The magic of live theatre is irresistible. So many of some of the most iconic songs, stories, and characters come from the well-known musicals that helped shape the entertainment industry into what it is today. Luckily, over the past few years, some of the largest television networks, like ABC and NBC, have been putting together yearly live musicals featuring the most prominent stars broadcast on television for all to see.
There have been some amazing hits, and the most recent example is ABC’s Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration (which starred H.E.R. and Josh Groban). For fans of live on-air musicals, quite a few are worth the watch.
‘Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration’ (2022)
The most recent live musical to be broadcasted on ABC was Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration. This production is a bit different from the other musicals because rather than the stage musical being put up on television, it was more like a concert that honored the movie’s 30-year legacy and mixed the animated film with the live songs.
Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration follows the film’s classic story of a young girl named Belle who falls in love with a cursed Beast and makes friends with his servants (who are all talking inanimate objects). This production was spectacular, and both H.E.R. and Groban knocked it out of the park (not to mention Martin Short as Lumiere, too).
‘Hairspray Live!’ (2016)
Hairspray Live! is a live performance of the musical Hairspray on NBC. The story, set in the 1960s, follows a teenage girl named Tracy who loves to dance and dreams of being on a popular television show. When she becomes an overnight sensation and gains a spot on the show, she meets a ton of new people. Along with her best friend, Penny, she takes on the norms of the period and campaigns for the show to include people of all races.
This particular production of Hairspray is stunning—NBC even themed the commercials in between to be set in the 60s. The show also had an all-star cast, including Harvey Fierstein (who played the same part on Broadway), Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Kristen Chenoweth, and more!
‘The Wiz Live!’ (2015)
The Wiz Live! was a live performance of the critically acclaimed retelling of The Wizard of Oz. The Wiz Live! follows Dorothy, a 24-year-old Harlem teacher who finds herself transported to the urban fantasy world of Oz (similar to a dream version of New York City).
The show includes a variety of soul and R&B infusions into the music, and this particular production included the legendary Queen Latifah, Common, Amber Riley, and Mary J. Blige in the main cast. In terms of live TV musical adaptions, The Wiz Live! is truly a quality watch.
‘The Sound of Music Live!’ (2013)
The Sound of Music Live! was one of the first live performances to be done on NBC and starred the famous singer Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp. The plot, following that of the 1959 Broadway musical and well-known classic film, follows a woman named Maria who is studying to become a nun in Austria in 1938. She takes a job as a governess to a large military family and falls in love with the children and, even more so, their widowed father.
The looming threat of the Third Reich is upon them, and tensions rise. Broadway stars Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, and Audra McDonald are all a part of the main cast of this truly phenomenal television special. While the reviews were mixed, The Sound of Music Live! is a refreshing and ingenious take on the classic.
‘RENT: Live’ (2013)
RENT: Live is a live performance of the Tony Award-winning musical RENT that aired on FOX. The musical follows a group of impoverished young artists, Bohemians, who struggle to create a life for themselves and art. All of this tension, love, and anger is consumed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that affected so many in the Lower Manhattan area they lived in.
This production featured stars like Jordan Fisher, Valentina, and Vanessa Hudgens. The original Broadway cast also came together to make a special cameo at the end. RENT: Live was a phenomenal production, and fans of the original should check it out!
‘Grease Live!’ (2016)
One of the most popular live musical television specials is Grease Live! The classic movie and stage musical about greasers, Pink Ladies, and love in the 1950s were brought to life on NBC. Live audiences were incorporated into the staging and setting in this production—nifty!
The cast included Broadway star Aaron Tveit as Danny Zuko, Julianne Hough as Sandy, Carlos PenaVega as Kenickie, and Hudges (once more) as Betty Rizzo, among many other notable names. Grease Live! is a fun watch because it’s so clear the cast is having fun and feeding on the energy the crowd was giving them.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert’ (2018)
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert is one of the best musical television specials to be produced thus far. This rock opera retelling of the final days of Jesus Christ’s life leading up to his crucifixion focuses on the personal relationships Jesus had with his apostles, people, and more.
John Legend played Jesus, Mary Magdalene was played by Sara Bareilles, Brandon Victor Dixon played Judas, Norm Lewis was the Caiaphas, and Alice Cooper played King Herod. The aesthetic, music and all-around concert feel of this musical works so well.
‘Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical Live!’ (2020)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical Live! is a Christmas musical television special aired on NBC. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is the classic tale of the infamous Grinch narrated by an older version of his dog, Max.
Matthew Morrison stars as the titular Grinch, and Denis O’Hare as an older Max. While this production did not receive much praise, it is still worth watching for Christmastime to see the classic tale presented in a new way.
‘Peter Pan Live!’ (2014)
Peter Pan Live! is a musical television special that was a live performance of the 1954 adaptation of Peter Pan. The special was the classic tale of “the boy who never grew up” and his adventures in Neverland with the Darling family.
Peter Pan Live! featured Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, Allison Williams as Peter Pan, and Broadway star Taylor Louderman as Wendy Darling. The production had a phenomenal set with some intricate innovations. Even if the show did not receive the ravest of reviews, Peter Pan Live! is still worth the watch.
‘Annie Live!’ (2021)
Annie Live! is a musical television special that aired on NBC that was a performance of the 1977 Broadway musical version. Annie Live! tells the story of orphan Annie, who gets adopted by one of the richest families during the Great Depression.
Celina Smith played the titular Annie, Harry Connick Jr. played Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, and Broadway legends Tituss Burgess and Megan Hilty as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively. Annie Live! Received quite a big turnout in viewership and is one of the most enjoyable live musical specials. Annie Live is absolutely worth the watch.