Television audiences are now used to getting a live musical performed on the small screen once a year, thanks to the annual holiday efforts of NBC, which has production versions of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan and The Wiz over the past three years. But a live musical on television in mid-winter?
This past week, the Fox Network upped the ante on the theatre-on-the-tube game by offering "Grease: Live" on Jan. 31. And they also shook up the format with some fresh approaches to filming.
Directors Thomas Kail (Hamilton) and Alex Rudzinski staged the newly updated and diversely cast version of the classic musical both inside and outside (come rain or shine, and, indeed, there was some rain, forcing cast members to use umbrellas). They had a live audience incorporated into the set and the action. Overall, the event — which was shot on multiple locations on the Warner Brothers Studio lots in California — was a bit of a hybrid between film and stage. (There was even some last-minute accommodations — at least emotionallly — as Vanessa Hudgens, who played Rizzo, learned that her father had passed away the night before the airing, but bravely went on with show.)
The gamble paid off. Reviews were largely good, and the overnight ratings were impressive. Fox topped the night. The three-hour telecast scored a 7.4/11 in metered market results, according to Deadline. The 50s-themed musical was seen by just over 12 million viewers. By comparison, NBC's most recent musical outing, "The Wiz Live!" which drew a 7.9/13 rating in December 2015, was seen by 11.5 million TV watchers. Deadline also reports that "Grease: Live" drew a 4.3/13 rating among adults aged 18-49, which tops the recent broadcast of "The Wiz Live!" by nearly 30 percent in that specific demographic.
The way things are going, maybe we can expect an increase in live televised musicals.
Following a sold-out, world-premiere run at Manhattan Theatre Club last year, Simon Stephens' Heisenberg is transferring to Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre this fall. The announcement also revealed Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker will reprise their roles in the acclaimed two-hander.
The new play, by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time author, is about two beguiling strangers who meet at a crowded London train station and quickly embark on a life-changing journey. Directed by Mark Brokaw, the Broadway transfer will begin previews Sept. 20 and officially open at MTC's Friedman Oct. 13.
Parker has a long relationship with MTC, the most famous example being the play Proof, which also transferred to Broadway after an acclaimed rum at MTC’s Off-Broadway space.
The Paper Mill Playhouse world premiere of Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale: The Musical — based on his 1993 film of the same name, and featuring a score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and a book by Palminteri — began previews at the New Jersey venue Feb. 4.
The show is co-directed by film icon Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo. De Niro directed and starred in the movie version, which was based on Palminteri’s Off-Broadway play. Zaks directed the Broadway bow of the play, which came after the movie. It’s a complicated history.
Based on the real-life story of Chazz Palminteri‚ the musical is the story of an Italian-American teenager finding his path in life as he must choose between the father who raised him and a mob-boss father figure who fascinates him.
The show opens on Feb. 14. Given the personnel involved, you probably haven’t heard the last of it.
The new production of Arthur Miller's Salem-set witch-hunt drama, The Crucible has postponed its first Broadway preview by a day, from Feb. 29 to March 1. And it’s for a very good reason. It’s so that its co-star, Saoirse Ronan, can attend the Academy Awards, at which she is a nominee.
When Ronan was first cast, the film "Brooklyn" had not yet be released. Luckily for the show, the movie was well received and Ronan nominated for several honors, including a Golden Globe Award and a SAG award. Now, the play has a bigger star than it originally bargained for.
Finally, here’s your Hamilton story of the week.
The musical has found yet another way to set a precedent. The Grammy Awards has deemed the smash show so ineffably hip, so culturally important that, for the first time in long memory, it has decided to hand over the opening number of the Feb. 15 broadcast to a musical!
The ceremony will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but the Hamilton performance will be piped in via satellite from the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. The musical is usually dark on Monday nights, but an audience will be invited in that night for the special performance.
Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda was quoted as saying, "We're going to do the opening number, scream with joy, and then celebrate the fact that we were just on the Grammys. Best night ever."
Hamilton is nominated for Best Musical Theatre album. I think it has a somewhat good chance.