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Cinderella vs The Sound of Music: Live TV Musicals

It’s been one week since NBC was alive with the sound of Carrie Underwood. Whether you enjoyed The Sound of Musichated it, or were on the fence, you have to admit that it’s the most talked-about television event since the Breaking Bad finale. 18.5 million people tuned in to watch Underwood under pressure, making it NBC’s most watched non-sports event of 2013.

While NBC has been reaping the rewards, Carrie Underwood has drawn fire for her lackluster acting skills. Since a lot of (justifiable) comparisons have been made between Underwood and Julie Andrews, I thought now would be a perfect time to revisit Julie Andrews’s own star turn in a live TV musical event, one that would make television history: the 1957 broadcast of Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Attend that magic ball after the jump

Side note: The show was actually broadcast in color, but the only surviving kinescopes are in black and white, so if you watch the full show (which I highly suggest), you’ll only be able to find the black and white version.

CBS broadcast the made-for-TV musical by Rogers and Hammerstein on March 31st, 1957, and the result was ratings gold. Cinderella was watched by an estimated 107 million people, making it the most-watched television event for 25 years. (It was eventually beaten by the finale of M*A*S*H.) Cinderella got a total 60.6 Nielsen rating, meaning that 60.6% of American TVs tuned in to at least six minutes of the show. Naysayers will point out that there were fewer stations at the time. But to give you an idea of how wildly successful Cinderella was: I Love Lucy, which was the #1 show in 1957, had a Nielsen rating of 43.7, almost 20 points less than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fairytale.

A fair number of similarities can be found between The Sound of Music and Cinderella. Both had tacky sets (Cinderella's due to budget constraints). Both fought sound issues. Both co-starred fantastic supporting casts of established musical comedy performers. Both featured wooden male leads played by soap opera stars. However, the glaring difference between the two shows is this: Cinderella succeeded wildly without a major star at its helm. While Julie Andrews had just been a smash hit in My Fair Lady, she was still 7 years away from Mary Poppins and movie stardom. Think Megan Hilty as Maria instead of Carrie Underwood. Andrews had a recognizable-ish name, but more importantly she had a hell of a lot of talent. She could sing, she could act, and she could carry the weight of an entire R&H show with grace.


While The Sound Of Music may have been less than perfect, especially in comparison with Cinderella, I am glad to see it reviving the tradition of live musicals on TV. Many midcentury shows got their turn on the small screen and gave new audiences exposure to Broadway. So it is with The Sound Of Music; the show’s success has opened the door once again for musical theater on network television. The DVD is set to release next week and NBC already announced that another live musical is planned for next year. Who knows what 2014 has in store for theater lovers?

What would you like to see NBC broadcast?

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Reader Comments (17)

Wicked with the original broadway cast of Idina and Kristin or
Mame with Glenn Close.

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMusa

The Sound of Music starring Megan Hilty as Maria. Now there's a missed opportunity.

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

no anna gunn... :(

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

(wrong post, sorry)

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

I would be totally down for Mame starring Glenn Close, or even better than that, Hello Dolly starring Bette Midler.

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZacary

Linda Eder in Show Boat and Jane Lynch in Annie

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

All I ask is that NBC not touch Peter Pan. I still have such fond memories of watching that television event starring Mary Martin from when I was a kid - long after it was broadcast. Lightning in a bottle, that one was. PLEASE don't try to top it.

And for the record, my choice would be Reba in Annie Get Your Gun. Perfect blend of art and commerce.

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Into the Woods with Audra McDonald as the witch and Javier Bardem as the wolf.

Mame with Patti Lupone.

Hello Dolly with Julia Louis Dreyfuss

Anything Goes with the last Broadway cast. (Sutton Foster!!!)

Follies with Close, Stritch, Lupone, McDonald, Peters, Paige, Williams, Mastrantonio, Burnett and Hilty

Showboat with Lonette McKee

Porgy & Bess with the last Broadway cast.

Nine with the last Broadway cast especially Banderas and Krakowski. I dont' know if Monica Belluci can sing.......but she could play the hell out of the whore. (Be Italian).

I could go on for hours...............................

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Henry- that pretty much sounds like a dream cast for Follies. Just please tell me you have Close as Sally. Ever since she sang, "Losing my mind" at the Kennedy Center Honors, for Barbara Cook, I have not been able to get it out of my head. She could be truly breathtaking in that role.

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZacary

I think it's not worth underestimating the star power in the original Cinderella, namely Rodgers and Hammerstein. This was a new work by a pair of artists who achieved a certain amount of cultural power in their day. Musical writers today don't really carry that, and older artists don't carry it in the same way.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Blim

I got chills just thinking about Megan Hilty as Maria... but I'm not sure if she could play the ingenue convincingly.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

@ Zacary - Bette MIdler could totally play Vera Charles with Close as Mame. Now that would be a ball.
And that Follies cast is straight from my dream. I'd add Christine Ebersole to the bunch too.
But if you think Close did a fab job on Losing my Mind then you should see the one Marin Mazie did on Sondheim's Birthday Concert, It brought the roof down. So i'd cast Close for Carlotta and give her the show stopping "I'm Still Here".

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMusa

I wish they would film special live events that only a lucky few get to see, like Kline and Streep reading of Romeo and Juliet, or Emma Thompson in the upcoming Sweeney Todd, or Christine Baranski in On Your Toes last summer. Just saw the Neil Patrick Harris et al. version of Company, which was outstanding.

Henry-- Your Follies' cast would be amazing!

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Oh.....the Sondheim concert. Those six women. Not a miss step in the bunch with their numbers. All of them at the top of their game. Stritch doing 'Im still here" was beyond perfect and I agree about Mazie's "Losing my Mind."

Bebe Neuwirth would be great as Vera Charles.

I saw Follies in London with Diana Rigg and Julia McKenzie. Rigg was pretty special. I could see her singing "I'm still here" as well.

And I want to add Chita Rivera to my Follies cast. And Stiller and Mera as the old couple. I don't care if they can't sing or dance. They would be brilliant.

I'ld like to see Midler play Miss Hannigan. Anyone else remember that she was up for Mary in the original cast of Superstar on Broadway?

How about Hilty as Evita?

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I heard Marin Mazzie was cast as Helen Sinclair in the Bullets Over Broadway musical.
I'm still hoping Julie Taymor will be asked to direct Follies, its the one Sondheim musical i'd like to see on the big screen.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMusa

Please no Glenn Close "singing". What is wrong with you people?

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

Some good points. Great post.

I so wish they took the Cinderella route of casting so we could've got The Sound of Music with Laura Osnes maybe. She would've been just fantastic. Girl was the perfect choice for the role. Broadway has such great people deserving of a chance like this.

At least this can be the first of more live musicals to come. I do wish they would do A Chorus Line next year Wicked (why not with Anna Kendrick and Emmy Rossum) would also be amazing since the movie will never come out. But I have a feeling they'll bring another R&H classic, not that's a bad thing. I just hope they don't go with Chicago or something like that.

Another thing that should be said about the ratings of Cinderella versus The Sound of Music, apart from TV being more concentrating of audience, musicals were much more popular than this days to the general public.

December 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVinicius

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