Mister D: What about Gypsy???
New York Times
On TV, Taking Broadway in Small Doses
By ANITA GATES
January 19, 2012
WHATEVER happens with NBCâ€™s â€œSmash,â€ theater lovers who also watch television are going to enjoy a feast of backstage and onstage dramatics. And that has been a rarity on the small screen.
In the beginning, there was â€œThe Ed Sullivan Showâ€ (1948-71). It was always presenting big musical numbers performed live by stars of a current production (like Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in â€œCamelotâ€). On the quiz show â€œWhatâ€™s My Line?â€ (1950-67), glamorous panelists had New York theater connections, while celebrity mystery guests were often in town to do something onstage. The panelists would usually figure out the guestsâ€™ identities because they knew what was opening soon.
Since then the world of New York theater, on and off Broadway, has been a relatively minor player in prime time. And its reputation hasnâ€™t been particularly burnished. But the stage does occasionally make an appearance in fictional small-screen worlds:
I LOVE LUCY It wasnâ€™t that the Ricardos and the Mertzes went to the theater all that often. (They did see Frank Loesserâ€™s 1956 musical â€œThe Most Happy Fella.â€) It was more that the showâ€™s writers assumed a nationwide knowledge of musicals. In a Hollywood episode Lucy tried to impress a studio executive with a hint about a Broadway offer from â€œOscar and Dick.â€ Apparently you didnâ€™t need to tell a 1950s TV audience that she meant Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers. Back in New York, when Lucy lied about her show business experience, claiming to have appeared on Broadway in â€œOklahoma!,â€ her friend asked: â€œWhat was your maiden name? Alfred Drake?â€ That joke required viewers to know about a hit musical already a decade past.
SEINFELD Jerry Seinfeldâ€™s sitcom about hardened single New Yorkers touched on theater here and there. George was criticized for buying Jerry â€œGuys and Dollsâ€ tickets for his birthday. Kramer was accidentally given a Tony Award when he got a job as a seat filler at the ceremony. Bette Midler guest-starred as herself in the fictional â€œRochelle, Rochelle: The Musical.â€ George couldnâ€™t get the song â€œMaster of the Houseâ€ from â€œLes MisÃ©rablesâ€ out of his head.
THE NANNY In the 1990s an actual hit network sitcom included a person working in Broadway theater as a leading character: Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), a Broadway producer. Maxwell was handsome, charming and British, but his career made him a comic figure. He was ridiculed for having passed up the chance to produce â€œCatsâ€ and for holding a grudge against Andrew Lloyd Webber. He had a town house, a butler and a limousine, but family money, not theater success, appeared to pay for it. Famous people like Elizabeth Taylor and Ben Vereen dropped by the home office, but theater seemed a sinister business. In one episode a piggish garbage magnate (Wallace Shawn) would invest in the next show only if a particular female character would sleep with him. â€œNo chick, no check,â€ he says.
The relative value of the stage versus screen was spelled out in an episode in which the Sheffield family visited a Hollywood movie studio. When the title character (Fran Drescher) told a security guard that Max was â€œa big-time producer,â€ the guard whipped out his head shot. But when itâ€™s explained that Maxwell produces Broadway, the guard snatches the photograph back, and with good reason: â€œThese cost a buck fifty each.â€
GLEE Then came â€œGlee,â€ the Fox series credited with making prime time safe for musical theater. But its singing, dancing, stage-struck teenagers donâ€™t seem all that well informed. On a New York trip Rachel bought â€œCatsâ€ tickets from a scalper, not realizing that the show had closed more than a decade ago. On the other hand, Rachel and Kurt managed to get into the Gershwin Theater, where â€œWickedâ€ is playing, stand on the stage and sing the character Elphabaâ€™s lament â€œFor Good.â€ The original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, has a recurring role on the show as Rachelâ€™s birth mother. But sheâ€™s not the only theater-world notable to appear: Kristin Chenoweth, Cheyenne Jackson and Neil Patrick Harris have guest-starred as well.
SOUTH PARK In 2011, presumably inspired by their conquest of Broadway with â€œThe Book of Mormon,â€ the creators of â€œSouth Parkâ€ came up with the theater episode to top all theater episodes. Randy Marsh (Stanâ€™s dad) and his wife go on a New York theater blitz, illustrated by the marquees of â€œAnything Goes,â€ â€œSister Actâ€ and â€œThe Phantom of the Opera.â€ Randy declares, â€œBroadway is simply the greatest time a dude can have.â€ The catch is that Broadway theater is exposed as a heterosexual male plot, delivering a very specific sexual subliminal message to the women in the audience. But give the series credit: this is probably the only time any of us will see an animated Stephen Sondheim knocking back a few beers at a Hooters.