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Musical Theatre Reality TV

On Sunday evening, while waiting for Jane Eyre to start on PBS, I caught NBC's latest reality TV show, Grease- You're the One that I Want, in which young and hopeful triple threats (they sing! they dance! they act!) compete to play the leads (Danny and Sandy) in the upcoming Broadway revival of Grease.

Apparently, this is not a new concept. Andrew Lloyd Webber did a reality show called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in Britain to find the lead for his Sound of Music revival. The show has gone on to make oodles of money from the TV show tie-in publicity. I guess Maria wasn't that big of a problem.

Here in the States, creative democracy is running wild because viewers will get to vote for their choices for Musical Theatre Revival Idol. Yep, Musical Theatre actors will sing, strut, and emote their way into our hearts, and we (yes, each and every one of us) will get to choose who we want to see in the ten million dollar revival of Grease. Oh God, I don't think I can handle all that power.

Fortunately, there were professional judges to whittle the Dannies and Sandies down to a manageable dozen (6 boys, 6 girls) of traditionally castable broadway babies. In other words, they all were eager to please, and they all looked the same. Most of the girls had blonde or long hair. The boys had dark hair gelled in the greaser style.

The only boy who looked different was Slacker Max who wore his hair forward over his eyes (think of Ted in Bill and Ted only Ted can sing) until producer David Ian pulled him aside, told him he was the best singer in the group, but he had to start looking like Danny all the freakin' time if he wanted a shot at it. Slacker Max slicked his hair back in the stage performance and out-Dannied all the other greasers. I hope Slacker Max makes it. He's a real actor.

However, I can't get into watching the Grease TV show on a weekly basis. It's wayyyy too Chorus Line for me. A couple of times during the program, I could've sworn that I heard the opening vamp of ‘One' or a verse of ‘What I Did For Love'. How about this for a Reality TV show idea: a group of actors/singers/dancers trying out for A Chorus Line, a show about actors/singers/dancers trying out for a show. Double the post-modernism, double the fun.

As I watched director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall's stoic poker face witnessing some hideous singing, dancing, and acting, I hoped she and the piano accompanists were making really good money at this gig. As I watched the rejects sent away with ‘you're not Danny' or ‘you're not Sandy', my jaw clenched. The kids don't have to be Danny and Sandy. The kids just have to play Danny and Sandy. It's just a musical. It's all fake.

At this point, the funny part of me hoped Ricky Gervais or Christopher Guest and friends would crash this party. Unfortunately, that did not happen. However, next week, Olivia Newton John will be the special guest.

As I watched some PBS advertising and waited for Jane Eyre to finally begin, I thought about other musicals that would make good reality TV fodder.

West Side Story

Divide the contestants into Sharks and Jets, give them switchblades, and set them loose on an island called Manhattan. They have to find fire, water, and food.

South Pacific

Or what if you dropped the contestants onto an island in the South Pacific


Or a corn field in Oklahoma.

Show Boat

Contestants are on an actual show boat on the Mississippi. The rejects have to swim to shore.


Contestants have to wear spandex body suits. Some of the challenges will include ‘Find the cat nip', ‘the ball of string' and ‘the litter box challenge'. Every week, one little kitty is eliminated and hoisted away on a giant rubber tire.


Not quite sure how this one would work. However, the subject matter of the show guarantees a lot of scantily clad females.

The Phantom of the Opera

There must be some way to milk more money out of this cash cow. Perhaps the reject line could be, ‘turn in your mask, you're not the Phantom'.

Merrily We Roll Along

It's hard to turn Sondheim into reality TV. In the first episode of the MWRA reality TV show, we meet the winner. Then, each week, we travel back in time to see how the winner became the winner.


The show is basically about rejection, so the angst is already there. Probably the most famous song from Dreamgirls is ‘And I'm telling you, I'm not going'. Contestants are sent away with ‘And I'm telling you, you are going, yes, you are really going, go, we don't love you.'


Ahhh, Rent. There is a candle song, so there could be a whole Survivor thing where the reject's candle is blown out.

I think if I draw any conclusion about musical theatre reality TV, it would be, ‘hey, it employs people, more power to it.' Personally, I would rather watch chefs and fashion designers duke it out. They are not natural performers like the Broadway babies are, and this occasional awkwardness puts the real in reality TV for me. Any predictions for Top Chef anyone?

By the way, Jane Eyre rocked. Jane was definitely not Sandy, and Rochester was definitely not Danny.

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