The New "Heathers" TV Show is About to Become the Alt-Right's "Glee"

The New "Heathers" TV Show is About to Become the Alt-Right's "Glee"

The original cult film was considered a driving force in the birth of third wave feminism and has been praised for its dark comedic look on gender roles, body positivity, and sexuality. The material has only been even more popularized by the recent musical which is one of the most produced pieces by schools and amateur groups. Which is why Paramount probably thinks the iron is hot enough for a remake that no one really wanted.

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“Should Transparent Be a Musical?” Yes, It Should

“Should Transparent Be a Musical?” Yes, It Should

“When one person in a family transitions, everyone transitions,” says Shelly, the matriarch of the Pfefferman family, played by Judith Light, during season three of the Amazon series, Transparent. Created by Jill Soloway, the multi-award-winning show centers around a Los Angeles family and their lives following the discovery that the person they knew as their father, Mort, played by actor Jeffrey Tambor, is transgender.

But should it become a musical?

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Doing Justice to the Live TV Musical

Jordan Nickels

In the 1950’s, live musicals like Peter Pan and Cinderella captivated audiences by bringing Broadway to the small screen. Fast-forward fifty years later and NBC brought back the live musical spectacle with The Sound of Music Live, which has prompted other networks like FOX to get into the mix as well.

Recently Broadway World did an interview with Chairmen & CEO of FOX Television Group, Dana Walden, on the announcement that FOX would be presenting RENT Live. When asked about the mature themes in RENT, Walden said that her daughters originally saw the high school version of the show, and while they would not “shy away from” mature themes, they will find a version “that is appropriate for our platform."

I understand that shows like RENT are very popular with a younger demographic and will bring in more viewers, however, as an artist, I get concerned with the creative license networks will take to make an edgier show more “family friendly.”

This is the same conversation I had last fall with FOX’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again! I was skeptical of why they picked a musical so famously shown at midnight in theaters because of nudity and other adult content. While I think, it was a brave venture by FOX, it turned out to be a Disney-fied presentation of Richard O’Brien’s cult classic.

The show’s scantily clad, outrageous characters were toned down with a cast including former Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice. There were also crucial moments changed, including Eddie’s death that resulted from a fall out the window (originally, he was stabbed to death by Frank n Furter with an ice pick.) The result wasn’t bad, but it didn’t fully capture the original creativity and oddity of the 1978 film. Even Richard O’Brien wanted “to stay detached” from the project, claiming it “is misconceived and badly cast.”

We get it, these networks want to find a popular musical that will appeal to a wide audience, yet still be appropriate for national television. However, if musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and RENT don’t fit both needs, maybe they should consider a different show. There is nothing wrong with high school versions of these shows, but they belong to a different audience. They don’t do justice artistically to the show itself for what the networks like NBC and FOX are trying to accomplish.

NBC has found a formula with shows like Hairspray and The Wiz, that present topics like race and inequality effectively, while staying family friendly and being appropriate for television. I applaud FOX for presenting Grease and the upcoming A Christmas Story, both classics and great musicals for an American audience. However, with so many musicals out there to choose from, maybe we should leave edgier shows for live theatre, and not the small screen.

~~~~~

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg hailing from Terre Haute, Indiana. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com Instagram: @jnickels8

Turn off the TV and Go See Live Theatre

Trish Befus

I am probably in the minority, but I sure wish TV stations would stop butchering what they like to call “Live”.

I was told it gets people interested in musical theatre. Does it? I think it gets people interested in not leaving their homes. In this technical social media day and age, actually going to the theatre to see a show, is “Live.”

From the time I was four, my mom took me to the theatre. It was a local kids theatre company. Two shows still stand out for me. ‘Wanda the Littlest Wizard” made me want to be a wizard so bad. The second show is one I can’t remember the name. But there was a man playing a spider kind of hanging in a web. More than forty years later, that image is still in my head.

From Fringe shows to community theatre, Broadway Across Canada to professional shows locally and Broadway shows on Broadway, here are live moments that still fascinate me.

I stage managed a Fringe show with one woman in it. She was describing a vat that Nuns made food in. She said it appears it was from the Inquisition. An older gentleman went “Ewww”. She replied with “I know” and continued. She was not one to break the fourth wall, but that moment was incredible. He was so captivated by her storytelling, that he became a part of it.

Then there’s The Wedding Singer. If ever there was a brilliant ending to Act One, this was it. A water drop. Precisely timed and a new audience every night. The cost to us was $12.00. Even as I type this, the audience reaction still makes me smile.

Don’t get me wrong, mistakes happen in live theatre. Flash Dance saw the lead actor not remembering his lines, but the show continued. Do I even need to bring up Spiderman?

For the Great Comet, I sat in the back row. Three rows in front of me, the row was made into a long but not very wide stage. A man then Russian danced on it. He was freaking incredible. The audience member in me drowned out the stage manager in me. I stopped wondering how safe was this and enjoyed how mind-blowing this was.

Seeing a show live and feeling the energy of the cast is something you don’t get from a TV. Aaron Tveit driving a golf cart in Grease live isn’t even close to watching him in a small theatre singing “I’m Alive” in Next to Normal.

It doesn’t need to be a huge Broadway show. I have seen high school shows that blew my mind! Recently, I went back to my junior high school to see a show. It was fantastic!

Feeling the energy of the audience is equally important to the cast. To all be in the same room, whether you are telling the story or being captivated by it, is a feeling unlike anything else.

Maybe the smell of pie will entice you!

Whatever you fancy: dramas, musicals, plays, comedy or a combination of them all, there’s something for you.

Turn off your TVs, phones, and laptops and leave your house. Go see a real live show!

Measuring the Success of Musical Theatre on TV

James Tredinnick

OnStage Australia Columnist

I think it's fair to say that Musicals have successfully transitioned to film. The Disney Renaissance period during the 90’s opened the door for film adaptations of Musicals such as Hairspray, Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd, which have all achieved various levels of success. 
The adaptation of Les Miserables in 2012 was nominated for a string of awards, and the smash hit La La Land even managed to pick up an Oscar for Best Picture earlier this year (for about 40 seconds). However, despite the popularity enjoyed by Musicals in the world of Cinema, the smaller screen has proved to be a much tougher nut to crack. Several attempts have been made over the years to bring the world of the Musical to Television, but only very few have been successful.  
 
Which is weird.  
 
I’ve been racking my brain trying to discover why the discipline we all know and love has failed to be accepted by a Television audience on so many occasions. Surely there must be a reason. So, on a rainy day, as boredom set in, I decided to do what any normal hot-blooded male does when boredom sets in: a case study. I chose three Musical shows, which have all achieved different levels of success, and attempted to discern what it was that caused them to fail or succeed. And, you lucky devils, I’m going to share with you my results. So fasten your seat-belts. Here we go. 
 
1.    Viva Laughlin
 
I’m going to be honest with you: I’ve never seen Viva Laughlin. There’s a very simple reason for this, and that is that I never got the chance. When Viva Laughlin premiered in the US, it lasted only two episodes before getting the axe. Over here in Australia, it lasted only one. But why? The show promoted as a Musical Comedy/Mystery/Drama didn’t have awful credentials. It was produced by Hollywood heavyweight Hugh Jackman and was adapted from a popular British series called Blackpool. Jackman even appeared in the show. But it didn’t take off. It bombed, and bombed hard. However, in this case, I’m happy to say I don’t think the music is at fault. The reviews I’ve read all point towards the poor dialogue and acting as the culprit rather than the Musical numbers. Combine all this with the relative lack of star power in the cast and it’s not hard to discover the source of the failure. But, as I said, it did only last for two episodes. Further research required. 
 
2.    Galavant
 
Another confession: I love this show. It’s better than holding my firstborn son. I assume. So I will provide fair warning that my analysis of this glorious program will contain a small amount of bias. Having said that, the facts speak for themselves, and the facts are that for the 2 seasons that Galavant spent on air it was met with immensely positive reviews, with season 2 even holding a coveted 100% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But despite the critical acclaim, Galavant struggled for viewers, and was unfortunately cancelled well before its time. So why was no one tuning in? Again, it wasn’t about the music. It can’t have been. With songs by the legendary Glenn Slater and the incomparable Alan Menken, musical incompetence was never going to be an issue. On top of that, the stories: strong. The characters? Memorable. So we can rule those out too. So if the music is catchy, and everything on top of it is a blast, what could the problem possibly be? The picture is starting to become clearer. 
 
3.    Glee
 
You knew it was coming. The Musical dramedy to which all others are compared was a hit with viewers and critics alike, picking up 19 Emmy nominations and running for 6 seasons. So what does it have that the others don’t? The obvious answer, it would seem, is familiarity. The high school dramedy is a tried and true recipe for television success, and the songs themselves are (mostly) popular songs that have already proven to be successful, whether as pop/rock songs or even as beloved Musical theatre standards. A Musical TV series will always be a risk, but Glee seems to be the least risky of the lot. It’s also the most successful.  
 
And isn’t that interesting. 
 
Perhaps the answer is a simple one. When a Musical is made into a film, more often than not, it is exactly that: a Musical, and usually a successful one, being adapted into a different medium. If it was successful on stage, it stands to reason that it would be successful on film. TV is different. In most cases a Musical television series will be a combination of an original story and original music with no reputation and no existing following. It must stand on its own merits, which has proven time and time again to be a terribly difficult thing to do. The success of Glee offers further evidence that people are willing to accept something different, just as long as it’s not too different.  
 
Of course, this theory is flawed, and barely scratches the surface. Musical series’ like Empire and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feature original music and are both relatively successful, and as previously mentioned, the film La La Land has enjoyed tremendous success despite being entirely original. So maybe I’m on the wrong track. I don’t know. It certainly requires more research, and I for one plan to watch as much Musical TV as I can, and I hope that there will be much, much more to come. 
 
Now go watch Galavant. Thank me later. 

'This is Us': An Honest Look at the Theater

Erin Fossa

OnStage North Carolina Columnist

It’s everyone’s new favorite obsession. One of those shows you watch just to torture your emotions. It’s NBC’s hit drama This is Us, and females (and males!) everywhere are binge watching it to have a good cry. 

There is one aspect of this show, however that does not induce unnecessary heartache and ugly cries, and that is one character’s experience with the theater. In case you’ve never seen it, Kevin, played by Justin Hartley, is a film actor who dives into the world of live theater head first. He auditions for his first play off Broadway in New York City and is cast immediately because of his popularity on television. He of course cultivates relationships throughout the process that further exacerbate the drama. Watching the episodes where he auditions, rehearses, and performs in the play, I found myself shaking my head, getting offended, being defensive, and finally… admitting how true it all is. 

The first thing that struck me was the blatant stereotypes used. The director Kevin auditions for, the playwright, and the actress he encounters at his audition are all total theater snobs. They have a painfully judgmental air towards Kevin because he is a television actor and doesn’t know anything about live theater. As he fumbles through the audition they roll their eyes. They look incredibly annoyed. And the actress is arrogant and rude towards him. The director is a gray-haired little man with dark-rimmed glasses sitting in a dark theater, clearly annoyed by Kevin’s tardiness for the audition. 

As the show progresses, the actress ultimately seduces Kevin for her own personal reasons. She uses their stage romance as fuel for a love affair that is anything but real to her. Unsuspecting Kevin gets hurt and she continues on her selfish way. And as I watched all this happen I couldn’t help but think, what an awful representation of theater! These characters are so stereotypical! 

I was outraged. 

And then I realized… this is unfortunately pretty accurate. 

First of all, don’t we often turn up our noses at those who don’t “get it” when it comes to our art? I know I do. When it comes to working with those who are new to acting or theater in general, I often run out of patience very quickly even if I don’t let it show. And aren’t we known for being intolerable of tardiness, particularly at auditions where you’re expected to put your best foot forward? We pride ourselves on how much we despise lateness and may even punish for it. 

And then, as I thought back over my entire experience with theater, I thought of several instances where sexual encounters between cast members offstage were justified as being “for the good of the show” or excused because the onstage chemistry blurred the lines between reality and fiction, which is pretty much what happened in the show. Sexual tension is a character both onstage and off, I think we all would admit. Her character is fictional, but she is based on something very real. Watching the show, my husband shook his head and said (jokingly of course), “You theater people…” 

 I immediately jumped on the defensive. 

That doesn’t really hap…! 

And then I stopped. Because instantly, two specific instances entered my mind where it DID happen. Not with me personally, but with my closest friends at the time. Onstage romances blending into off, in a very irresponsible way. Be honest, have you seen it? 

We cannot deny our faults as a community and how they are perceived by the rest of the world. This show touched a nerve in my theater-loving heart. 

So after forgiving the blatant theater cliches, I started to really appreciate the way the show represented theater. In a conversation Kevin has with his potential castmate, she defends live theater saying, “It’s hard. It’s so hard. It’s not pretend. It’s not Guys and Dolls in some high school cafeteria… If you really wanna do this, then go home, find a class, get some training.”  

And all the (theater) people said, Amen! 

And then came the clincher. At the end of episode 5, Kevin tells his nieces about his unique way of preparing for a role- painting how it makes him feel. He presents them with an abstract painting that is his interpretation of the play and of life. The colors, the lines, all weave together to form an intricate story- his story. He ends by saying, “This right here. This is us.” 

What a beautiful picture of how the interpretation of a piece of art can change our thoughts on life. Interpreting art can give us a new perspective on who we are in the big picture. Reading the play prompted Kevin to use fine arts to see the world through new eyes and then share that with a younger generation. And isn’t that the part of theater that is unique to our art? The ability to read a story about fictional characters and have it change our thoughts on life. We don’t devote our lives to being on stage because we love the attention, we do it because we love stories, and we hope that our audiences do the same examination of their lives after they leave our performance. 

Anyone can read or write words on a page. An artist turns them into a commentary on life. An actor takes a story and brings it to life so that the audience can decide for themselves how to view life. Essentially, we are taking stories and saying, “This is our life. Like it or not, this is us.” 

The creators of this show clearly get that. And I personally want to thank them for their honest representation of theater in this wildly popular show. They are highlighting the good and the bad for us and essentially saying, “Hey artists, this is us.”  I think we would be served by taking a good look at their observations.  

Fox Should Make Halloween Musicals Its Thing

Aaron Netsky 

OnStage New York Columnist

Last year, Fox broadcast a new (though not live) production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and NBC broadcast a live performance of the musical Hairspray. This was NBC’s fourth annual live broadcast of a musical, and Fox’s third broadcast (the network had broadcast Grease: Live and The Passion earlier in the year). NBC’s broadcasts come in the middle of the holiday season, and tend toward the more family friendly. Even if The Wiz and Hairspray are arguably edgier than Peter Pan and The Sound of Music, the former is essentially The Wizard of Oz and the latter has a mostly upbeat score and delivers positive social messages. Bye Bye Birdie will continue NBC’s pattern this coming December.

Grease aside, by broadcasting Rocky Horror in the lead up to Halloween, Fox, in a way, was continuing an old tradition of people getting together to re-enact the classic rock musical around that time of year. This usually occurs with the movie being played on a screen behind or above the cast and an unofficial set of lines being shouted by a live audience, but it was a television event, so it had a different mold to fit. While Fox will probably re-run this broadcast in years to come, it seems to want to keep producing new such events. No announcement for the future has been made along these lines at this time, but one may be coming soon. Just as NBC has claimed the more wholesome Christmas season, Fox should grab Halloween.

Fox already broadcasts darker, creepier content throughout the television season, with shows like Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, and Lucifer. It is the right network for a Halloween tradition of live musicals (and they should be live, as the Rocky Horror broadcast was originally intended to be). They should follow Rocky Horror with Little Shop of Horrors, another well-known, campy monster musical with a fun rock-based score that audiences will love. They might not be able to coax Rick Moranis out of retirement to play Mr. Mushnik, but as Ellen Greene proved in 2015 at New York City Center, she’s still got what it takes to pull off the roll of Audrey, which she originated off-Broadway in 1982 and went on to play in the 1986 movie. Her involvement would be an event in itself.

From there, Fox has plenty to work with. It could produce a live broadcast of Sweeney Todd, if it wants to go particularly dark and bloody one year, or Wicked, which, cute as it is, is about witches and talking goats, if it wants to approach family friendly. Perhaps they decide to go with Mel Brooks’s musical adaptation of his movie Young Frankenstein, another familiar title, or embrace the dark and brooding but still smolderingly handsome type of monster currently in vogue with a production of Frank Wildhorn’s very popular Jekyll & Hyde. Who knows how long live musicals will be a thing on television, but while they are, Fox can keep NBC on its toes, and create some memorable nights of Halloween viewing at the same time.

Aaron Netsky's writing has also appeared on Slate, Atlas Obscura, TheHumanist.com, Thought Catalog, and Medium. He has written a few novels, one of which explores how a teen can fall in love with musical theatre, and he has worked in a variety of jobs off- and off-off-Broadway, most recently on an East Village production of Anna Christie. Check out his personal blogs (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com and http://366days366musicals.tumblr.com) and follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky.

"Hairspray Live!" : The Best & Worst

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Last night NBC treated us to their annual tradition of airing live musical theatre. Was it flawless? Of course not. But there were a lot of good aspects of this production to enjoy. Let's break it down. 

The Best

It's live theatre on TV

At the end of the day, whether you loved or hated it, we were all watching live musical theatre on TV. That is a point that should never get lost in all of the social media opinion. I'm 35 years old and this type of televised event has only recently become a fixture in my life, let alone a bi-annual event. 

So before we get caught up in all the critique, let's take a step back, thank those who feel this is a money-making enough venture to put on major network TV and imagine the ripple effect these events have for young aspiring performers everywhere. 

The Tip-of-the-Hats to the Original Broadway Cast

I'm sure I'm not the only one that got a fuzzy feeling when seeing Harvey Fierstein wear Edna's costume again. He is as synonymous with that role as Ethel Merman is to Mama Rose. His presence felt like more of a blessing that it was okay for us to enjoy this as much as he was. I also really liked seeing Marissa Jaret Winokur's appearance as well as Ricki Lake who played the role in the original movie. 

Maddie Baillio

For a college student with absolutely zero professional gigs on her resume, plucked out of an open call, I thought Baillio did a great job. While her Tracy was never as lively as Marissa Jaret Winokur's(or as feisty as Nicki Blonsky's for that matter), Baillio was sweet in the role with some very strong vocal moments. I can't imagine what it's like to be in her shoes. While there were some moments, especially early on, where she looked downright terrified, the moment never become too big for her and she delivered when she had to. 

Jennifer Hudson

While her acting ability will always leave a lot to be desired, there is no question that when Hudson sings, she can bring any house down. She did just that last night, upping the ante of the whole production with her renditions of (Not really all that)"Big, Blonde & Beautiful" and "I Know Where I've Been". With her second number, her stirring vocals became not only the highlight of the night but for all of TV for 2016 and the bar setter for these live musicals going forward. 

Gave Us Some Names to Watch

What was really great to see were some of the performances given by lesser known names, who might have just set themselves on quite the career course. I thought Dove Cameron was one of the best Amber Von Tussle's I've seen. She did such a great job that I kind of wish she was playing some other roles last night. Another name definitely to watch is Ephraim Sykes who played Seaweed. With incredibly impressive vocals and dancing, I feel we're going to see a lot more from him in the future. Original Cast of Hamilton and now this? Sykes has had a pretty good year. 

The Bad

Someone turn the lights on

I don't know how expensive these events are to produce, but you wouldn't think that NBC would skimp on lighting. Too many times the actors appeared to be in the dark(literally Tracy in "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now). Beyond that many of the scenes looked as if the brightness could have been turned up a bit more. 

Ariana Grande

I'm sure there is divided opinion of her performance last night. But for someone with countless live performance experience, I found Grande to be wooden and uncomfortable all night. Penny as a character, has 10 times the amount of personality than Grande gave to her. As much as I hate to say it, it looked more like she was more concerned of looking like "Ariana Grande" rather than just letting go and playing the role. This led to some awkward acting moments and almost zero-chemistry with Ephraim Sykes.

Cutting Kristin's Bow

This was a breaking-bottle-over-counter moment for me. In a very confusing direction choice, the camera cut out right before Chenoweth took her bow. I'm sure these things are timed to precise seconds, but the camera cut away to a few moments where nothing was happening before the next person took their bow, plenty of time for theatre fans to see one of their icons take a much deserved bow. 

Too Much Backstage Access Kills Momentum

While many probably loved the Darren Criss hosted breaks, I felt it pulled the curtain back a bit too far. The breaks themselves killed any momentum the show had. And call me a theatre conservative but I felt seeing the actors take golf cart rides,  quick changing, running lines, broke the Fourth Wall a bit too much. Fine for maybe an internet stream but on the main broadcast, it was a bit too much.

Inconsistent Use of Live Audience

There is a great debate on whether or not a live audience should be used with these broadcasts. Frankly, I'm for them, but they have to be used consistently. Last night, half the numbers were performed in front of the actual audience which led to thunderous applause, while the others that weren't, ended in silence or quick cuts to commercials, which become more glaring as the night went on.

Overall, this was a solid production. If I were to rank it, I would put it just slightly behind last year's The Wiz as the best of the lot. Needless to say J. Lo and Bye Bye Birdie has some shoes to fill next year.