The One That I Want – On TV: The Case for More Broadcast Musicals

Watching all of the recent live musical broadcasts has me both ecstatic and wanting more. As a performer, it’s so much fun to see one’s art, which may otherwise not be in the public eye, go super mainstream. Granted, not all of the live broadcasts we’ve had have been stellar – but still, increasing appreciation for an art form in any capacity is great to watch. These broadcasts, and movies, have me wondering, though – why now?

The latter leg of what dramaturgs might call the Golden Age boasted some of the most memorable film and television of its time – are we facing another such age? The concept of live theatrical broadcast goes way back. We could say the Rogers and Hammerstein Cinderella broadcast with Julie Andrews in 1957 kind of started the craze (though Mary Martin and Ethel Merman had their share even earlier). Some shows, like Kiss Me, Kate and Wonderful Town, found themselves on the silver screen around the same time. Now, on an economic climb with a rising, ambitious generation of artists, perhaps the 2010s are artistically doing what the 1950s did. Shows like Fun Home and Hamilton show a new side of musical theatre, one kind of prefaced by Rent, Spring Awakening, Hedwig, and Next To Normal – not unlike the way Oklahoma! prefaced a period of shows unafraid to ask questions a la South Pacific or West Side Story a bit later.

Now that the broadcast audience has seen a few family-friendly classics like Grease and The Wiz (though the latter definitely said some important things about race and media in this country), I’d like to see the platform of broadcast and film musicals bringing some of the more powerful pieces to the general masses. On the more accessible side, my vote is Aida – which for some reason I have memory of being rumored with Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera like way back in middle school, although that was probably just regional theatre pre-teen gossip. Still, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Egyptian love story would be visually stunning and socially inclusive, and it would introduce some truly rocking contemporary musical theatre music to the scene.

I’d also love to see a live broadcast of the most recent West Side Story, specifically with the Spanish dialogue and subtitles. The 2009 revival was really gritty, stripped, and fresh for a new generation, and the revitalized Robbins choreography would be a seriously impressive in a live broadcast (granted when done properly it is always live). Matilda, too, would be something really cool to bring into people’s living rooms. The camera work one could take advantage of during the swing sequences and the fantastically relatable text would help bring kids into the theatre, the same way watching the classics introduced me and many of my peers to the form.

This resurgence in making musical theatre available live and across the country may be a break from the way we typically experience theatre, but one cannot deny the positive effect it could have on the industry and the propagation of the art form by sheer exposure. I personally agree with the sentiment that theatre is meant to be experienced live and in person. But these new platforms offer artists the ability to spread emotion, song, and dance into general pop culture in a way we haven’t seen in nearly 50 years – and that’s a road I’d love to “ease on down.”

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