WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link

The best stagey TV to watch this Christmas

Sarah Crompton on why Gene Kelly is the one to watch this Christmas, and the best stagey bits on the box

When it was released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz was a flop, losing one million dollars in cinemas. It was only when it was screened on US TV in 1956 – when it attracted 45 million viewers – that its reputation changed. At some point, it not only became a movie musical classic, but also a Christmas tradition.

It's just one of the musicals stuffing the TV schedules at this time of year, which means that you can sit in your armchair and imagine you are exercising away the post-festive pounds while watching other people singing and dancing on your behalf. The choice of what to watch is vast, but this year's selection gives you the opportunity courtesy of Channel 5 to spend the whole of Christmas Day in the company of Gene Kelly by watching the following.

An American in Paris

Kelly and Leslie Caron find love in the streets of Paris, helped along by a dazzling Gershwin score, and gorgeous choreography and dancing by Kelly. He was particularly proud of the climactic ballet sequence, which broke new ground in the film musical, but seeing it now it is his easy charm and relaxed tapping in routines such as "I've Got Rhythm" that really stand out.

WHEN TO WATCH: 7.40am, Christmas Day, Channel 5.

On the Town

I think this is even better than An American in Paris, partly because you get the wit and wisdom of the tough talking girls – Ann Miller, Alice Pearce and Betty Garrett. And Frank Sinatra. Just thrown in. Plus you can see Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly start to forge the unique, free-flowing style of action and dancing that finds its fruition in…

WHEN TO WATCH: 9.55am, Christmas Day, Channel 5.

Singin' in the Rain

Just the best film musical. Ever. Directed and choreographed by Kelly and Donen, and starring Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, it is the perfect tribute to Hollywood itself, charting the end of silent movies and celebrating in itself the arrival of sound. It was originally dreamed up by MGM producer Arthur Freed, head of the Freed unit which turned out a string of technicolour musicals, and he saw it as a way of using the back catalogue of songs of Nacio Herb Brown, written for MGM films in the previous decades. Freed himself provided lyrics, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green the book. It all positively zings with joy, though like all the best musicals there was pain in its making: Reynolds' feet were bleeding at the end of the "Good Morning" routine, which took all day to shoot and Kelly was nursing a temperature when he was doused with water to sing in the rain.

WHEN TO WATCH: 4.15pm, Christmas Day, Channel 5.

Best of the rest

King Lear

Talawa Theatre's production opened at the Royal Exchange, Manchester back in April. The production, starring Don Warrington was broadcast back in July, and will be repeated on BBC Four on Christmas Day.

WHEN TO WATCH: 7pm, Christmas Day, BBC Four.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

After a hugely successful year, which sees them with four productions in the West End, Olivier Award-winning Mischief Theatre will bring their calamitous production to TV on New Year's Eve.

WHEN TO WATCH: 6.20pm, New Year's Eve, BBC One

West Side Stories - The Making Of A Classic

Before it celebrates its 60th anniversary next year, Bruno Tonioli and Suzy Klein look at the story behind the musical. They interview some of the original Broadway cast on TV, speak to Stephen Sondheim himself and present performances by a cast of singers accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

WHEN TO WATCH: 5.20pm, Boxing Day, BBC Two

The Sound of Music Live

Last year's fantastic live performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music will be repeated on Christmas Eve. Kara Tointon starred in the special, and after the musical, ITV3 will be airing a behind-the-scenes programme, The Making of the Sound of Music Live, from 3 Mills Studios in London.

WHEN TO WATCH: 3.50pm, Christmas Eve, ITV3.

Hairspray Live!

ITV will be airing NBC's recent live production of Hairspray, which starred Jennifer Hudson, Darren Criss and Ariana Grande. The programmed pulled in 9 million viewers stateside, and over half a million when it was shown this side of the Atlantic.

WHEN TO WATCH: 2.15pm, Thursday 29 December, ITV2.

Derren Brown: Miracle

Illusionist Derren Brown's 2015 production in which he explores faith healing (and how he can do it with no superpowers) was filmed at the Palace Theatre for Channel Four. In his review for WhatsOnStage, Matt Trueman said it was 'thrilling, confounding and delirious'.

WHEN TO WATCH: 10.35pm, Boxing Day, 4seven.

And for your Christmas travels

The Nativity

Radio 4 will air special improvised version of the classic Christmas story written by five and six-year-olds of St Malachy's Primary School, Kilclief St Joseph's Primary, Strangford, with Liam Neeson lending them a hand.

WHEN TO LISTEN: 11am, Christmas Eve, BBC Radio 4.