American television broadcasting channel NBC has for decades been the frontrunner for comedic talent, with iconic original shows from 30 Rock and Friends, to Scrubs and Golden Girls. NBC is now trying its hand at a new genre: The live Hollywood musical.
There was a time when the Hollywood musical was the most influential genre of the century. The MGM movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s made movie magic with iconic films such as Wizard of Oz and Singing in the Rain. Audiences adored the escapism and fantasy that these movies created, and such trifles as plot development and human logic were irrelevant. Instead the audiences were treated to intricate dance numbers and illustrious costumes, where the most important motivation was getting to the next song as quickly as possible.
MGM mogul Louis B Mayer would often boast how he had, “more stars than the heavens”
Since then the Hollywood musical has found itself downgraded to the occasional celebrity-studded farce such as 2008’s Mamma Mia, or gruelling 3-hour musical-tragedies such as 2012’s Les Miserables.
In 2013 NBC made an attempt to revisit the idealism of the genre with its live televised version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Sound of Music. While heavily criticised, new interest in the genre had been sparked. Musical television of course is nothing new, with popular shows such as Glee and Nashville having experienced a strong audience following at their peak. However, NBC’s live productions; its feature length running time, as well as its adaptations of popular stories, brought another layer to the musical form.
This decision to reproduce past works rather than encourage original content has been controversial, but further demonstrates the dominance nostalgia has over contemporary cinema. While Sound of Music Live! was criticised for its unimaginative casting and direction, The Wiz adaptation last year was universally praised for its performances and special effects. Starting with Sound of Music Live! in 2013; NBC have now produced Peter Pan, The Wiz, and now Hairspray which will be broadcast later on in the year.
This growing interest in musical theatre seems to be spreading with upcoming stage adaptations of Devil Wears Prada, 13 Going on 30 and even To Kill a Mockingbird in the works. Unfortunately in a time where the global economy is unstable, theatre ticket costs continue to put off young audiences. NBC’s televised productions are therefore a popular alternative. Rival studio FOX has already seen the merit in this new formula and broadcasted its own live production of Grease last year, as well as its current Rocky Horror Picture Show televised remake which premiered on the 20th October.
While the outcome of NBC’s newest project, Hairspray Live!, has yet to be confirmed, released promos and cast photos are already encouraging audience anticipation. Perhaps where audience tastes are getting darker; with shows such as Orange is the New Black and American Horror Story becoming big hits, bringing back the Hollywood musical could award some relief.
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