Live broadcasts of popular Broadway musicals represent a major trend in current television: FOX's “Grease: Live,” which aired at the end of January, was just the latest. The production was well received by the general audience, despite mixed critical reviews and a few on-screen malfunctions during the broadcast.
Thomas Kail, the director of “Hamilton” – the Broadway smash which “transformed theater and way we think about history,” according to The New Yorker – directed “Grease: Live,” bringing his trademark energy to the production.
CNN Money reported the broadcast brought in 12.2 million viewers, while social media lit up with the hashtag #GreaseLive during the production’s airing; nearly 1.4 million tweets were sent out about the broadcast. Variety.com stated, “The three-hour production drew the best ratings for a musical since NBC’s ‘Sound of Music Live’ in December 2013.”
“I thought it was amazing,” said senior Graciela Morilla on the “Grease: Live” broadcast. “My roommates and I stayed in and watched it. My favorite part was watching Vanessa Hudgens. Her song ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do’ was a high point of the show for me, and I think she’s really coming into her own as a performer. I thought Mario Lopez was hilarious, too, with his little cameo. It made for a fun night on television.”
“Grease: Live” was broadcast in a relatively short time after NBC’s “The Wiz Live,” which aired in December. In comparison with NBC’s live musicals, “Grease: Live” has been the first to incorporate a live audience into their performance. A review by The Atlantic described the live audience as “the one factor that seemed to work in FOX’s favor,” over NBC’s attempts.
FOX plans to broadcast a live musical rendition of the biblical story “The Passion,” a spin on Jesus’ journey from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. It is set to air on March 20, Palm Sunday. A live broadcast of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is also in the works to be aired on FOX later in the year.
For NBC, currently the leader in made-for-TV-musicals, “Hairspray” is next on the agenda, and will air sometime later this year.
Vanity Fair’s Katey Rich stated, “‘Hairspray’ is a terrific choice for a live musical — fresh, well-known and funny,” and suggests, “if [NBC brings] Zac Efron back to do this, you can’t really go wrong.”
Certainly the trend in live musicals made for TV has received great ratings and reviews, due to its use of popular industry names, award-winning directors and ingenuity.