I dislike Broadway musicals. I like some
movie musicals — Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma!, The Music Man
and any number of gala spectacles from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But there is something about musical productions on the live stage that just rubs me the wrong way.
When I was in sixth grade, my mother took me to a matinee performance of Hair!
, the hippie culture musical that was as popular as it was controversial. I had the soundtrack album and I used to play it endlessly. I knew every
word to every
song, even if I didn't understand what a lot of them meant. (I'm sure my mom was a bit on edge to hear her ten-year old singing "Sodomy.") I remember my mom being scolded by a group of protestors outside of the theater for bringing an impressionable youngster to this "smut" as one angry woman with a picket sign deemed it. My mom, in typical "Josh Pincus's mom" fashion, stood her ground, telling that lady to "mind her own business" (in so many words) as we marched through the theater doors. I remember liking the show, but I can't remember too many details aside from the infamous nude scene occurred at an unexpected time and under the camouflage of bright strobe lights.
In later years, I saw Grease!
it was okay), Beatlemania
(it was an incredible
simulation, he said sarcastically) and The Phantom of the Opera
(I hated it). After that, I have pretty much avoided the theater. It's weird
because I love
going to concerts and seeing live music performed. But there's just something
about musical theater....
Back in 2013, network television began the experiment of bringing live Broadway musicals to the small screen. Although, I don't like Broadway musicals, I do
love me some television. So, I watched one of the first ones that was broadcast. This was an over-hyped production of The Sound of Music
starring Carrie Underwood. I am not familiar with Ms. Underwood's career, aside from knowing that she was a winner on American Idol
, a show that despite having never seen, I have already formed an opinion about.... and it is not
a favorable one. I was familiar, however, with the film version of The Sound of Music
, but not the stage version, which this particular production would mimic. It was, at best, uneven. Carrie Underwood appeared overwhelmed and not up to the role's demands. Broadway powerhouse Audra McDonald, as "Mother Abess," overshadowed her fellow cast members with her stellar vocals. The rest of the production was highly forgettable (remember... my
In spite of lukewarm reviews, NBC stuck it out and, a year later almost to the day, presented Peter Pan Live!
— a shit show if there ever was one. Allison Williams, in the title role, appeared uncomfortable, displaying a "deer-in-the-headlights" expression for the duration of the show. She was featured alongside a slightly out-of-it Christopher Walken, who seemed to have lost interest midway into the second act.
These two misguided presentations were followed by even more
attempts from NBC, (Hairspray!
and The Wiz
) standing firm as though they were going to continue with this until they got it right (and so far, they haven't). Fox, feeling they had a better handle on things, joined in with Grease!
(jumping on the "titles that include an exclamation point" bandwagon), A Christmas Story
and The Passion
(a musical tale of Jesus's last days, which no one
I actually watched Fox's take on The Rocky Horror Picture Show
, touted as an "event," a week before Halloween in 2016. I loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show
when I was in high school, having seen well over one hundred audience-participatory showings. This ill-conceived presentation was doomed from the start. Of course, it would suffer from endless comparisons to the now-beloved low-budget (if somewhat dated) original film. The television version played out like Rocky Horror
karaoke. The ensemble was obviously talented, albeit miscast (remember... my
opinion). Their delivery of the songs, while certainly strong and loud, was soulless, passionless and — more importantly — lacking any attachment to the source material. The casting of Laverne Cox as "Dr. Frank N Furter," was an obvious grab for attention, but, in my opinion, it missed the mark (remember... my
opinion). No disrespect to Ms. Cox. She is indeed a powerful presence with a dynamic voice, but having this character played by a woman misses a joke that is important to the campy nature of the plot (remember... my
Ever the glutton for punishment, I settled down last night to watch yet another
one of these "live musicals for television." This time, the mighty marketing department at Disney threw its magical hat in the ring, as they presented The Little Mermaid
as an amalgam of the original animated film and new sequences featuring a politically-aware, racially-diverse cast parading around on a freeform stage before an interactive live audience. The production itself was, for the most part, beautiful. It was chock full of the type of theme park "magic" that makes Disney Disney.
However, those who have experienced the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida may have felt a twinge of déjà vu. The staging was very reminiscent of that show. Very
reminiscent. On the plus side, the cast was very talented. "Ariel" was portrayed (on stage) by 18-year old Auliʻi Cravalho, who previously voiced the titular character in Moana
. She was a formidable successor to the now-adult Jodi Benson who voiced the character in the original 1989 animated feature. Ms. Cravalho possesses the voice, appearance and persona that fits perfectly
into the cookie-cutter mold of the current trend in Disney Princesses. Graham Phillips, looking fresh from the set of any Hallmark Channel Christmas movie
, fit nicely into the part of hunky "Prince Eric." Single-named Jamaican singer Shaggy seemed unfamiliar with the role of stuffy crustacean chaperone "Sebastian." However, he turned in acceptable recitations of "Under The Sea" and "Kiss The Girl," employing his signature growl in each. (Subsequent reviews chided him for not wearing the "claws" of his animated counterpart.) Evil sea witch "Ursula" was played to the villainous hilt by Queen Latifah. From the moment she hit the stage, decked out in a white fright wig and patent leather tentacles, she was determined to steal this show right out from under everyone involved. TV staple John Stamos, as the real-life incarnation of cartoonish "Chef Louie," was determined to upstage even Queen Latifah's over-the-top performance. At times, the entire production seemed like filler between an onslaught of promos for "Disney +," the entertainment giant's new streaming service that launches in a week.
However, there was something
The staging was clever and innovative. The cast was talented. The story was classic. And everything
was dripping in Disney magic. Yet something
The Little Mermaid Live
! suffered from the same thing as The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live!
It was dead. Lifeless. Cold. Emotionless. It was Little Mermaid
karaoke. They were singing
. Singing the words
to the correct music
, but it was... as the kids say... "meh." (Remember... my
opinion). Twenty minutes into the first act, I caught Mrs. Pincus — a true lover of lavish musicals — fiddling with her phone, the unmistakable electronic "beeps" betraying her lack of attention.
"I lost interest." she stated after I nudged her to look at a particularly inventive effect. Those three words spoke volumes.