Musicals on Television: 1990-99
Thanks to Robert Barto and Lee Bridges for contributing to the list below.
Polly returns from her hospital stay and tries to mastermind her aunt into a romance. A contrived sequel to the earlier Polly, but the first-rate cast and spirited musical numbers are worth watching.
Please note: I have received numerous emails regarding this production. It has never been commercially available on home video, and I do not have copies. Sorry!
A Little Night Music
Sondheim's 1974 operetta in a handsomely crafted New York City Opera production, taped live in performance at the NY State Theatre. Howes and Andrews (who played Frid in the original Broadway cast) are perfection as the leads, and diva Resnik damn near steals everything with a killer performance. Les Miz alumnus Maguire is a handsome dragoon, and Moore is an acerbic delight as his long-suffering wife. The most ravishing rendition of "Weekend In The Country" you're ever likely to hear stunning in every department.
Steven Bocho (creator of Hill Street Blues) took a wild but praiseworthy risk by putting together a weekly musical drama with several original songs in each episode. However, the public found it too bizarre to have cops, crooks, judges and politicos bursting into rock-flavored ballads in the middle of a gritty cop drama. Guest performers included Broadway musical veteran Bill Hayes as a smarmy crooning candidate. While the show had some enthusiastic fans, it was cancelled after half a season, becoming a landmark flop. Soon afterward, the resilient Bocho did far better producing the long-running NYPD Blue.
The sumptuous original Broadway production captured in all its glory. It is impossible for any theatre lover to resist a cast headed by the dazzling Peters. Gleason's Tony-winning stint as the Baker's Wife is priceless, and Sondheim fans can forever relish the original staging of one of his most popular triumphs.
TV version of the intimate Broadway musical. Act One is an operetta-like love story set in Imperial Vienna. Act Two puts the same performers in an extramarital romance set in a Long Island beach house.
Every word & note of the original play is intact in this solid, well cast version of the 1959 Broadway classic. Midler gives a powerhouse performance as Mama Rose, and Gibb handles the complex title role with surprising assurance. The supporting cast (with some fun star cameos) is fantastic. Much better than the big screen version, this Gypsy is a musical theatre lover's dream come true. It has been rebroadcast several times, and was released on home video.
A delightful adaptation of the rollicking Off-Broadway hit about a group of nuns putting on a benefit concert. Seems most of the Little Sisters of Hoboken died thanks to a tainted meal, and the Dept. of Health want their bodies taken out of the convent freezer and buried! Rue McClanahan has a blast as the mother superior, with Terri White and Semina DeLaurentis as standouts in a solid cast. Fun but never irreverent or offensive, it is no wonder this show became an international favorite. It has inspired a series of sequels, some of which were televised (see below).
A so-so animated version of the Dickens classic, based on the unsuccessful Broadway musical Copperfield. The tuneful score suffers due to some poor casting. As far as I know, this has not been re-run.
Nunsense 2: The Sequel
The Sisters of Hoboken stage another show, thanking the community for helping them through their previous benefit. Some fun moments, but no match for the original.
The Secret Garden
This solid animated version of the classic children's story has four songs and a superb cast.
Jason Alexander showed his many Seinfeld fans the musical comedy talents Broadway had cheered for years in a charming performance, and Vanessa Williams was sexy and convincing in the Chita Rivera role. Tyne tried a little too hard as Albert's mother, but Kudish was a riot as the hip-swiveling Conrad Birdie. Not bad, but not all that good either.
The original cast of this Tony-winning musical drama, exactly as seen on Broadway. This heartfelt tale of romantic obsession was not to my taste, but it has its enthusiastic admirers. No faulting the cast Murphy became a star with this knockout performance, and Shea and Mazzie are both sensational.
Stop the World, I Want to Get Off
I have not seen this -- one wonders why it is never rerun.
Les Miserables in Concert
Taped during a performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on Oct. 8, 1995, this mammoth concert celebrated the 10th anniversary of Les Miz's London premiere. The overblown cast of 250 included cast members from numerous productions worldwide, including seventeen Jean Valjeans in the finale. Available on home video as Les Miserables: The Dream Cast.
The Merry Widow
One of the most physically sumptuous stage productions of Lehar's 1905 classic. The new English lyrics are workable, but now and then a clunky rhyme proves distracting. Johanson's book makes numerous departures from the original libretto some work better than others, and all add up to a perilously long running time. But Johanson directs with real period flair, keeping the action clear and entertaining. Jane Thorngren is exquisite in the title role, and wins extra points by kicking her way through a killer can-can and then hitting a high C while doing the splits (I am NOT kidding). Handsome Michael Hayes sings well but does not imbue Danilo with much charm. Broadway favorite George S. Irving is a standout as the harrumphing ambassador it is always a pleasure to see him steal a scene. Robert Creighton makes the most of the embassy clerk Njegus, and City Opera veterans Joseph McKee and John Lankston have some shameless fun as comic generals. Broadcast live from NY City Opera, this staging was first devised for New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. Anania's luscious sets (the ballroom on a turntable is a knockout!) include a set of black faux marble columns that have since appeared in several more Paper Mill productions and PBS specials.
Rocko's Modern Life: "Zanzibar"
Santa's wife test-rides the reindeer and gets herself stranded on New York's colorful Lower East Side in 1910. Lansbury shines (of course!) and Jerry Herman turns out an underrated score rich in melody and sentiment. The so-so plot, with an evil toy maker and some immigrants facing clichéd problems, turned off most critics. Even so, it drew decent ratings and has been re-run. I dare you not to love the ending especially when a little girl who misses her Irish mama hears a knock on her door on Christmas Eve . . . corny, but it works. Fans who don't blink will enjoy seeing Herman in a super-quick cameo as a piano player during the "Avenue A" production number.
Chicago Hope: "Brain Salad Surgery"
This popular hospital series had Dr. Shutt (Arkin) collapse from an aneurysm and then envision his life as a musical. Most of the actors lip-synched pop classics, but Mandy Patinkin sang his own "Luck Be a Lady Tonight."
A clumsy remake of the 1957/1965 TV classic - but the public response was tremendous. Whitney Houston produced this, which might explain why her performance as Fairy Godmother is a silly, self-indulgent disgrace. Pop singer Brandy is sweet but no actress, so her casting in the title role is no more than passable. Several top Broadway talents are wasted here, and try not to cringe when dear Whoopi Goldberg sings. The beloved 1957 score is often butchered beyond recognition for no intelligent reason, and the inclusion of "Falling In Love With Love" to give the wonderful Bernadette Peters an excuse to sing is, to say the least, gratuitous. (Her shtick trying on the glass slipper is hilarious.)
Xena the Warrior Princess: The Bitter Suite
A feud between Xena (Lawless) and her sidekick Gabrielle comes to a head in a tarot-card dream world called Illusia. LoDuca's score got a shrugging ovation from this critic, but the episode was such a hit with Xena fans that a soundtrack CD was released and a second musical episode popped up two years later (see below).
The Sisters of Nunsense do their country-western thing. I have not seen this -- the first Nunsense sequel was meager enough.
The home video version preserves a talented international cast in the original staging of the long-running stage hit. Without the sheer sense of spectacle that made Cats bearable in a theatre, you may just wonder what all the fuss was about. However, fans of this tourist attraction -- er, I mean, musical, may find this a great souvenir.
This animated series opened its third season with its characters musically preparing for a hurricane? Oy.
Pepper Ann: "You Oughta Be in Musicals!"
This animated series has the title heroine fall off the stage while
auditioning for her school musical. While unconscious, she enjoys a pleasant musical
Crazy For You
Paper Mill Playhouse's flawless recreation of the original Broadway production makes for sensational viewing pure musical comedy heaven! Original cast members Connell and Adler are joined by veterans of other C4U productions, giving an exciting and polished performance. I could watch this one a thousand times and will, if my video cassette holds out. My kind of Broadway and my kind of TV too!
Please note: I have received hundreds of emails regarding this production. It was not released on home video. It is up to Great Performances/PBS to either rebroadcast this gem or start selling it please send any inquiries and pleas to them.
A charming and affectionate adaptation, far superior to
the disappointing film version. Having so many theatrical pros on hand made the
difference, and newcomer Alicia Morton was a fresh and believable Annie. Some cuts made
to the original, but most of the key numbers were left intact and performed with style.
Kathy Bates was a revelation as Miss Hannigan someone get this woman into a
Broadway musical! Its a real delight to see McArdle (the original Annie) do a dazzling
turn as the "Star to Be" in "NYC." Hard to believe this was produced
by the same team that mangled Cinderella the year before.
On to: The 2000s
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