Before the advent of musical television series—from Smash to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—television and film used to give us a taste of musical theatre in our regular doses of entertainment. Any musical theatre devotee should know when pop culture nods to our favorite art form. Here are 9 fake musicals we saw snippets of on screens big and small.
30 Rock: "The Rural Juror"
Sample Lyric: “The Irma Luhrman-Merman murder / Turned the bird’s world lurid / The whir and the purr of a twirler girl / She would the world were demurer”
We never see even a glimpse of the musical adaptation of Jenna’s indie movie The Rural Juror—about, as best as anyone can decipher, the “Irma Luhrman-Merman murder”—but who cares, because instead we are treated to the glorious sight of Tony winner Jane Krakowski doing what she did so well for all seven seasons: sublimely singing the most ridiculous lyrics imaginable. We’ll always be glad we met her—and learned this tongue-twister from repeat watchings on YouTube.
Death Becomes Her: "Songbird!"
Sample Lyric: “I see me, I see me / Actress, woman, star, and lover / Sister, sweetheart, slave, and mother / I see me... and I like what I see / Virgin, temptress, dream of others / Yes it’s me, Yes it’s me”
If only we were able to see more of Meryl Streep vamping her way through Songbird!, the deliciously misguided musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth that opens the 1992 film comedy Death Becomes Her. Streep’s full-out musical theatre star turn in the campy three-minute production number “Me” (written by Alan Silvestri)—which includes a chorus of dancing bellhops, a breakaway costume reveal, and tasteless disco musical transition—is the kind of cult Broadway flop we’d kill to see.
Sample Lyric: “All you want is a dingle / What you envy's a schwang.”
Joey stars in the title role of this Off-Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway musical about the famous psychoanalyst. Freud’s most famous theory is musicalized in a snappy opening number. Though his friends groan in the audience, it ends up working out great for Joey—and Friends fans—because his performance is what lands him his agent, Estelle, memorably played by Broadway actor June Gable throughout the series.
Hamlet 2: "Hamlet 2"
Sample Lyric: “Rock me, rock me, rock me, sexy Jesus / He died for our sins, you better believe us / Rock me, rock me, rock me, sexy Jesus / All night long!”
Hamlet may have famed soliloquies, dramatic deaths, and (in recent Off-Broadway memory) Oscar Isaac with a tray of lasagna, but it doesn’t have a rousing production number titled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” featuring Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole. No, such an anthem belongs to the fictional musical Hamlet 2, from the 2008 movie of the same name. Though it’s unclear whether the Bard would sign off on a time-traveling son of God (who’s “got a swimmer’s bod like nobody do”) who helps the Prince of Denmark avoid tragedy.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "The Nightman Cometh"
Sample Lyric: “Dayman (ah-ah-ah) / Fighter of the Nightman (ah-ah-ah) / Champion of the sun (ah-ah-ah) / You’re a master of karate / and friendship / for everyone”
In this R-rated musical from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie enlists the help of the gang to stage his musical, The Nightman Cometh, in an attempt to convince the Waitress to marry him. The tenuously crafted musical tells the story of a Coffee Shop Princess who falls in love with a little boy who is transformed into the Dayman by the musical’s titular villain, the Nightman. In the TV show’s fashion, the group’s plan of a well-run musical hysterically dissolves due to improvised lines, egos, and general dysfunction. The cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia later performed the musical in a six-city tour, featuring songs from the episode as well as additional material written for the live production.
Seinfeld: "Rochelle, Rochelle"
Sample Lyrics: “When the naysayers nay’d, you picked up your pace / You said nothing’s gonna stop me so get out of my face / Rochelle, Rochelle”
One of Seinfeld’s most beloved running jokes is the fake film Rochelle, Rochelle—“a young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.” The joke reached its peak in the Season 6 finale (a spoof of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding scandal) with a fictional Broadway adaptation starring Bette Midler. This being Seinfeld, Midler ends up in the hospital and Jerry’s current girlfriend, her understudy, gets the lead role. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to see Midler rapid-fire, deadpan belt out the title song from her hospital bed—blue feathered bedjacket wrapped tight around her.
The Simpsons: "Oh! Streetcar!"
Sample Lyric: “Stella! / Can’t you hear me yell-a? / You’re puttin’ me through hell-a, / Stella / Stella!”
When Marge decides to try her hand at musical theatre, she auditions for a local production of Oh! Streetcar!, the musical version of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. All of your favorite moments are there, from a Sweeney Todd-inspired opening number about New Orleans to Ned Flanders as Stanley Kowalski singing “Stella!” to the toe-tapping closing number “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers,” which is sung as Marge’s Blanche DuBois is being carted off.
Sample Lyric: “Fade in on a girl / With a hunger for fame / And a face and a name to remember.”
Based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, the musical engine of the television series about the business of show features a score by Hairspray's Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. The pilot’s standout song, "Let Me Be Your Star,” is performed by Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee, who vie for the plum role of Marilyn. Bombshell, as the musical was later titled by writers Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing), eventually released a cast album, featuring McPhee, Hilty, Bernadette Peters, Will Chase, and more Broadway favorites. And word has it that Wittman and Shaiman are still working on turning the fictional musical into a genuine one for the Broadway stage.
Smash: "Hit List"
Sample Lyric: “And I'm fallin', baby through the sky / It's my callin', baby / Don't you cry, don't you cry / And I'm fallin' down through the sky / Toward the street that I'm from/ Oh, Broadway, here I come”
As the B plotline on the NBC series, young hopefuls Jimmy Collins and Kyle Bishop, played by Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus, respectively, were writing a musical of their own: Hit List. Even though [spoiler] Katherine McPhee’s Karen had landed the role of Marilyn, she wound up forfeiting it to star in the edgier Hit List—and took the director with her! Hit List featured songs by Shaiman and Wittman, as well as Joe Iconis, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Andrew McMahon, and Lucie Silvas. The musical did earn a staging at 54 Below in 2013. Jordan, Mientus, and Smash regular Krysta Rodriguez all reprised their screen roles for the concert.
Check out the video below to hear Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee perform a tune from the Bombshell concert staging at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre.