BY: MAGGIE PARKER
That was fast. Just nine days after Fox’s Rent Live! turned out to not be live – and received the lowest ratings of any “live” TV musical to-date – NBC gave its upcoming Hair Live! the chop. Interestingly, execs from NBC cited their desire to air “broad-based, family musicals” as the reason for the decision, which means they’re probably assuming the poor ratings for Rent had more to do with the show’s edgier content than the viewer appeal it may have lost by airing a pre-taped dress rehearsal.
Despite the lackluster results of Rent, however, overall TV musicals have proven there is a recipe for success. (Moving forward that recipe should probably call for an understudy or two.) In light of Hair Live!’s early demise, we’ve rounded up our top suggestions for what we’d like to see hit the small screen. Some are more “family” appeal than others, but we think they’d all have a real chance at creating magic.
In The Heights: One of Rent’s highlights was the set, leading us to believe In The Heights would have similar success in that arena. The city backdrop and neighborhood would easily transfer to TV. What was great about this musical was that the modern music made Broadway appealing to theater-virgins. The music style is still very current, so putting Lin Manuel Miranda’s first success on TV would just continue to show hesitant hip-hop lovers the beauty that is Broadway. Of course, this show already has a cult following – which has only grown larger as Hamilton has continued to take over the world – so there’s a built-in audience. Not to mention, a televised production would be a great consolation prize for those who haven’t been able to see Hamilton just yet.
A Chorus Line: To further bring Broadway into the homes of those who prefer TV, why not stage a timeless tale that is all about the lives of Broadway dancers? Again, the simple scenery will translate well to TV. And Marvin Hamlisch’s music is made for all, so it should be seen and heard by all. Let’s not forget the killer choreography that would be even better on a small 4k screen.
Last Five Years: Sure, the movie didn’t do so well, but it had promise. While this show does take place all over the big apple, the story is so raw and so much about the emotional journeys of its characters that it actually could work seamlessly on a stripped-down set where the actors get to be front-and-center. We propose Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan get onstage for a simple televised production. Their relationship is timeless and relatable, and putting it on TV instead of in movie theaters makes it more attainable. Plus, JRB has such a cult following ratings would be all but guaranteed.
Chicago: This was already hit it big in theaters, so we have a feeling it would do well on TV, too. It’s got the sexiness of Rent, the edginess of J.C. Superstar, and the familiarity and fame of Grease—all characteristics that would attract a ton of viewers. Throw some big names into the leads roles again – just as the show has done on Broadway proper – and air it later in the night (after the little ones are asleep). We would totally tune in.
Dear Evan Hansen: We know this won’t happen for a while since it’s still a huge hit on Broadway and a movie is apparently already in the works – and it’s better for teens than tots. But, in a fantasy world, Dear Evan Hansen would be on TV ASAP. This is a story all teenagers should see, but not all of them can because of location or money. So, this would bring it into the homes of millions of teens and families who would really benefit from seeing a story like this. To round out the evening and feel-good family goal, we’d suggest tying it to a charitable cause for suicide prevention.
Godspell: J.C. Superstar was one of the most successful live televised musicals so far. So why not try Godspell? The music is even more Rock ‘n’ Roll music, the composer (Stephen Schwartz) more cult-followed, and the storyline more relatable. Put this all together, and you’ve got a live TV musical success. And maybe some Emmys. We’re going to call this one a no-brainer.
The Who’s Tommy: The Who is currently recording a new album. They have 581k Twitter followers. And they are touring North America later this year. For these reasons and more, we think now is the perfect time to televise a live production of the daring Tony-winning musical based on their 1969 hit album. Also, this musical is in a unique position to attract an older audience (with more disposable income) that happens to be very attractive to marketers.
Cats: OK, so we know this isn’t a thing because they’re already making a movie starring Taylor Swift plus a bunch of other enormous names. But who wouldn’t want to see this successfully executed on live TV… even just out of sheer curiosity? The triumph of The Wiz tells us it could be a huge hit. With Cats, even if the musical itself were a critical flop, it could garner big ratings and user engagement – and those are both more important when determining whether a broadcast was a “success’ or not. Please get Jake Gyllenhaal in a cat suit ASAP.
+ One Dare – Spring Awakening: OK, here us out. Yes, it’s not exactly “family-friendly,” but if it were specifically marketed to young adults, we think it could be a slam dunk. Make it the Deaf West version, and we’d definitely DVR it. Plus there are so many popular, young actors that would be perfect for this (Timothée Chalamet, anyone?). As an added bonus, the original cast (including Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff) have become household names. Take a page from Rent and bring the OG crew in for a wrap-up reprise at the end for a powerful and memorable night.