I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all our readers in the UK to tune into ITV on Sunday, 20th December 2015. Get the family and friends around, pour a glass of sherry, pop a few mince pies on a plate and get ready for the first-ever live televised musical in the UK. Yes, I'm talking about Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic The Sound of Music Live!
What has been an annual event in the USA since December 2013 has finally made it to our shores and I applaud ITV for investing and taking the chance on this project. Elaine Bedell, ITV’s Director of Entertainment and Comedy, released a statement saying:
The two and a half hour musical will be broadcast live from Three Mills Studios in East London and directed by BAFTA nominee Coky Giedroyc (with Tony winner Martin Koch functioning as Musical Director and Richard Valentine as Live Television Director). This will be a unique opportunity to relive the classic musical in a fresh interpretation, as I'm sure there isn't a musical fan out there who hasn't seen the 1965 film version (starring Dame Julie Andrews) several hundred times already. I sincerely hope that ITV gets impressive viewing figures for this premiere event, so that the budget might increase for a future annual musical tradition.
In America, the live televised musicals have been a tremendous success thanks to NBC (a US television network owned by Universal). On 5th December 2013, the network broadcast The Sound of Music Live! with country music star Carrie Underwood in the lead role. She was joined by the best of Broadway including Audra Macdonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle, as well as "True Blood" star Stephen Moyer. The broadcast managed to draw in a massive 18.62 million viewers, which slapped a huge smile on the face of many an NBCUniversal executive.
This lead to a less successful outing on 4th December 2014 with Peter Pan Live! which garnered 9.13 million viewers - an impressive number in itself, but dwarfed by the Carrie Underwood predecessor. Christopher Walken topped the bill as Captain Hook, with Alison Williams as Peter Pan, a returning Christian Borle as Smee/George Darling, Kelli O'Hara as Mrs. Darling, Taylor Louderman as Wendy Darling, and Minnie Driver who played an adult version of Wendy as well as the Narrator of the musical, amongst many other talented performers.
This year NBC brought us The Wiz Live! which was broadcast last week, on 3rd December 2015, and saw an increase in the ratings with 11.14 million viewers. The musical competed at the same time as an NFL game on CBS which topped the viewing figures in America. Another positive impression for The Wiz Live! was its impact on social media. According to The Wrap, it became the "most-social live special program in Nielsen Twitter TV history" with 1.64 million tweets. The cast included an extremely talented newcomer called Shanice Williams as Dorothy, and more familiar names such as Mary J. Blige (Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West), Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Ne-Yo (Tinman), David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), Broadway's original 'Dorothy' Stephanie Mills (Aunt Em), Hairspray's Elijah Kelly (Scarecrow), Glee's Amber Riley (Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North) and Common (The Gatekeeper), amongst others. In a first for the format, the performers were merged with acrobats from Cirque du Soleil for aerial stunts and the production will heading to Broadway (probably in 2017).
Now other US networks are wanting a slice of the action. Fox (owned by Twentieth Century Fox) will launch its foray into the live televised musical market on 31st January 2016 with Grease Live. Fox spokesperson Shana C. Waterman commented:
The fact that there is only one performance of the musicals (preserved by TV cameras for the rest of time) allows more flexible casting and celebrities with busy schedules are able to commit more readily. Signing up to a minimum six month stint on Broadway, playing eight shows a week, sometimes proves less attractive for the celebs higher up in the food chain. But the opportunity to do a one-night-only affair (and the rehearsal period beforehand) to flex those singing and dancing muscles may be harder to turn down.
The future of these events in the USA looks promising and I await the UK's efforts with great anticipation. I, for one, have all my fingers crossed for the success of The Sound of Music Live! Make sure to tune in to ITV on Sunday, 20th December 2015.