Musicals on Television: 1990-99

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1996 & 2003)

(Thanks to Robert Barto and Lee Bridges for contributing to the list below.)

Polly-Comin' Home!

(NBC-Disney) Nov. 18, 1990
Directed by Debbie Allen
Songs by Joel McNeely
Cast: Keshia Knight Pullman, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Newley, Celeste Holm, Ken Page, Dorian Harewood

Polly returns from her hospital stay and tries to mastermind her aunt into a romance. A contrived sequel to the earlier Polly, but the first-rate cast and spirited musical numbers are worth watching.

Please note: I have received numerous emails regarding this production. It has never been commercially available on home video, and I do not have copies. Sorry!

A Little Night Music

(PBS) 1990
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Scott Ellis
Musical Direction by Paul Gemignani
Cast: Sally Ann Howes (Desitree), George Lee Andrews (Fredrick), Regina Resnik (Mme. Armfeldt), Michael Maguire (Count Carl Magnus), Maureen Moore (Charlotte Magnus), Beverly Lambert (Anne), Kevin Anderson (Henrik), Susan Terry (Petra)

Sondheim's 1974 operetta in a handsomely crafted New York City Opera production, taped live in performance at the NY State Theatre. Howes and Andrews (who played Frid in the original Broadway cast) are perfection as the leads, and diva Resnik damn near steals everything with a killer performance. Les Miz alumnus Maguire is a handsome dragoon, and Moore is an acerbic delight as his long-suffering wife. The most ravishing rendition of "Weekend In The Country" you're ever likely to hear – a uniformly superb cast, perfection in every department.

Cop Rock

(ABC) Sept. 26, 1990 to Dec. 26, 1990
11 Episodes
Producer: Steven Bochco
Songwriters: Greg Edmonson, Alan Elliott, Randy Newman, Mike Post
Cast: Barbara Bosson, Ronny Cox, Larry Joshua, Peter Onorati, Anne Bobby

Steven Bocho (creator of Hill Street Blues) took a wild but praiseworthy risk by putting together a weekly musical drama with several original songs in each episode. However, the public found it too bizarre to have cops, crooks, judges and politicos bursting into rock-flavored ballads in the middle of a gritty cop drama. Guest performers included Broadway musical veteran Bill Hayes as a smarmy crooning candidate. While the show had some enthusiastic fans, it was cancelled after half a season, becoming a landmark flop. Soon afterward, the resilient Bocho did far better producing the long-running NYPD Blue.

Into The Woods

(PBS) 1991
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book and Direction by James Lapine
Cast: Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason, Tom Aldredge, Robert Westenberg

The sumptuous original Broadway production captured in all its glory. It is impossible for any theatre lover to resist a cast headed by the dazzling Peters. Gleason's Tony-winning stint as the Baker's Wife is priceless, and Sondheim fans can forever relish the original staging of one of his most popular triumphs.

Romance, Romance

(Cable) 1992
Music by Keith Herrmann
Book & Lyrics by Barry Harman
Directed by Barry Harman & David Stern
Choreography by Pamela Sousa
Cast: John Herrera, Susan Moniz, Deborah Graham, John DeLuca

TV version of the intimate Broadway musical. Act One is an operetta-like love story set in Imperial Vienna. Act Two puts the same performers in an extramarital romance set in a Long Island beach house.


(CBS) 1993
Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Cast: Bette Midler (Rose), Peter Reigert (Herbie), Cynthia Gibb (Lousie), Christine Ebersole (Tessie Turra)

Bette Midler in GYPSYEvery word & note of the original play is intact in this solid, well cast version of the 1959 Broadway classic. Midler gives a powerhouse performance as Mama Rose, and Gibb handles the complex title role with surprising assurance. The supporting cast (with some fun star cameos) is fantastic. Much better than the big screen version, this Gypsy is a musical theatre lover's dream come true. It has been rebroadcast several times, and was released on home video.


(1993) Cable & PBS
Book & Score by Dan Goggin
Directed by Dan Goggin & David Stern
Cast: Rue McClanahan (Sr. Mary Regina), Terri White (Sr. Hubert), Semina DeLaurentis (Sr. Mary Amnesia), Christine Anderson (Sr. Robert Anne), Christine Toy (Sr. Mary Leo)

A delightful adaptation of the rollicking Off-Broadway hit about a group of nuns putting on a benefit concert. Seems most of the Little Sisters of Hoboken died thanks to a tainted meal, and the Dept. of Health want their bodies taken out of the convent freezer and buried! Rue McClanahan has a blast as the mother superior, with Terri White and Semina DeLaurentis as standouts in a solid cast. Fun but never irreverent or offensive, it is no wonder this show became an international favorite. It has inspired a series of sequels, some of which were televised (see below).

David Copperfield

(Syndicated) Dec. 10, 1993
Directed by Don Arioli
Songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Voices by Sheena Easton, Kelly LeBrock, Julian Lennon, Howie Mandel, Joseph Marcell, Andrea Martin, Michael York

A weak animated version of the Dickens classic, based on the unsuccessful Broadway musical Copperfield. The tuneful score suffers due to some amazingly poor casting. As far as I know, this has not been re-run.

Nunsense 2: The Sequel

(Cable) 1994
Book & Score by Dan Goggin
Directed by Dan Goggin & David Stern
Cast: Rue McClanahan (Sr. Mary Regina), Terri White (Sr. Hubert), Semina DeLaurentis (Sr. Mary Amnesia), Christine Anderson (Sr. Robert Anne), Christine Toy (Sr. Mary Leo)

The Sisters of Hoboken stage another show, thanking the community for helping them through their previous benefit. Some fun moments, but no match for the original.

The Secret Garden

(Syndicated) Nov. 5, 1994
Directed by Dave Edwards
Music by Misha Segal, Lyrics by Harriet Schock
Voices by Honor Blackman, Sir Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, Victor Spinetti, Anndi McAfee, Joe Baker, Felix Bell, Naomi Bell, Richard Stuart, Frank Welker

This solid animated version of the classic children's story has four songs and a superb cast.

Bye, Bye Birdie

(ABC) 1996
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams
Cast: Jason Alexander (Albert), Vanessa Williams (Rosie), Tyne Daly (Mrs. Peterson), Marc Kudish (Birdie)

Jason Alexander showed his many Seinfeld fans the musical comedy talents Broadway had cheered for years in a charming performance, and Vanessa Williams was sexy and convincing in the Chita Rivera role. Tyne tried a little too hard as Albert's mother, but Kudish was a riot as the hip-swiveling Conrad Birdie. Not bad, but not all that good either.


(PBS) 1996
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by James Lapine
Cast: Donna Murphy, Jere Shea, Marin Mazzie, Greg Edelman, Tom Aldredge

The original cast of this Tony-winning musical drama, exactly as seen on Broadway. This heartfelt tale of romantic obsession was not to my taste, but it has its enthusiastic admirers. No faulting the cast – Murphy became a star with this knockout performance, and Shea and Mazzie are both sensational.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off

(A&E - Cable TV) 1996
Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley
Directed by David Stern
Cast: Peter Scolari (Littlechap), Stephanie Zimbalist (Evie, etc.), Christopher Legg (Boy)

I have not seen this -- one wonders why it is never rerun.

Les Miserables in Concert

(PBS) March 1996
Director: John Caird
Cast: Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall, Alun Armstrong, Michael Ball, Hannah Chick, Anthony Crivello, Jenny Galloway, Judy Kuhn, Michael Maguire, and Lea Salonga.

Taped during a performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on Oct. 8, 1995, this mammoth concert celebrated the 10th anniversary of Les Miz's London premiere. The overblown cast of 250 included cast members from numerous productions worldwide, including seventeen Jean Valjeans in the finale. Available on home video as Les Miserables: The Dream Cast.

The Merry Widow

(PBS) March 22, 1996
Music by Franz Lehar
New English Lyrics by Albert Evans
Direction and Book Adaptation by Robert Johanson
Choreography by Sharon Halley
Sets by Michael Anania, Costumes by Gregg Barnes
Conducted by Alexander Sander
Cast: Jane Thorngren (Hanna), Michael Hayes (Danilo), Patricia Johnson (Valencienne), Carlo Scibelli (Camille), George S. Irving (Baron Zeta), Robert Creighton (Njegus)

One of the most physically sumptuous stage productions of Lehar's 1905 classic. The new English lyrics are workable, but now and then a clunky rhyme proves distracting. Johanson's book makes numerous departures from the original libretto – some work better than others, and all add up to a perilously long running time. But Johanson directs with real period flair, keeping the action clear and entertaining. Jane Thorngren is exquisite in the title role, and wins extra points by kicking her way through a killer can-can and then hitting a high C while doing the splits (I am NOT kidding). Handsome Michael Hayes sings well but does not imbue Danilo with much charm. Broadway favorite George S. Irving is a standout as the harrumphing ambassador – it is always a pleasure to see him steal a scene. Robert Creighton makes the most of the embassy clerk Njegus, and City Opera veterans Joseph McKee and John Lankston have some shameless fun as comic generals. Broadcast live from NY City Opera, this staging was first devised for New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. Anania's luscious sets (the ballroom on a turntable is a knockout!) include a set of black faux marble columns that have since appeared in several more Paper Mill productions and PBS specials.

Rocko's Modern Life: "Zanzibar"

(Nickelodeon) April 21, 1996

This Nickelodeon series offered an episode where characters burst into song -- not much of a musical, but technically rates a mention here.

Mrs. Santa Claus

(CBS) 1996
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Written by Mark Saltzman
Cast: Angela Lansbury, Charles Durning, Terrence Mann, Michael Jeter, David Norona, Debra Wiseman

Santa's wife test-rides the reindeer and gets herself stranded on New York's colorful Lower East Side in 1910. Lansbury shines (of course!) and Jerry Herman turns out an underrated score rich in melody and sentiment. The so-so plot, with an evil toy maker and some immigrants facing clich'd problems, turned off most critics. Even so, it drew decent ratings and has been re-run. I dare you not to love the ending – especially when a little girl who misses her Irish mama hears a knock on her door on Christmas Eve . . . corny, but it works. Fans who don't blink will enjoy seeing Herman in a super-quick cameo as a piano player during the "Avenue A" production number.

Chicago Hope: "Brain Salad Surgery"

(CBS) Oct. 15, 1997
Script by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin
Directed by Bill D'Elia
Cast: Adam Arkin, Peter Berg, Jayne Brook, Rocky Carroll, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Hector Elizondo, Mark Harmon, Christine Lahti, Mandy Patinkin, Amie Carey, Lonnie Burr, Tasha Smith, Carol Kiernan, David St. James, Lauren Tuerk

This popular hospital series had Dr. Shutt (Arkin) collapse from an aneurysm and then envision his life as a musical. Most of the actors lip-synched pop classics, but Mandy Patinkin sang his own "Luck Be a Lady Tonight."


(ABC - Disney) 1997
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II & Lorenz Hart
Cast: Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Jason Alexander, Bernadette Peters

A clumsy remake of the 1957/1965 TV classic - but the public response was tremendous. Whitney Houston produced this, which might explain why her performance as Fairy Godmother is a silly, self-indulgent disgrace. Pop singer Brandy is sweet but no actress, so her casting in the title role is no more than passable. Several top Broadway talents are wasted here, and try not to cringe when dear Whoopi Goldberg sings. The beloved 1957 score is often butchered beyond recognition for no intelligent reason, and the inclusion of "Falling In Love With Love" to give the wonderful Bernadette Peters an excuse to sing is, to say the least, gratuitous. (Her shtick while trying on the glass slipper is hilarious.)

Xena the Warrior Princess: The Bitter Suite

(Syndicated) Jan. 31, 1998
Music and Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Kevin Smith, Ted Raimi, Hudson Leick, Danielle Cormack, Willa O'Neil

A feud between Xena (Lawless) and her sidekick Gabrielle comes to a head in a tarot-card dream world called Illusia. LoDuca's score got a shrugging ovation from this critic, but the episode was such a hit with Xena fans that a soundtrack CD was released and a second musical episode popped up two years later (see below).

Nunsense Jamboree

Cable (1998)
Score & Book by Dan Goggin
Directed by Dan Goggin & David Stern
Cast: Vicki Lawrence

The Sisters of Nunsense do their country-western thing. I have not seen this -- the first Nunsense sequel was meager enough.


(PBS) Nov. 2, 1998
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Cast: Elaine Paige, John Mills, Ken Page

The home video version preserves a talented international cast in the original staging of the long-running stage hit. Without the sheer sense of spectacle that made Cats bearable in a theatre, you may just wonder what all the fuss was about. However, fans of this tourist attraction -- er, I mean, musical, may find this a great souvenir.

Daria: "Daria!"

(MTV) Feb. 17, 1999
Script, music & lyrics by Glenn Eichler and Peter Elwell
Voices: Tracy Grandstaff, Ashley Albert, Amy Bennett, Wendy Hoopes, Nora Laudani, John Lynn, Marc Thompson, Lisa Collins, Alvaro J. Gonzalez, Julian Rebolledo, Janie Mertz, Steven Huppert, Jessica Cydnee Jackson, Amir Williams

This animated series opened its third season with its characters musically preparing for a hurricane? Oy.

Pepper Ann: "You Oughta Be in Musicals!"

(ABC) Sept. 11, 1999
Script & Lyrics by Laura McCreary
Music by Pat Irwin
Directed by Brad Goodchild
Voices by: Kathleen Wilhoite, Jeff Bennett, Danny Cooksey, Clea Lewis, Pamela Segall, April Winchell, James Avery, Ellen Cleghorne, Jim Cummings, Paddi Edwards, Jess Harnell, Tino Insana, Kath Soucie, Jenna Von Oy

This animated series has the title heroine fall off the stage while auditioning for her school musical. While unconscious, she enjoys a pleasant musical comedy dream.

Crazy For You

(PBS) October 1999
Songs by George and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Directed by James Brennan (based on Mike Ockrent)
Choreography by Susan Stroman
Cast: Jim Walton, Stacey Logan, Jane Connell, Bruce Adler, Larry Linville

Paper Mill Playhouse's flawless recreation of the original Broadway production makes for sensational viewing – pure musical comedy heaven! Original cast members Connell and Adler are joined by veterans of other C4U productions, giving an exciting and polished performance. I could watch this one a thousand times – and will, if my video cassette holds out. My kind of Broadway – and my kind of TV too!

Please note: I have received hundreds of emails regarding this production. It was never released on home video. It is up to Great Performances/PBS to either rebroadcast this gem or start selling it – please send any inquiries and pleas to them.


(ABC-Disney) Nov. 7, 1999
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Rob Marshall
Cast: Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Alicia Morton, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Andrea McArdle

A charming and affectionate adaptation, far superior to the disappointing film version. Having so many theatrical pros on hand made the difference, and newcomer Alicia Morton was a fresh and believable Annie. Some cuts made to the original, but most of the key numbers were left intact and performed with style. Kathy Bates was a revelation as Miss Hannigan – someone get this woman into a Broadway musical! Its a real delight to see McArdle (the original Annie) do a dazzling turn as the "Star to Be" in "NYC." Hard to believe this was produced by the same team that mangled Cinderella the year before.

On to: The 2000s

Back to: TV Musicals Start Page