Musicals on Television: The 1970s

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1996 & 2003)

(Thanks to Robert Barto, Michael Porter, J. Michael DeAngelis, Bruce Olsen and Lee Bridges for contributing to the list below.)


(NBC) Mar. 31, 1970
Songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman
Script by A.J. Carothers
Directed by Marc Breaux
Cast: Paul Winchell, Bing Crosby, Mary Crosby

When Bing takes his real-life wife and kids on a camping trip, daughter Mary wanders into an animated fantasy where she encounters the Three Bears and other fairy tale creatures. The Sherman Brothers provided several fine songs. Pity this enjoyable show was only half an hour long.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Animated)

(ABC) December 13, 1970
New Music by Maury Laws
New Lyrics by Jules Bass
Teleplay by Romeo Muller
Voices: Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, Paul Frees

Fred Astaire, claymation-styleInspired by the popular 1934 Christmas song, this is a fanciful tale of how a family of toy making elves ("The Kringles") find baby Kris abandoned on their doorstep and raise him. As a young man, Kris defies the mean old Burgermeister of Sombertown by bringing toys to children. Hunted as outlaws, Kris and his followers retreat to the North Pole for safety, where they build a castle . . . and so the legend of Santa Claus is born.

The score has some great numbers ("Put One Foot In Front Of the Other" is a catchy standout), and the voices of MGM legends Rooney (as Kris) and Astaire (as the narrator postman, seen in the photo above) lend tremendous charm. Rebroadcast every year since its creation and released on home video, this is still great fun for kids – older adults will enjoy the casting.

The Great Santa Claus Switch

(CBS) Dec. 20, 1970
Book and lyrics by Jerry Juhl
Music by Joe Raposo
Cast: Art Carney (Santa Claus/Cosmo Scam the Wizard), Cary Antebi (Fred the Elf), Ed Sullivan (Narrator), The Muppets

The first of several charming family TV musicals featuring Jim Henson's Muppets tells of one brave elf fighting off an evil wizard's attempt to kidnap and replace Santa Claus. The Raposo-Juhl score is a winner, and the Muppets are, as always, charming. This was a special holiday installment of the Ed Sullivan Show, which is why he was on hand as narrator. Legal technicalities are said to have kept this enjoyable special from reaching home video -- and lawyers wonder why people hate them?

Dames at Sea

(NBC) Nov. 15, 1971
Cast: Ann Margret, Ann Miller, Ann Meara, Dick Shawn, Fred Gwynne, Harvey Evans

Tons of great fun in this rollicking adaptation of the long-running off-Broadway hit. A spoof of Busby Berkeley backstage musicals, with Ann Miller hilarious as an egotistical Broadway star. The entire cast is outstanding. What a crime that this never came out on home video!

The Emperor's New Clothes

(ABC) Feb. 21, 1972
New Music by Maury Laws
New Lyrics by Jules Bass
Cast: Danny Kaye, Imogene Coca, Cyril Ritchard

Kaye narrated this partially animated version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a deceitful tailor selling a vain monarch some non-existent garments. This was the legendary Ritchard's last appearance in a TV musical -- the end of an era.

George M!

(CBS) Sept. 12, 1972
Music and Lyrics by George M. Cohan
Cast: Joel Grey, Nannette Fabray, Jack Cassidy, Bernadette Peters

Grey brought his razzle-dazzle Broadway hit to TV in this simple but energetic production. Peters charmingly reprised her original role as George's sister Josie, with Fabray and Cassidy brought in to portray his parents. Somewhat closer to the facts than Yankee Doodle Dandy, this was a fitting tribute to the talents of George M. Cohan – the score includes lots of great little known songs, plus many catchy Cohan classics.

Oliver and the Artful Dodger

(CBS) October 21 and 18, 1972
A Hanna-Barbera Production
Songs by Richard Bowden, Hoyt Curtin, Paul De Korte and Denby Williams
Voices include Richard Dawson, Gary Marsh, Darryl Pollack

This two-part animated musical reunites the characters of Oliver Twist several years later as Dodger helps Oliver keep his inheritance out of the hands of greedy cousin Snipe.

Of Thee I Sing

(CBS) October 1972
Score by George and Ira Gershwin
Cast: Carol O'Connor, Cloris Leachman, Jack Gilford, Michelle Lee, Jim Backus, Ted Knight

The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1930s Gershwin hit was cut down to ninety minutes here, with the most important numbers more or less intact. Leachman revealed a gorgeous trained soprano, O'Connor's barroom baritone did the songs no harm, and the supporting cast was ideal. The cartoon-style physical production was very effective, and the libretto profited from some revisions -- suffered from others. This was shown at the height of the 1972 presidential campaign. Overall, great fun.

Once Upon A Mattress

(CBS) Dec. 12, 1972
Music by Mary Rodgers
Lyrics by Marshall Louis Barer
Cast: Carol Burnett, Ken Berry, Jane White, Jack Gilford, Wally Cox, Bernadette Peters, Ron Hussman

This 90 minute color version of the Broadway hit Burnett first brought to TV in 1964 was staged, designed and revised by Burnett's variety series team. Bob Mackie's costumes were major winners, adding to the hilarity. This cast made the comedy as effective as ever, with Burnett pulling out all the stops and Peters an amazing Lady Larkin. "The Spanish Panic" was renamed "The Polish Panic," and due to time constraints the delightful "Old Soft Shoes" and "Normandy" were deleted. Even so, this fresh and funny production is waaaay overdue for a home video release.

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

(NBC) Feb. 9, 1973
Cast: Wendell Burton, Ruby Persson, Barry Livingston, Mark Montgomery, Noelle Matlovsky, Bill Hinnant

Hallmark Hall of Fame presented this excellent production of the Off-Broadway hit based on the popular comic strip. Former My Three Sons star Livingston was thrown in to boost ratings, and did a fine job as Linus. Hinnant, the original Snoopy, repeated his delicious show-stealing performance.

The Great Man's Whiskers

(NBC) Feb. 13, 1973
Music by Earl Robinson
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Cast: Dean Jones, Ann Southern, Harve Presnell, Isabel Sanford, Dennis Weaver

When a young girl writes to President Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard to hide the sadness in his face, she gets a surprise visit from him. Good score, solid casting.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

(NBC) March 7, 1973
Score by Lionel Bart, Mel Mandel & Norman Sachs
Book by Shermen Yellen
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Susan George, Michael Redgrave, Susan Hampshire, Stanley Holloway, Donald Pleasence

One of many attempts to musicalize Robert Louis Stevenson's horror classic, this colorful, entertaining production was reasonably faithful to its source material. Filmed in England, it was composer Bart's (Oliver) last project to receive exposure in America.


(CBS) March 15,1973
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Cast: Lauren Bacall, Larry Hagman, Penny Fuller, Harvey Evans

A mediocre version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit that revitalized Bacall's career. Bacall and Fuller recreate their Broadway roles; Hagman was miscast but did his best. Noteworthy as the first network TV entertainment special with a scene set in a gay dance club.

Three For the Girls

(CBS) Nov. 5, 1973
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Cast: Caroll O'Connor, Nancy Walker

At the height of All in the Family's popularity, O'Connor starred in three one-act scenarios, including a musical entitled "Clothes Make the Girl." He played a man who is horrified to discover his daughter is performing in a nude stage revue.

In Fashion

(PBS) March 13, 1974
Music by Jerry Blatt, Lyrics by Lonnie Burstein
Based on George Feydeau's "A Gown for His Mistress"
Cast: Susan Kraslow, Charlotte Rae, Pamela Hall, Max Wright

Staged by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, this charming production was an enjoyable attempt to turn a vintage French farce into a musical – not an easy task. The results were partially successful, due in large part to a spirited cast. Finally available on home video, it is worth catching.

Queen of the Stardust Ballroom

(CBS) Feb. 13, 1975
Music by Billy Goldenberg
Lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman
Choreography by Marge Champion
Script by Jerome Kass
Cast: Maureen Stapleton, Charles Durning, Charlotte Rae

A lonely widow (Stapleton) finds romance at a Bronx dance hall. The catch is that her charming boyfriend (Durning) is already married. The all too brief score includes the breezy "I Love to Dance." This bittersweet gem won rave many reviews and several awards. Three years later, it was expanded into the endearing but short-lived Broadway musical Ballroom.

Really Rosie

(CBS) Feb. 19, 1975
Music by Carole King
Lyrics by Maurice Sandak and Lou Adler
Voices: Carole King, Mark Hampton

Sendak's popular tale of a little girl planning a movie based on her own life became a charming half-hour cartoon musical. Very well received, it led to a stage version.

"It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman!"

(ABC) February 25, 1975
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Kenneth Mars (Max Mencken) Lesley Ann Warren (Lois Lane) Loretta Swit (Sydney), David Wayne (Dr. Sedgewick), Allen Ludden (Perry White)

As e-correspondent J. Michael DeAngelis puts it, "How do you take a flop show and make it worse? Look no further than this sad attempt." Most of the show's score was retained, and one new song ("It's A Free Country,") was added. Not a golden effort. Concert stagings have since proven that the Broadway score and libretto are loads of fun -- so there's no excuse for this TV version being so dreary.


(NBC) Mar. 27, 1976
Songs by Billy Barnes
Book by Herbert Baker
Choreography by Ron Field
Cast: Sandy Duncan, Danny Kaye, Flip Wilson, Clive Revill, Don Corriea

The little wooden boy played by a woman? Duncan makes it work, and Kaye is at his most charming. The Barnes score is witty and melodic, making this more than just a kiddie show.

Peter Pan

(NBC) December 12, 1976
Songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Book by Jack Burns
Cast: Mia Farrow, Danny Kaye, Virginia McKenna, Paula Kelly, John Gielgud (Narrator), Julie Andrews

A distinguished cast and creative team made this Peter one of the most anticipated and thoroughly disappointing TV musicals ever. Farrow was miscast, and Kaye -- fresh from his success in Pinocchio (see above) -- has little to do except chew the lavish scenery. The script manages to evade almost every inch of charm in the classic story, and any score that couldn't give Kaye a showstopper should be ashamed of itself. The highlight was the luscious "Once Upon a Bedtime," sung by an unseen Julie Andrews during the opening credits.

Minstrel Man

(CBS) Mar. 2, 1977
Songs by Fred & Meg Karlin
Cast included Glynn Turman, Ted Ross, Stanley Clay and Saundra Sharp

Despite rave reviews, this powerful musical drama has been unjustly forgotten. Black minstrels in post-Civil War America try to break out of the racial stereotypes that plague minstrel tradition. When a hateful audience lynches one of the performers, the rest discard their blackface makeup. No such thing ever happened, but it makes for a great story. The score combined original songs with period material.

The Comedy of Errors

(PBS) 1977
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Songs by Trevor Nunn
Cast: Brian Coburn, Griffith Jones, Roger Rees, Mike Gwilym, Michael Williams, Nickolas Grace, Judi Dench, Francesca Annis, Paul Brooke, Norman Tyrell, Barbara Shelley, Robin Ellis, Marie Kean, Richard Griffiths, Jacob Witkin, Keith Taylor, Susan Dury, Meg Davies, Tim Brierley, Paul Whitworth, Peter Woodward, Marjorie Bland, Bobbie Brown, Pippa Guard

Members of The Royal Shakespeare Company in a musical version of Shakespeare's classic comedy. Dedicated PBS fans will recognize many names in this amazing cast -- but the score (such as it was) proved forgettable. One might suggest that directors like Nunn should leave songwriting to professionals, but it was only a few years after this that he co-authored a little number called "Memory."

The Merry Widow

(PBS) 1977
Directed & designed by Tito Capobianco
Music by Franz Lehar
New Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
(Based on translation by Ursula Eggars and Joseph De Rugeris
Sets and Costumes by Carl Toms
Choreography by Barry Moreland
Cast: Beverly Sills (Anna), Alan Titus (Danilo), Andrew Foldi (Zeta), Glenys Fowles (Valencienne), Nolan Van Way (Camille), David Rae Smith (Njegus)

A lavish revival of Lehar's 1905 classic. Taped on its opening night in San Francisco, the cast was a bit uncertain about Sheldon Harnick's superb new lyrics -- which is one reason why this delightful performance has not been made available for home video. Sills and Titus scintillate in the leads, capturing exactly the right spirit for this waltzing romantic duel of wits and hearts. For all its flaws, this is probably the best Merry Widow created for American television.

Once Upon a Brothers Grimm

(CBS) Nov. 23, 1977
Music by Mitch Leigh, Lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Cast: Dean Jones, Paul Sand, Clive Revill, Chita Rivera, Teri Garr

The Grimm Brothers get lost in a forest and encounter some of their beloved fictional characters. Despite the top-notch cast and songwriters, this lavish production wound up as something of a mess.


(CBS) Jan. 8, 1978
Songs by Stan Freeman & Arthur Malvin
Cast: Carol Burnett (Ginger), Ken Berry (Fred), Roddy MacDowall, the Carol Burnett Show cast

This extended Carol Burnett Show skit was a brilliant parody of the RKO Astaire-Rogers musicals of the 1930s. One of the most entertaining and polished creations to come from the best variety series American TV ever offered, Hi-Hat received a special Emmy for its wonderful music & lyrics. Please, Ms. Burnett – put this and some of your other hilarious musical spoofs on video! (Yes, we know the legal issues are immense -- but so is your unique artistic legacy!)

Musicals101 visitor "Takbrady" brought these two 1978 PBS broadcasts to our attention - more details will be added when available:


(PBS) Jan 7, 1978
Hollywood Television Theatre
Words: Tom Jones
Music: Harvey Schmidt


(PBS) Feb. 21, 1978
Hollywood Television Theatre
Book & Lyrics: Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee
Music: Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Herschel Bernardi, Georgia Brown, Michael Kidd, Walter Matthau, Harold Gould

On the night actor Paul Muni (played by Kidd) wins an Oscar for The Story of Louis Pasteur, he thinks back on his early years in Yiddish theatre, and on his parents, played with relish by Bernardi & Brown. Matthau portrays the legendary Boris Thomashevsky. Although the budget was small, the talents were large. Fascinating concept: one wishes someone would dig this up from the vaults!

Happy Days: Be My Valentine

(ABC) Feb. 14, 1978
Directed by Jerry Paris
Cast: Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Donny Most, Erin Moran, Scott Baio, Al Molinaro, Tom Bosley, Lynda Goodfriend, Lorrie Mahaffey, Christopher Knight, Sally Hightower

The Happy Days gang has some fun as Joanie fantasizes about her family and friends in romantic musical vignettes. Among other songs, Ross and Bosley share a sweet rendition of Lerner and Loewe's "I Remember It Well."


(ABC) Mar. 24, 1978
Songs by Stan Daniels
Choreography by Donald McKayle
Directed by Jim Vance
Cast: Charlaine Woodard, Mae Mercer, Cleavant Derricks, Scoey Mitchell, Clifton Davis

The classic Cinderella tale as it might have occurred in 1940s Harlem, with a swing-style score augmented by classic big band dance tunes. Very enjoyable!

Gift of the Magi

(NBC) Dec. 21, 1978
Script by Sidney Michaels, based on the O. Henry story
Score by Fred Tobias and Stanley Lebowsky
Cast: John Rubenstein, Debbie Boone, Joe Anne Worley, Peter Graves, Alan Young, Jim Backus

This version of the O. Henry classic won no awards and to my knowledge was never re-run, but it had a great cast and a very enjoyable score. While Boone's first attempt at acting was understated, her heartfelt singing made up for it. Rubenstein was excellent as her Irish beaux, and Worley quite funny if unlikely as an Italian matron. (Her come-and-go accent was a distraction). The rousing opening number "One Day Away" -- sung by immigrants awaiting their first glimpse of America -- and the endearing duet "Love to Last a Lifetime" were standout numbers.

She Loves Me

(PBS) December 1979
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Book by Joe Masteroff
Directed by Michael Simpson
Cast: Gemma Craven, Robin Ellis, David Kiernan, Diane Langton, Peter Sallis, Nigel Rathbone, Derek Smith, Aubrey Woods

An enchanting British TV production of this much beloved Broadway musical based on Miklos Lazlo's "Little Shop Around the Corner." Craven and Ellis are perfect as the romantic leads, Kiernan is a riot as the slimy Kodaly, Sallis is a joy as the timid Sepos, and unknown Nigel Rathbone is a show stealer as young Arpad. The production is quite handsome, and minor cuts in the material do no real harm. Most PBS stations added a ten minute interview with the composers and original Broadway star Barbara Cook – a cherry on top of a nifty Christmas treat.


(NBC) Dec. 18, 1979
Songs by Mel Mandel, Norman Sachs & Aaron Schroeder
Cast: Mel Tillis, Lynn Anderson, Barbara Mandrell, Larry Gatlin, Tom T. Hall, Martha Raye

This was a country-western take on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, set in Tennessee. Well received, it has not (to my knowledge) been re-run.

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