Whether you loved it, hated it, or just enjoyed making fun of it, there's no denying that last week's Sound of Music, Live! television special on NBC drew a lot of attention and some massive ratings. And all of those people watching and live-tweeting have inspired the network to make it an annual holiday tradition. That's right: there will now be a live musical on television every year, for better or for worse. NBC already has a few new productions they're currently circling, and although it's still too early to reveal any clues about what audiences can expect next year, they have promised that they're looking for something that's family-friendly and has enough familiar songs to appease everyone.
With those strict criteria in mind, we've come up with five options for musicals we'd love to see NBC turn into a live television special, and five they should avoid at all costs.
Funny Girl Since it's likely that NBC will turn to some classic movie musicals in order to find inspiration for their next production, we suggest they step away from the obvious choice of My Fair Lady and instead go with Funny Girl, the musical that made Barbra Striesand a household name. There's plenty of familiar songs to catch people's attention and the story will appeal to older audiences who are familiar with the movie, or younger audiences who grew up watching it. If they're interested in enticing a younger audience, all they would have to do is cast Lea Michele, whose Glee character Rachel Berry is currently playing the part, and who is a shoo-in for the lead if the production ever returns to Broadway. Besides, if there's anyone in the world who is set to inherit Streisand's legacy, it's Michele, and this would be the perfect place to establish herself as a mini-Barbra.
Thoroughly Modern MillieAlthough the movie might be less familiar to most audiences than Funny Girl, the musical, which was originally produced in 2002, has become a staple of high school theater departments across the country. This connection would allow the network to draw a younger audience, who are familiar with the production, but the 1920s setting and jazz-age inspired music won't turn off an older audience either. And even though the songs might not be as well-known as the score of The Sound of Music, it's catchy and up-beat enough to stick in your head for weeks afterward. For star power, NBC could go with Sutton Foster, who originated and won a Tony Award for the role when it was on Broadway, as her stint on the beloved but canceled Bunheads would draw a decent sized audience who are eager to see more from Foster.
Wicked Sure, they could choose The Wizard of Oz, which has become part of a holiday tradition for many people already, but let's face it: without Judy Garland, the show's kind of boring. Instead, the network should go with Wicked, which has become somewhat of a modern classic. It's entertaining enough for children, complex enough for adults, and has become a pop culture phenomenon and the biggest hit musical Broadway has seen in quite some time, all of which would translate to massive ratings for NBC. Sure, the set would be a bit complicated, but nothing draws in viewers like the risk of a fly rig malfunctioning live on air. Plus, if the network managed to get Idina Menzel or Kristin Chenoweth to reprise their roles, there's no way anyone would watch anything else that night.
Little Shop of HorrorsThis choice might be a little less family-friendly than some of our other suggestions, but despite the threat of a man-eating plant, Little Shop of Horrors has cross-generational appeal, and its score has the familiarity that NBC is looking for in a musical. The danger and sentient plants will appeal to children, and the story is well known and well-loved by older viewers, so it really wouldn't be as risky for NBC as they might think. Plus, all they would have to do is cast Neil Patrick Harris as Seymour, and the ratings would come flooding in.
Guys and DollsAnother classic that would work for NBC would be Guys and Dolls. Like Millie, it's a staple of theaters across the country, and the score contains songs that have become famous in their own right. This one might be harder to entice a younger audience to watch, as it lacks some of the flashier elements that would keep children entertained, but that could easily be solved by casting Hugh Jackman. Ideally, Jackman would play Sky Masterson, which would allow him to work his charm on both Sarah Brown and the audience, but he could also pull off a fantastic Nathan Detroit — especially if he had a talented, comedic actress to play off of. Perhaps Lauren Graham could reprise her role as Miss Adelaide?
Spring AwakeningYou might think we're crazy for including a rock musical that includes profanity, nudity, suicide, and back-alley abortions, but if NBC decided to appeal to a younger audience, there's a chance they could follow in the footsteps of 90210 and decide to mount a production of Spring Awakening. After all, it was Lea Michele's breakthrough theater role, and if they managed to bring back the original cast — which included Frozen's Jonathan Groff, Skylar Astin from Pitch Perfect, and The Newsroom star John Gallgher Jr. — then high ratings would be guaranteed. But there's no way that a television network would manage to put on this show effectively, since they would have to change about 95 percent of it.
Mary PoppinsWith Saving Mr. Banks hitting theaters soon, NBC might decide to capitalize off of the renewed interested in Mary Poppins and put on the musical next year. While it's a great choice for them, being a much loved film with familiar songs, characters and stories, we don't think it's such a good idea. Firstly, Disney would never grant them the rights, as that would mean handing over massive ratings to a rival network. But, more importantly, if there's one thing we all learned from The Sound of Music it's this: don't ever attempt to recreate a role made famous by Julie Andrews.
AnnieYes, it's a classic, and yes, everyone knows at least two songs from the show and are able to belt them out at the drop of a hat. But do you really want to spend a whole three hours watching precocious children sing and dance on screen while your obnoxious little cousins do the same in your living room, and everyone around you acts like it's the cutest thing they've ever seen even though it's clearly terrible? No, we didn't think so.
The Phantom of the OperaDespite currently being the longest-running show on Broadway, which proves its universal appeal, and the fact that it would look almost as amazing onscreen as it does in the theater, Phantom is a terrible idea for a television special. Why? Because in addition to encouraging plenty of people to romanticize a relationship that consists entirely of stalking and kidnapping, after about two songs, it feels as if you're just listening to a three-hour funeral march. Plus, there are very few people who are both famous enough to draw in an audience and talented enough to sing that score without it being a complete train wreck.
CatsThis year, give your family the gift that keeps on giving: the trauma that results from watching a bunch of adults wearing skintight leotards and face paint crawl around in some moodily-lit garbage cans to a score that it both incredibly boring and obnoxiously catchy. We'll sit this one out, thanks.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.