Grease is definitely still the word — at least, that’s the case for the 12.2 million viewers who tuned in to Fox last Sunday night to watch the rebooted musical. The network’s star-studded broadcast Grease: Live! was, by all accounts a success in production value, and in proving that people still like to watch musicals. For several decades, big-screen musical adaptations seemed to be the de facto way to bring musicals to the masses. But last weekend’s success for Fox, as well as NBC’s recent successes with The Wiz, all definitely make the case for more musicals on live TV.
Networks already have a few promising productions lined up — we’ll see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hairspray on our screens by year’s end. But if musicals-on-TV are going to continue to be a thing, executives will have to choose carefully going forward. After all, most of what made Grease: Live! a success was the high-energy musical numbers and state-of-the-art production value. Most viewers are going to want to see shows that are fun and at least a little bit relatable — a Rocky Horror instead of a Kiss of the Spider-Woman. Here are five awesome musicals that would be perfect for live TV.
Okay, so it’s not always family-friendly. But RENT is without a doubt one of the most revolutionary musicals of our lifetime — and it’s high-energy, rock-based score is a favorite for many Broadway fans. The musical — based on Puccini’s La Boheme — tells the story of a group of artists living in New York City. It features a diverse cast and stories that were pretty taboo when the show first premiered in 1996. Here in the 21st century, we’re a little more used to talking about things like sex, drugs and AIDS.
Transforming RENT into a live TV event would most certainly be a success for any network willing to take a risk on its content. The show comes with a built-in fanbase that spans generations, and features a genuinely uplifting message that will resonate with new viewers: No Day But Today.
2. West Side Story
It’s a modern-day spin on the classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. And it’s also one of the most well-known Broadway musicals ever. Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s classic show about class warfare in 1950s New York has seen numerous revivals since it first premiered in 1957. But it’s themes — immigration, violence and economic uncertainty — are still completely relevant today. West Side Story also features a nice mix of musical numbers that could easily draw in a wide range of viewers — from beautiful love ballads to electrifying, Latin-themed dance numbers, there’s pretty much something for everyone.
3. Little Shop of Horrors
It’s a cult-classic — a strange hybrid of horror, comedy and music — that’s hugely popular among musical theater devotees. Little Shop of Horrors is also one of the most entertaining musicals ever produced on Broadway. The show tells the story of Seymour, a hapless flower shop owner who accidentally grows a man-eating plant. One of the main characters? The plant. Her name is Audrey. With upbeat, doo-wop themed numbers, a deranged dentist, and some visually captivating vegetation, Little Shop of Horrors would almost certainly be a success for a live TV audience.
More than a decade ago, the big-screen adaptation of Bob Fosse’s Chicago won the Academy Award for Best Picture. But that doesn’t mean that television audiences shouldn’t get a chance to revisit the classic, jazzy tale of murderous women in the Cook County Jail. Chicago, like RENT, may not be for everyone — it’s sometimes dark, and often sexy. But its intimate staging — full of shadows, smoke and spotlights — could present a unique and engaging visual aesthetic for a live TV audience.
Since it premiered on Broadway in 2015, Hamilton — a hip-hop musical about our nation’s first treasury secretary — has been no less than a sensation. The cast — led by writer Lin-Manuel Miranda — have entertained dignitaries, celebrities and anyone lucky enough to snag a ticket. But cashing in on the show’s hype isn’t the only reason TV producers should consider bringing Hamilton to TV. The show — which uses rap, R&B and pop music to tell the story about the founding of our country — is groundbreaking, genuinely cool and completely contemporary. In other words, the historical masterpiece is perfect for a 21st century television audience.