and this is why I am hopeful the LIVE TV version will breathe new life into this glorious musical and we will begin seeing productions of it everywhere.
Some musicals don’t need to be remade for television in LIVE productions because new versions will pale in comparison to their originals. There are other wonderful musicals, however, that were either given subpar film versions or no film version at all, that would greatly benefit from a LIVE television version. Here, in no particular order, are my top-ten musicals that I feel are ripe for the live television format.
The Secret Garden
In truth, I would make a case for The Secret Garden to be done anywhere, as I truly believe it to be one of the most beautiful Broadway scores ever. I remember (during its initial Broadway run) rumors circulating that the Broadway show would be taped for television or that a TV version was being planned. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and it was probably wishful thinking. The Secret Garden is a family-friendly title with some lovely messages that would appeal to a wide audience. A big deal could be made out of casting the roles of the two children, and what actor or actress wouldn’t want the opportunity to sing “Lily’s Eyes”, “Hold On” or “Come to My Garden”?
Once on this Island
A Caribbean fairy tale loosely based on The Little Mermaid would be so much fun in a live production. Once on this Island has a colorful and melodic score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty that boasts such glorious tunes as “Mama Will Provide” and “Waiting for Life”. It’s a highly theatrical concept: a group of storytellers acting out an island myth to keep children distracted during a hurricane. It might be hard to present as a feature film, but if it retains its stage-bound format, it can easily be presented as an evening of live television.
So what if it didn’t run for very long on Broadway? Starmites is just a whole lot of fun, and for all of you comic book fans out there, this is the musical for you. Basically, an awkward geek gets sucked into one of her favorite comic books and is looked upon to save the day from the supreme Diva. The music is mostly in the pop vein, with allusions to rock and doo-wop. Barry Keating’s score is catchy and light. Every kid has fantasized about magically being transformed into their favorite hero or heroine, and its sci-fi premise will also prove to be an audience pleaser.
It may not have been an enormous hit on Broadway, but every high school and community theatre has (or soon will) produced Seussical. There is not a child in this country who didn’t grow up without having some sort of exposure to books of Dr. Seuss, so there is already a built-in audience who will be curious to see how characters like The Cat in the Hat, Horton and The Grinch all come together in the same musical. I feel like Nickelodeon would be the perfect network to produce and that the wackiness of Seussical belongs on the network that gave us green slime and You Can’t Do That On Television.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Okay, go with me on this: Considering all of the people who like to vote for reality shows and trend for television to use social media to keep their audience interactive, imagine a live version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood where audiences can phone in or text their votes for who they would like to be the killer and the lovers. During the telecast, the suspense would mount, and the performers would be poised to perform the ending the audience decides for them, making it all the more impressive when the actors pull it off.
This musical written by Roger Miller was a modest hit on Broadway back in 1985. The story follows Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, following how the title character and the slave Jim set off on a raft down the Mississippi to seek a new life. The book is still taught in schools, so teachers will encourage their students to watch. There have been films of Huck Finn, but none of them will capture the joy and inspiration that Big River inspires. The musical is also full of a variety of character roles, which, for a live TV production, could draw from the legion of character actors who light up Broadway on a nightly basis, but never get their due on a large, commercial scale.
The film of Carousel, unlike most of the other films of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, is mediocre. It was originally supposed to star Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, and what a dynamic that would have been. As it is, the Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones chemistry is lacking. Though both sing beautifully, one never really believes that their Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow feel passionately about anything, let alone each other. A live-action Carousel would be a wonderful way to rectify the film’s bland take on what should have been complicated, gritty characters and nuanced and inspiring storytelling.
HBO, Showtime or MTV might be able to do this one justice, keeping the show’s edge and not shying away from its salacious and libidinous content. It’s also the right place for a musical that is so hip and teen-angst-ridden to play live. The cast could draw from the popular young stars of the day, giving the live presentation an extra cache. Of course, a film of Spring Awakening is already in development, but I am not sure it will play well on the big screen. A live television performance would come closest to capturing its inherent theatricality.
She Loves Me
This darling little Bock and Harnick gem is too intimate to ever get a big screen treatment, but on television, this musical would be perfect. Wouldn’t I just sound like the most hopeful of optimists if I were to wish that the upcoming Broadway revival with Laura Benanti were taped live for television? This Roundabout Theatre revival will be just packed with talent, so what better way to preserve this musical that with this inception. PBS…are you listening?
Come on, Disney Channel, you have the money and audience to do this right. Years back you were promising a film version of Aida and it never happened. I think most of us would like to know why? The score is great, the love story is timeless, so why didn’t we get what we were promised? It is a musical that would look especially effective on a TV studio set, and a small leading/supporting cast will be well-proportioned on the small screen. Think of how much it will be to have the fashions of “My Strongest Suit” unfold up close and personal on camera. If anyone can make this work, Disney can. They know musicals do well on their channel, and anyone who disputes this should look at the High School Musical, Camp Rock, and Teen Beach Movie franchises that they promoted and beat to death!