Monday, December 12, 2016

TV: The end of the TV musical?


Was Harvey Fierstein clearing his throat in "Timeless to Me" or trying to hit a note?


NBC crashed and burned with HAIRSPRAY LIVE! last week.

It was poorly cast and badly directed -- often the cameras seem to have no idea where to go as if people had slept through blocking and rehearsal.

Worse for the network than the artistic bust was the fact that the production failed to deliver viewers becoming the lowest rated live musical since THE SOUND OF MUSIC kicked the genre off in 2009.

The ratings weren't a real surprise to the network suits.

Execs were telling us repeatedly that they wished Rosie O'Donnell would pipe down on Twitter.

They wanted a nice, warm, winter event but there was "that actress" being political.

We questioned their use of the term.

For most movie goers, Rosie had supporting parts in three big films -- the last hit was 1994.

That's over twenty years ago.

She hasn't even acted in a live action film since 1998.

For TV viewers?

She was an actress back when she pretended she was the queen of nice on daytime and in love with Tom Cruise.

Now that she's out of the closet, she insists she was saying she wanted Tom to do mow her lawn.

Not true.

"Tommy Can You Hear Me?

Have we forgotten that?

No, we haven't.

Or her singing "I've got chills up and down my spine" for Tom Cruise.

Rosie was a deeply closeted lesbian who felt she couldn't be honest with America, that they wouldn't like her.

So she pretended she was in love with Tom Cruise.

To those who remember her as an actress, there's that image.

To everyone else?

She may be an angry TV host who was forced out of THE VIEW twice and who failed on Oprah's channel and who also failed on radio.


She shouldn't have been the woman who failed on TV last week.

We haven't forgotten ROSIE LIVE, how could they?

In 2008, NBC didn't just give Rosie a chance to bring back the variety show, they gave her the chance to do so during the holiday season.

Rosie thought a 'special' was a bunch of bad political commentary, a non-existent set, low frills and everything else that screamed public access.

No surprise, it was a flop.

It was such a flop that NBC didn't even let her try any other episodes (the special was supposed to be the pilot for the TV series that would premiere in January 2009 but it was such a flop that no other Rosie -- live or otherwise -- followed).

Yet here it was December 2016 and they were giving her a role on their prestige live production?

That's on them.

They can complain about her political rants all they want, the truth is they never should have hired her.

She has no following, people do not feel warmly towards her during the holidays and her career's been in the toilet for decades.

Putting her in the production -- as the gym teacher -- goes to a casting mistake.

And, in the end, that's all the crapfest was -- one big casting mistake after another.

Jennifer Hudson could carry the weight of a live production.

But the only worthwhile performer in HAIRSPRAY LIVE! was slotted into a bit part.

HAIRSPRAY started as a comedy film from John Waters in 1988.  It starred Ricki Lake as the young teen Tracy with Divine as her mother and Debbie Harry as the villain Velma.

In 2002, it became a Broadway musical.

In 2007, it became a musical film starring Nikki Bonsky as Tracey, John Travolta as her mother Edna and Michelle Pfeiffier as Velma.  This film version amplified the role of Maybelle and Queen Latifah ran with it.  Others in the cast included Amanda Bynes, James Marsden and Zac Ephron.

It was the kind of cast that last week's production should have offered.

Instead of Debbie Harry (famous for leading the group Blondie) or twice Academy Award nominated actress Michelle Pffeifer as Velma, you got Kristin Chenoweth.


For TV and film audiences, that's a good question.

Though beloved by theater goers, she's never made an impression in other fields and certainly shouldn't have been given such a high profile role.

There are three big roles in this musical: Tracy, Edna and Velma.

Tracy was wrongly cast with a newcomer for the TV production (as it had been in both film versions).  There's no reason Tracy had to be a newcomer.  But casting an unknown in the lead meant you had to deliver star power elsewhere.

And HAIRSPRAY LIVE! did not do that.

Not only was a nobody playing Velma but a yesteryear was playing Edna.

Harvey Firestein played the role of Edna on Broadway.

To which we say, "So what?"

If Carole Channing was too much for film audiences -- and she was -- to play the lead in the film of HELLO DOLLY (Doris Day was first offered the role that eventually went to Barbra Streisand), then how the hell did Harvey end up playing Edna last week?

Outside of the cabaret circuit, he has no following.

He's also way too old to play a teenager's mother -- at 62, he looked like he was Tracy's grandmother.

And he looked awful.

Divine and John Travolta did not pass for beautiful women but they passed for women.  You could see something special about Edna, all these years later, in their physical performance.

Not so Harvey.

He has a face made for radio and theater.

Meaning every close up sends you fleeing.

And he has no fan base to speak of.

So why did NBC let this s**t casting go forward?

Did they think others would pull in audiences?

The role of Corny Collins is a thread bare role but attractive men have held interest in the role.

DANCING WITH THE STARS' Derek Hough is not an attractive man.

He has the same freak mouth that David Johansen had and that mouth is the reason Johansen never made it as a film actor.  All those weird lines around the mouth and under it.

They also served up Garret Clayton as Link.  This was a musical production of HAIRSPRAY -- not one of AMERICAN GIGOLO or JOHNS.

Link's supposed to be good looking, not waiting to be pounced on by rough trade.

Derek and Garret prompt no interest from TV viewers.

At least Ariana Grande was both talented and known -- but she was shoved into the thankless role of Penny.

It's stupid casting like the plan for BYE BYE BIRDIE LIVE! next year where NBC will showcase Jennifer Lopez in the role that was played by . . . Janet Leigh in the film.

It's a nothing role.

The role for the woman in this production is the one that made Ann-Margaret a film star.

You want to star Jennifer Lopez in a musical production, make it APPLAUSE.

We also question the interest in BYE BYE BIRDIE as showcase entertainment since it's right up there with THE MUSIC MAN as an overdone musical that is also tragically dated and uncool.

NBC needs to step in and start overseeing these productions.

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, both in their sixties, are clearly too out of touch to cast these musicals.

They thought the answer this year was to cavort across stages and sets and to give updates on watch parties.

No one gives a damn about that nonsense -- in fact it removes the viewer from the live experience.

The whole thing was a flop.

The elderly boys are too old to be in charge of this franchise and they've demonstrated it repeatedly.

If NBC wants to save their yearly event, they better be prepared to bring in some young blood.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }