Musicals on Television: 2000 to Today
by John Kenrick
Thanks to Michael Porter and Lee Bridges for contributing key information to the list below.
Xena Warrior Princess:
Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire
(Syndicated) Jan. 17, 2000
Cast: Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Gillian Iliana Waters, Ted Raimi,
Jay Laga'aia, Darien Takle
When a fight breaks out over Terpsichore's lyre, Xena arranges a battle of the bands to settle things. (Rock n' Roll bands? In ancient times? Oy!) The second time this fantasy series tried a musical episode – not a disaster, but no classic either.
The Hughleys: Rogers and Hughleystein's
Two Jacks and a Beanstalk
(UPN) Feb. 25, 2000
Script & Lyrics by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore
Music by Jonathan Wolff and Paul Buckley
Directed by Matt Wickline
Cast: D.L. Hughley, Elise Neal, Eric Allan Kramer, John Henton, Ashley Monique
Clark, Dee Jay Daniels, Marietta DePrima, Ezra Buzzington, Tonya Banks
This zany musical retelling of the classic fairy tale spoofs Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, with songs like "Preposterous" (versus "Impossible"?) and "In My Own Little Hovel." One of the wittier lyrics quips, "Nothing fills your stomach like a meal; unless you are that chick Ally McBeal."
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
(PBS) April 5, 2000
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Cast: Donny Osmond, Maria Friedman, Richard Attenborough, Joan Collins
The souped-up revival that toured the US and Canada with various stars throughout the 1990s is preserved here. Osmond is excellent in the lead, giving a performance that impressed fans and non-fans alike. Released on home video.
(ABC-Disney) May 7, 2000
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Cast: Drew Carey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brent Spiner, Rene Auberjonois,
Usher, Seth Adkins
The story of Pinocchio as re-told from the toy maker's point of view proved an entertaining idea for the first original TV musical of the new century. TV comic Carey was disarming in the title role, with Seinfeld's Louis-Dreyfus a campy riot as the Blue Fairy and Star Trek's Spiner chewing scenery as the evil Stromboli. Schwartz's new score had charm, the script was both touching and funny, and a few snippets of the old Pinocchio score did no harm either.
Ally McBeal: The Musical, Almost
(Fox) May 22, 2000
Directed by Bill D'Elia
Songs by Randy Newman
Cast: Calista Flockhart, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Greg Germann, Lisa
Nicole Carson, Jane Krakowski, Vonda Shepard, Portia de Rossi, Lucy Liu,
Peter MacNicol, James LeGros, Alicia Witt, Tim Dutton, James Naughton,
Jill Clayburgh, Randy Newman
Although I was somewhat under-whelmed by this episode, it captured the offbeat charm that made this series a favorite. The cast includes several Broadway musicals veterans, and it was quite a coup to get Newman to write the score.
(A&E-Cable TV) Various Dates, 2000
Music: Moose Charlap, Jule Styne
Lyrics: Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden &
Cast: Cathy Rigby (Peter), Peter Schoeffler (Mr. Darling/Captain Hook)
Rigby toured the US for years in this show and made several stops on Broadway, so she certainly earned the right to bring the classic Mary Martin version back to television. Taped in live performance, she is excellent as the boy who won't grow up, and her gymnastic flying more than makes up for some uninspired camera work. While it is impossible to eclipse memories of Martin & Ritchard, this production offers lots of fun for a new generation of clapping believers.
(PBS) June 21, 2000
Songs by Duke Ellington
Cast: Yvette Cason, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Kevin Ramsey, Nikki Crawford,
Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Raun Ruffin, and Richard Allen
This sort-lived Broadway musical built around songs by the late Duke Ellington was filmed during one of its final performances. Despite a forgettable book, energetic performances and grand melodies add up to some diverting fun.
Smokey Joe's Cafe
(Cable Pay Per View) Sept. 10, 2000
Cast: Ken Ard, Adrian Bailey, Matt Bogart, Brenda Braxton, Victor-Trent
Cook, B.J. Crosby, DeLee Lively, Deb Lyons, Frederick B. Owens
The first of the Broadway Television Network pay-per-view cable broadcasts preserved this high-energy Broadway revue. A fun score and great cast make this worth seeing.
(ABC) March 2001
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Cast: Glenn Close, Rade Sherbedgia, Harry Connick Jr., Joe Pastorelli
Poor South Pacific! The film version was plagued by ugly color filters, and this TV version was plagued by hopeless miscasting. Close is passable (but dare we say she looked too old?) as Nellie Forbush. The rest of the cast is inexplicable. Connick's sculpted chest provides some visual distraction, and Pastorelli wins a few laughs, but neither one has the musical or dramatic talent required. Sherbedgia's Emile cannot sing, and Bloody Mary is depicted as a shrieking harpy. Too sad! Click here for adetailed review.
Jekyll and Hyde
(Cable Pay Per View) March 10, 2001
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Cast: David Hasselhoff, Colleen Sexton, Andrea Rivette, George Merritt, Barrie
The final Broadway cast was taped live in performance. TV star Hasselhoff's fans will be delighted -- most Jekyll and Hyde fans may not be so thrilled.
Jesus Christ Superstar
(PBS) April 2001
Cast: Rik Mayall, Glenn Carter, Jerome Pradon, Rene Castle
A garish high tech update kicks all signs of artistic life out of the much loved Lloyd Webber-Rice rock opera .
Putting It Together
(Cable Pay Per View) October 14, 2001
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Cast: Carol Burnett, George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman, Bronson
This short-lived Broadway production was a weak vehicle overall, but it offers some first class fun with a dream of a cast. This was also released on home video.
(PBS) November 2001
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Cast: Patti Lupone,
George Hearn, Davis Gaines, Timothy Nolen, Neil
The San Francisco Philharmonic borrowed most of the leads from the NY Philharmonic's gala cast, creating one of the most exciting concert performances you're ever likely to see on TV. Lupone was a delicious Mrs. Lovett, and George Hearn's Sweeney was more powerful than ever. Special to kudos to Timothy Nolen for a Judge Turpin oozing understated evil and director Lonny Price for a simple, brilliant staging.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Once More, With Feeling
(UPN) November 6, 2001
Music and Lyrics by Joss Whedon
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters
This quirky sci-fi/fantasy series pitted its gutsy title character against all sorts of dark characters. For this musical episode, Buffy contended with a demon that forces people to break into all-out song and dance routines without warning – like this would be a bad thing? Everything from MGM to Andrew Lloyd Webber to contemporary pop videos got spoofed here. After the witty opening number "Going Through the Motions," the score (self-indulgently penned by Buffy's producer) is ballad-heavy and painfully uninspired. Buffy fans were so enthusiastic that a soundtrack CD was released, and homemade VHS copies of the episode were much in demand. (Hard to see why, as decent song & dance talent was in short supply.)
(PBS) Jan. 23, 2002
Cast: Ann Reinking, Ben Vereen
The Tony winning Broadway revue was filmed during its final week, adding Reinking and Vereen to the talented ensemble cast. Many of Fosse's great dances for stage and screen are recreated with loving care. Not nearly as much fun as in person, but a fine video record of a classy production.
Even Stevens: "Influenza - The Musical"
(Disney) Jan. 25, 2002
Music and Lyrics by Jim Wise
Book by Marc Warren
Directed by Sean McNamara
Choreographer: Kim Blank
Cast: Christy Carlson Romano, Shia La Beouf, Nick Spano, Tim Virtue,
Donna Pescow, Jim Wise
With so many TV series cooking-up musical comedy episodes, this Disney Channel children's series got into the act. A young girl gets through a bought with the flu by dreaming of what might happen at school if she bluffs her way out of a forgotten assignment. Composed by series regular Wise, who plays Coach Tugnut.
(HBO) Feb. 10, 2002
Script by Tom Fontana and Bradford Winters
Music and Lyrics by Janis Ian
Directed by Roger Rees
Cast: Rita Moreno, Anthony Chisholm, Michael Wright, Evan Seinfield,
B.D. Wong, J.K. Simmons, Lee Tergeson
As our correspondent Lee Bridges puts it, "And you thought it was only about violent, naked inmates? Now it's also about singing violent, naked inmates." Luckily, several Broadway musical veterans were part of the recurring cast, including the beloved Rita Moreno.
That '70s Show: "That '70s Musical"
(Fox) April 30, 2002
Script by Dean Batali and Rob DesHotel
Directed by David Trainer
Cast: Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Laura Prepon, Wilmer
Valderrama, Debra Jo Rupp, Kurtwood Smith, Don Stark, Tommy Chong, Roger
This sitcom celebrated its 100th episode with a set of musical fantasies thought up by Fez (Valderrama) in which everyone (except guest Roger Daltrey!) got to sing. The songs were all '70s standards like "So Happy Together," "Love Hurts," "Shake Your Groove Thing," and Joe Raposo's "Sing."
(PBS) September 2002
Directed & Choreographed by Susan
PBS broadcast the final Broadway performance of this Tony winning dance show live from Lincoln Center -- the first Broadway musical ever shown in full on live television. Charlotte D'Amboise was a standout in a strong cast that made the show look as fresh as ever. The pre-recorded soundtrack seemed less painfully obvious on the small screen, and Stroman's choreography still dazzled – but TV cameras were often unable to do justice to the staging. I still refuse to call this ballet a musical, but so what? It is a pity more long-running shows don't arrange to broadcast their closing nights.
The Merry Widow
(PBS) December 25, 2002
Music by Franz Lehar
New Lyrics by Christopher Haskall
New Book by Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Lofti Mansouri
Conducted by Erich Kunzel
Sets by Michael Yeargan, Costumes by Thierry Bosquet
Cast: Yvonne Kenny (Anna), Bo Skovhus (Danilo), Angelika Kirschlager
(Valencienne), Gregory Turay (Camille), Carlo Hartmann (Baron Zeta)
There's no mistake like a big mistake, and this San Francisco Opera staging is huge, tedious misfire. The Haskall adaptation (also used in Joan Sutherland's mediocre video version) squelches almost all of this show's original humor and romance -- while making unexplained additions to the original score (which Erich Kunzel conducts here with genuine sensitivity). The third act begins with a new ballet and ends with an interpolated ensemble number – all irrelevant. The lavish production is far too busy and the action is often unfocused. The leads are both decidedly miscast -- neither of them meets the dramatic or musical requirements. This is not what Lehar had in mind. After 97 years, the Widow (and her fans) deserved far better. Released on DVD, but in my opinion, all copies should be burned.
The Music Man
(ABC-Disney) Feb. 18, 2003
Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Book Adaptation by Sally Robinson
Directed by Jeff Bleckner
Conducted by Michael Kosarin
Cast: Matthew Broderick (Harold Hill), Kristin Chenowith (Marion), Debra Monk
(Mrs. Paroo), David Aaron Barker (Marcellus), Victor Garber (Mayor Shinn),
Molly Shannon (Mrs. Shinn)
A lousy version of a classic musical. Why did anyone think Matthew Broderick would be anything but an embarrassment as Harold Hill? I've been a fan of his for many years, but Broderick's attempt to bring a much older Ferris Bueller to River City proved embarrassing. The luminous Kristin Chenoweth has a few fine moments, but unattractive key changes ruined most of her numbers. Debra Monk's brogue comes and goes with astonishing speed, and Victor Garber is wasted as Mayor Shinn. The cinematography is often jarring, and the revised book and orchestrations are lame. Released on DVD, but do yourself a favor and stick to the glorious big screen version with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
Kiss Me Kate
(PBS) February 2003
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam and Bella Spewack
Directed by Michael Blakemore
Sets by Robin Wagner, Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz
Cast: Brent Barrett (Fred/Petruchio), Rachel York (Lili/Kate), Michael
Berresse (Bill), (Lois/Bianca)
This London staging (a carbon copy of the acclaimed 1999 Broadway revival) had a brief West End run, but the cast preserved one of their final performances for this broadcast. Barrett's offers the kind of vocal (and visual) thrills few leading men can lay claim to today, York sizzles in the shrewish title role, and Barresse recreates the sexy, athletic performance that stole Broadway's heart. Blakemore's broad comic stage direction wears a bit thin in the second act, and camera work compromises some key dance moments -- but all in all it is a delight to have this fine Kate preserved for future viewing. This is one of the few musicals Great Performances has made available on home video.
A Christmas Carol
(NBC) Nov. 28, 2004
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Allan Seidelman
Cast: Kelsey Grammer (Scrooge), Jason Alexander (Marley),
Jennifer Love Hewitt (Emily), Ruthie Henshall (Scrooge’s Mother), Jane
Krakowski (Christmas Past), Jesse L. Martin (Christmas
Present), Geraldine Chaplin (Christmas Future)
A confusing, uneven adaptation of the charming musical spectacle that played at Madison Square Garden's theatre annually for a decade. Grammer plays a cartoonish Scrooge, in complete contradiction to the naturalistic performances surrounding him. Several fine stage veterans were mired in this pointless, costly waste. One theatre buff note -- it is delightful to find Linzi Hateley (star of Broadway's infamous Carrie) in fine form as Mrs. Cratchit. Released on DVD, but not worth the purchase price.
(PBS) Jan. 12, 2005
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Directed by Lonny Price
The New York Philharmonic
Conducted by Marin Alsop
Cast: Paul Groves (Candide), Kristin Chenoweth (Cunegonde), Patti LuPone
(Old Woman), Thomas Allen (Narrator), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Maximillian),
Jane La Manina (Paquette)
This concert performance was thrilling in every department. -- a joy to Candide's devoted fans and newcomers alike, with a vocally ravishing cast making the most of every comic touch. Chenoweth bubbles, Lupone runs comic riot, and opera stars Groves & Allen are glorious. Superb staging by Price and flawless conducting by Alsop (a protégé of Bernstein) made for wonderful entertainment. Happily, this was released on DVD.
Seventh Heaven - "Red Socks"
(WB) Feb. 14, 2005
Cast: Stephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, George Stults, Thomas Dekker
This normally disarming family drama staged one of the most clumsy and inept "musical" episodes yet -- making one wonder when (if ever) this dumb craze will end. Collins & Hicks sounded passable crooning some classic tunes, and Thomas Dekker offered a fun "Accentuate the Positive," but most of the cast had no clue how to sing or dance, making this a tedious mockery. Bunches of good songs trod in the mud -- boo, hiss!
(PBS) March 31, 2005
Musical Director: Michael Gemignani
Stage Director: Lonny Price
Cast: Patti LuPone, Michael Cerveris, Audra MacDonald
Even those who do not love this challenging Sondheim musical could find much to relish in this dramatically searing, musically breathtaking live concert performance. All three leads were superb -- how grand and rare to see three of Broadway's brightest at their mutual best. The supporting ensemble was flawless, the staging simple and insightful. A fascinating contrast to the original Broadway version televised years before -- I for one found this simpler approach more effective.
(Showtime) April 16, 2005
Music by Dan Studney
Lyrics by Kevin Murphy
Screenplay by Studney & Murphy
Cast: Christian Campbell, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Anna Gasteyer,
Steven Weber, Amy Spanger
Some gifted performers struggled mightily to breathe life into this material, and Showtime blew major bucks on a lavish production -- all to little avail. Heavy handed humor cripples this musical inspired by the classic "shock" film of the same title. What's the point of spoofing something that was beyond camp to begin with? I agree with many of the political and historical points these authors are trying to make, yet still found myself yawning. The lyrics are clumsy, the melodies empty, and several songs (particularly "Mary Lane") are downright annoying. And has any TV musical ever had a more offensive image than Jesus Christ casually tossing hosts out of a chalice? The one big plus here is that Christian Campbell displays the dazzling good looks, solid singing pipes and comic instincts that could have made him a musical star in another era -- now if someone would just give him a decent vehicle!
Once Upon a Mattress
(ABC) Dec. 18, 2005
Music by Mary Rodgers
Lyrics by Marshall Louis Barer
Teleplay by Janet Brownell
Production Design by John Willett
Directed & Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Cast: Tracey Ullman (Winifred), Denis O'Hare (Prince Dauntless),
(Queen Agravain), Tom Smothers (King Sextimus), Matthew
Morrison (Sir Harry), Zooey Deschanel (Lady Larken), Michael Boatman
(Jester), Edward Hibbert (Wizard)
This anxiously awaited remake of a stage and TV classic was a winner, with Ullman a riotous Winifred, O'Hare perfect as the frustrated Dauntless, Hibbert a scene stealing Wizard, and the glorious Burnett (who co-produced) hilarious as the conniving Queen. A new lyric also gave her a fun excuse to reprise a bit of "Happily Ever After." Exceptionally handsome sets & costumes, (Burnett's eye-poppers were designed by Bob Mackie, of course) plus Kathleen Marshall's outstanding choreography and well-balanced direction made this a worthy successor to the previous TV versions, and easily the best TV musical production the new century has seen so far. Released on DVD, it is the first TV musical presented in widescreen format.
High School Musical
(Disney Channel) Jan. 20, 2006
Music & Lyrics by David Lawrence
Screenplay by Peter Barsocchini
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Choreography by Bonnie Story
Cast: Zach Effron (Troy), Vanessa Anne Hudgens (Gabriella),
Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay), Alyson Reed (Mrs. Darbus)
A basketball jock and a brainy girl fall in love, give school gossips a field day, and then audition for the high school musical -- stealing it from the rich brat who expected to star. Clichés abound, and the all-pop score is not my sort of thing, but younger audiences reacted with such tremendous enthusiasm that this Disney Channel original became a surprise hit. Broadway vet Alyson Reed is a standout as the bigger-than-life drama teacher, and director Kenny Ortega manages some fun moments. Wish I could say I loved this, but it hardly matters. The CD and DVD are best-sellers. Some say anything that encourages younger audiences to embrace musicals deserves applause, but even so this was simply too moronic.
High School Musical 2
(Disney Channel) August 17, 2007
Music & Lyrics by David Lawrence
Screenplay by Peter Barsocchini
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Cast: Zach Effron (Troy), Vanessa Anne Hudgens (Gabriella),
Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay)
The kids from Part 1 find summer jobs at a country club owned by the rich brat's family -- and everything builds up to a staff talent show. There is a fun opening number about the last day of school, but overall, this big budget production managed to be far dumber than the original, and the score is even more tuneless. It seems there is no way to underestimate the taste of a vapid segment of middle America's youth.
(PBS) May 8, 2008
Music by Frederick Loewe
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Lonny Price
Cast: Gabriel Bryne (Arthur), Marin Mazzie (Guenevere), Nathan Gunn
(Lancelot), Bob Steggert (Mordred), Christopher Lloyd (Pellinore)
An embarrassingly bad, clumsily edited version of Lerner & Loewe's underrated gem. Byrne a disaster as Arthur, unable to carry a tune, stick to a beat, or capture any of the character's essence. Mazzie'a vocals were at times sloppy, but the opera hunk Gunn triumphed as Lancelot -- his "If Ever I Would Leave You" stopped the show. Ugly costuming throughout; with Mordred inexplicably depicted as a punk rock drag queen (yet played with brio by Steggert). Even the NY Philharminic's playing was spotty! Total misuse of dance. This unfortunate broadcast reinforces the misconception that Camelot is a weak show -- a real disappointment.