Ranking the Live TV Musicals

As you may have heard, this past Sunday the newest of the live TV musicals aired: "Rent". I, of course, watched it and it got me thinking about all of the other ones that have graced the small screen since this strange phenomenon began in 2013. The obvious pro of putting a famous musical on TV is that it allows a whole audience of people to experience something that they might not have been able to see otherwise. The con, however, is that a lot of these have been...not great. So, let’s rank them.


A disclaimer: I did not see "The Wiz," which aired in 2015, nor "A Christmas Story," which aired in 2017. I’m sorry. Since I did not watch those, I will not be including them in this ranking. I felt that this was only fair. So, if you watched them, you may insert them into any place on this list that you deem appropriate. Also, there have been some TV musicals, like Fox’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and ABC’s “Dirty Dancing,” but these were not live, and so are not included on this list. (That being said, “Rocky Horror” was pretty good, and “Dirty Dancing” was terrible. There, I did it anyway.)


And now, on with the countdown.


6. (aka last) Peter Pan Live! -2014

Courtesy: TV Club- The AV Club

The thing about a live musical, whether on Broadway or TV, is that it requires its performers to be able to both sing and act well, since they only get one shot and there’s no effects to help them. So then why, oh why, would they cast Christopher Walken?? This entire cast was just not talented. Allison Williams, daughter of Brian “Nepotism” Williams, was also bad. “Peter Pan” is also a somewhat rough musical to do in the first place, since you have to have grown adults flying around on some wires, and this rendition was also horrible. Just painful to watch.


5. Rent -2019

Courtesy: Vulture  

Now, this was very disappointing. This show could have been really good, but we did not actually get to see the live performance. The guy who plays Roger, Brennin Hunt, broke his foot towards the end of the dress rehearsal, and so they aired the dress rehearsal up until the last like fifteen minutes. I feel like the live performance was probably higher energy, because the performance we got was looooooow energy. The cast was actually pretty talented, except for whoever played Angel, who could not sing whatsoever. Vanessa Hudgens was incredible and absolutely saved the show. Also the last five minutes were amazing, because the original cast showed up and saw “Seasons of Love,” which was beautiful, except it just made me miss them more and made it even more clear that was performance was lacking.


4. Sound of Music Live! -2013

Courtesy: Variety  

This was the first one, and I was harsh on it at the time because I just did not get the concept. But in retrospect, it really was not that bad. Carrie Underwood was no Julie Andrews, but who is??? Absolutely no one was about to do that role any better, so Carrie tried her best in what was always going to be to no avail. But anyway, the kids were pretty good, and the show overall really was able to work as a live performance, especially being the guinea pig for the whole thing. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible.


3. Hairspray Live! -2016

Courtesy: The Stage  

Ariana Grande. Kristin Chenoweth. Jennifer Hudson. This was a great cast in a pretty good show that just didn’t get staged that well. For some reason the producers thought it would be a good idea to keep cutting to the audience and doing weird camera things that just messed up the flow. The costumes were good, but the set was not great. But it still was a fun time to watch, and overall I think they pulled it off.


2) Grease: Live -2016

Courtesy: Variety

I’m not real crazy about “Grease” as a show overall, but this was a great execution. Yet again, Vanessa Hudgens is perfect, and she did a beautiful performance even though her father passed away the day before. Plus, we were blessed with the return of pop goddess Carly Rae Jepsen, superstar Julianne Hough, and Broadway darling Aaron Tveit. It was not a perfect performance--some of the scene transitions were awkward, and I always hate when people in their 30s play high school students (even though that is in fact how the original movie was, but still). The cast seemed happy to be there, and it was good. Not great, but certainly good.


1. Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Courtesy: IndieWire  

This one was genuinely so good. John Legend as Jesus was not perfect, and the guy who played Pontius Pilate was not great, but Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas and Sara Bareilles were incredible. I think that this show works the best as a live performance, since it does not really need an elaborate set, the crowd cheering actually fits (versus in “Rent” and “Grease” where it was just annoying), and it translates well to a modern audience. This is the only one that I would want to rewatch, and I actually have started listening to Brandon Victor Dixon’s rendition of “Superstar” instead of the original Broadway cast one. The show also had REALLY high energy, which I think can be the difference between a great live performance and a lackluster one. A great time. More of this, please.  


There you have it--my ranking of the live TV musicals thus far. It seems that this trend is still going strong, as “Hair” is set to be next up (have you seen James Corden do Crosswalk the Musical on “The Late Late Show”?? He did “Hair” with Lin-Manuel Miranda and it was hilarious). Anyway, as I said earlier, it’s great that this is exposing more people to musicals, especially since seeing one in real life costs a whole lot of money. Hopefully, the people that keep making these can perfect the system and figure out a way to pull these off. I believe in you, TV people.