In 2013, NBC kicked off a television trend that brought major musicals to the small screen with the production of The Sound of Music Live! TV viewers had only seen filmed versions of actual Broadway productions on PBS, while ABC and Disney Channel sporadically brought musicals to TV with events like 2005’s Once Upon a Mattress or the mega-sensation High School Musical in 2006. Now that musicals have been on trend for over five years now, which are the best TV musicals?
Adding the live element in an era of social media has created a must-see event for musical theater lovers and families alike. Even though The Sound of Music Live! wasn’t a critical success, the show brought NBC its highest Thursday night ratings since Frasier had its final episode in 2004. From there, the live television musical boom began.
Since Rent Live! is set to air on Sunday, Jan. 27 on Fox, it’s about time we look back and rank the not-so-good to the can’t-miss musicals to hit the small screen over the last few years.
10. Dirty Dancing
ABC’s 2017 Dirty Dancing didn’t have the guts to even be an actual live show, and perhaps that was a good thing. They cast Abigail Breslin alongside Colt Prattes, who struggled to find the same charisma Patrick Swayze had as Johnny Castle in the original 1987 movie.
This version felt like it didn’t know if it was 100 percent a TV movie or a TV musical. The show stumbled through musical numbers as if they were an afterthought. They probably should have left Baby in the corner on this one.
9. Peter Pan Live!
Even a tap-dancing Christopher Walken as Captain Hook couldn’t save Peter Pan Live! The 2014 event was the follow-up to NBC’s extremely successful 2013 musical, The Sound of Music Live!
The production was a bit “long and draggy,” according to The Guardian, while others found Allison Williams as Peter Pan muted and not very playful. The show was a tough sell, and the entire thing felt like the Lost Boys growing up was the worst thing that could ever happen.
8. The Passion Live
This 2016 Fox production mixed things up by combining live and taped elements. The show was a contemporary version of The Passion of Jesus Christ set to pop music filmed in New Orleans. Not only was the show able to draw big music industry names like Chris Daughtry, Seal and Trisha Yearwood to bring the story to life, it continued to be successful on streaming platforms like Netflix.
7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
The best thing about this taped tribute to cult 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show was undoubtedly Laverne Cox. She gave us life as iconic mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The rest of the show left us scratching our heads and wondering why they didn’t do this particular show live — it would have given the musical a much-needed shot of adrenaline.
6. A Christmas Story Live
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” Who could forget a movie line like that? Well, little Ralphie brought it back to the masses for Fox’s 2017 live holiday special. The televised musical isn’t as strong as the 1983 classic movie, but the impressive young talent sang and tap-danced their hearts out. The catchy tunes put viewers and characters in the holiday spirit, including Ralphie’s grumpy dad, played by Chris Diamantopoulos.
5. The Sound of Music Live!
As the first live musical out of the gate in 2013, this was an exciting night to watch. Would there be mistakes? Would the show be a success? Can Carrie Underwood act?
All of those questions and more were answered on Dec. 4, 2013. NBC banked on an idea unproven in the 21st century, and it worked. While some people thought Underwood’s performance was a bit wooden, it was a fun way to spend the holiday night tweeting every “Do-Re-Mi” moment.
4. Hairspray Live!
Hairspray Live! was just what the doctor ordered in 2016 after a very heated presidential election took over the nation only a month before. This feel-good musical with a great message about diversity and acceptance cheered up TV audiences at just the right time.
The show was marred from time to time with sound issues, but that didn’t stop the beat from mega-talented cast members like Ariana Grande, Derek Hough and Kristin Chenoweth. Jennifer Hudson brought down the house with “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and we were all better for watching her performance.
3. The Wiz Live!
The third time was the charm for NBC, as The Wiz Live! got the live musical formula right. This December 2015 show not only had the critics singing its praises, but the show also took social media by storm to become “the most-tweeted live special program on record,” according to Variety.
The show was stacked with stars, including Common, Amber Riley, Uzo Aduba, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier and Queen Latifah. The producers even held an open call to cast then-unknown Shanice Williams, who more than delivered in the role of Dorothy. A star was born in Oz!
2. Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
This modern adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical featured a steampunk wardrobe, an industrial warehouse setting and a mosh pit for the studio audience. John Legend was perfect in the titular role, but it was Broadway alum Brandon Victor Dixon’s turn as Judas that had everyone googling his name. And of course, Chrissy Teigen won Twitter that night with all her behind-the-scenes insights.
The show went on to win five Emmy Awards, and it reminded us just why these musicals are so important. They do bring people together by giving TV audiences a few hours of joy (and singing along at the top of their lungs, if you’re into that).
1. Grease: Live
“Grease is the word,” because everyone’s favorite 1978 movie musical with John Travolta became everyone’s favorite live TV musical in 2016. Fox outdid themselves by taking the musical from inside to outside throughout the production, even though Los Angeles was experiencing a huge rainstorm.
Julianne Hough nailed her role as Sandy, and Vanessa Hudgens really proved she’s as tough as nails as Rizzo considering she was mourning the loss of her dad only days before the live show. In fact, her song, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was the most replayed moment of the special, according to TiVo.
Rent Live! will air on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 8/7c on Fox.