It is all of these reasons that make NBC's decision to air live productions of musicals appear to be the best idea of all time.
But for some reason, something got lost in the transition from stage to screen.
For me, it's the fact that even with elaborate sets and costumes, there is still something that makes the performances feel empty.
This vacant feeling came over me two years ago when watching NBC kick off this tradition with their version of The Sound Of Music, and also last year during the half hour I watched Peter Pan make its live TV debut (this one couldn't be helped because it was also just plain boring). Then, while watching NBC's version of The Wiz last night, I got the same feeling that something was missing in the performance and I came to one conclusion - if NBC is going to continue to air these musicals, they need to bring in a studio audience.
The essence of a musical is that it is performed for the entertainment of others. Queen Latifah, Common, Elijah Kelley, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, and new comer Shanice Williams, are working their butts off (very well, I might add) to entertain us, viewers at home, but we are separated through screens and thousands of miles. It is impersonal and that connection normally gained from experiencing something live is definitely lost. An audience needs to be there, otherwise it's just a bunch of people performing in a football field sized warehouse, full of echoes and a complete vortex of silence during any break between song or bit of dialogue. Where's the magic in that?
It would be like if Bruce Springsteen performed in a room all alone, broadcasted it live, and then never went on tour ever again. And sure, movies don't feature audience reactions and laugh tracks for sitcoms are unbearable, but live theater is far too connected to the idea of an audience, so to ignore that fact all together doesn't make sense.
Just a crowd of people reacting to certain jokes or clapping after performances would give more life to this grand idea NBC had to bring live theater to the masses.
The talent involved is extraordinary, especially after this mass amount of very talented folks they pulled together for The Wiz (Elijah Kelly from Hairspray - where have you been all these years!?!), so if NBC just tweaked the production process a little, this will eventually work. It has to - it's too good of an idea to fail.
Until next time.