TV musical remakes, ranked: 'Dirty Dancing,' 'Grease: Live,' 'Hairspray Live!' and more
Ever since NBC reintroduced the idea of live TV productions as "appointment television" in 2013 with its adaptation of “The Sound of Music,” it seems every network wants to try its hand at turning musicals into small-screen hits.
So far, most have been live, a couple pre-taped, but all are remakes of plays and/or movies.
From ABC’s regrettable remake of “Dirty Dancing" to NBC's big surprise with “The Wiz Live!," here’s a ranking of all the 21st century TV musical events produced to date, culled mostly from reviews by Newsday's TV critic, Verne Gay.
9. "Dirty Dancing"
Thirty years after the premiere of the original 1987 "Dirty Dancing" starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, ABC gave us the (pre-taped) made-for-TV musical remake with Colt Prattes and Abigail Breslin that aired May 24, 2017. It was supposed to pay homage to the '80s classic, but ended up being a scene-for-scene reshoot with less-talented actors and awkwardly placed musical numbers. Unlike the stars before them, Prattes and Breslin had no chemistry, their dancing was robotic and their lip-syncing was obvious. The remake pales in comparison to the original, proving that some classics are better left alone.
8. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show"
Fox's pre-taped "Rocky Horror Picture Show" remake premiered Oct. 20, 2016 to mixed reviews. Newsday's TV critic, Verne Gay, determined the performance was tamer than the 1975 cult classic, and said that while the performance had the capacity to entertain, it couldn't shock audiences the way the original did. Laverne Cox made for a fine Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but didn't live up to the standard set by Tim Curry. Overall, the production fell flat in comparison to the countless other stage adaptations, and wasn't nearly as shocking.
7. "The Passion"
Fox's "The Passion" aired live March 20, 2016 and presented a modern twist on the final days of Jesus Christ (played by Telenovela and Latin pop music star Jencarlos Canela). Tyler Perry narrated the two-hour spectacle, which was complete with good covers of pop hits including Katy Perry's "Unconditionally," Train's "Calling All Angels" and Evanescence's "Bring Me to Life" by an ensemble cast that also included Trisha Yearwood, Seal and Chris Daughtry. But As Verne Gay said in his review, something was largely missing from this production. Ultimately, it "felt too commercial, too slick, too 'American Idol'-ized."
6. "The Sound of Music Live!"
NBC's first 21st century live musical premiered Dec. 5, 2013 (live from Long Island, no less), marking the first televised event of its kind in roughly 50 years. The production brought in about 18 million viewers and proved that the risky format could work; for that, NBC deserves some credit. However, as our critic classified it at the time, "The Sound of Music Live!" was a success, not a triumph. For one, it proved what audiences could have assumed: Carrie Underwood (who starred as Maria Rainer) can certainly sing, but she can't act. Her performance was incomparable to Julie Andrews' in the movie, with absolutely no chemistry between her and Stephen Moyer, who played Captain Von Trapp. Underwood's scenes felt especially wooden next to those by stage pros including Audra McDonald and Laura Benanti, who got their songs right.
5. "Hairspray Live!"
NBC's "Hairspray Live!" promised to be the most lavish live TV musical ever, but what actually arrived on Dec. 7, 2016 was more like a high school production: crimped, dark and confined, as Verne Gay observed in his review. It was forgettable compared to the 2002-2009 Broadway production and the 2007 hit movie featuring a CGI-enhanced John Travolta as Edna Turnblad. A dream cast including Jennifer Hudson and Kristin Chenoweth gave fine, if not dream, performances.
4. "Peter Pan Live!"
NBC's live production of the 1954 "Peter Pan" musical premiered Dec. 4, 2014 (again from Grumman Studios in Bethpage), marking a significant improvement over the network's "Sound of Music." As our critic noted, this one nearly soared, thanks to superior production values, good singing and magical special effects. Allison Williams (of HBO's "Girls," and daughter of then-"NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams) proved to be a competent triple threat as Peter Pan. However, the production was far from perfect: The crocodile that appeared midway through the play was the most memorable special effect for all the wrong reasons.
3. "Grease: Live"
Fox's "Grease: Live," which aired Jan. 31, 2016, fulfilled its two main objectives: nailing the music and the choreography. Stars Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit may not have captured the same chemistry as the original Sandy and Danny (Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta), but the production was still a crowd pleaser. One of the hottest directors on Broadway, Thomas Kail of "Hamilton," helped this adaptation get it mostly right. Along with an excellent cast (including Vanessa Hudgens, whose father died the previous day), Kail brought energy, drive, and enough revisions and welcome updates -- most notably a diverse cast -- to almost make you forget the 1978 movie, our critic said in his review.
2. "Jesus Christ Superstar Live"
NBC's live production from the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg did what every "Jesus Christ Superstar" has done over the last half century, or had better have done, wrote our critic Verne Gay in his review. While John Legend held his own as Jesus Christ, he was ultimately out-sung by the ensemble of Brandon Victor Dixon, Norm Lewis, Ben Daniels and Sara Bareilles. However, director David Leveaux managed to mine some magic from "Hamilton" and brought "JCS" into the present day, specifically Brooklyn (or a gentrified Williamsburg) and conveys the idea that the revolutionary spirit of Jesus is right here. This musical is mostly about peace, love and understanding and NBC's live version hit the mark with a lively, enjoyable show.
1. "The Wiz Live!"
Thanks to memories, nostalgia, love and a long-ago movie that starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, "The Wiz Live!" was almost doomed before it began on Dec. 3, 2015, Verne Gay wrote in his review. But NBC's third televised musical remake (again, staged at Long Island's Grumman Studios) proved to be its charm, and a winner nobody expected. Newcomer Shanice Williams shined as Dorothy alongside veteran performers including Stephanie Mills, Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige, who pretty much stole the show as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. Veteran Broadway and TV director Kenny Leon took a departure from the 1978 movie's dystopian version of Oz, accentuating the positive and downplaying the downers, delivering a much-needed dose of happiness instead.