TV Musicals

Why Everyone Should Watch Julie's Greenrom

Elizabeth Bergmann

I think we can all agree that Julie Andrews is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Whether she’s twirling and singing about hills or being a literal queen on screen, she has touched every theatre person’s heart in unimaginable ways. But what about her more recent pursuits? Sure, we all sat in Aquaman to watch her voice an ancient sea monster, but she’s also been directing stage shows, writing books, and has created the most perfect piece of television that has ever existed. The latter, of course, is the show that inspired this entire blog: Julie’s Greenroom.

 

Julie’s Greenroom was released on Netflix on March 17, 2017. It has 13 episodes, each about half an hour long. Every episode centers around Miss Julie teaching a group of Jim Henson puppets called the “Greenies” about the performing arts. There are celebrity guest stars, original songs, and offstage drama in every episode. It is a truly wonderful and magical show, and today, I’m going to explain why you should watch it from start to finish. “To the stage!”

 

Mary_Poppins5.jpg

The Main Characters

Everybody on this show is a delight. Even the irritating characters are incredible. If you think I’m going to generalize why I love them all, think again, because I’ve watched the show all the way through twice and I’m currently on my third time.

 

Miss Julie: Julie Andrews is playing herself, essentially. She is a wonderful, nurturing soul who runs the Wellspring Center for the Performing Arts. She’s been teaching for years, and honestly cares about every single one of her students. She is warm and delightful, and I wish I could be a Greenie so I could learn from her and then come back to visit frequently.

 

Gus: Giullian Yao Gioiello is a delight as Miss Julie’s second-in-command. He stage manages, builds sets, and helps warm up the Greenies. He himself is a former Greenie, and he sings with the Greenies and the guest stars every single day. He is amazing and wonderful, and we need more Guses in the world.

 

Hank: Theatrical treasure John Tartaglia plays this Greenie. Hank is in a wheelchair, but this doesn’t stop him from loving baseball and playing piano. He can write songs, sing, and even proves himself to be a wonderful actor as Prince Harold. He and Spike become fast friends, and the two of them can be the skeptics of the group when called for (such as thinking ballet is only for girls and that dancing can be difficult for those with disabilities).

 

Fizz: Penelope Guadalupe Fitzgerald Sanchez is played by Dorien Davies and she is my favorite Greenie. She loves bandages and is always ready to tackle whatever opportunity she has to try something new. She’s also always willing to ask for help when she needs it, since she seems to be younger than the others and may or may not have a learning disability.

 

Peri: Remember Rachel Berry on Glee? Peri is her in puppet form, with Stephanie D’Abruzzo bringing her to life. Peri has been singing, dancing, acting, and obsessing over theatre since the dawn of time. She sings her feelings, and while she can be a bit of a diva, she does love the chance to help her fellow Greenies learn.

 

Riley: Riley is adorable. Jennifer Barnhart plays this nonbinary inventor, who loves working behind the scenes as much as they love acting, if not more. It's implied at one point that they might be on the autism spectrum, but they still are given the opportunity to learn with the group. Gus makes them Assistant Stage Manager, and they are overjoyed.

 

Spike: This fabulous wordsmith is played by Frankie Cordero. He loves words and writes down new ones he likes in his “Word Bank.” He also has a talent for rhymes, which comes in very handy on the show when he works with Hank on songs.

 

Hugo: Hugo is amazing. Played by Tyler Bunch, this adorable duck shows up in the very first episode. He has a flair for dramatics, especially classical ballet and opera.

 

Toby: Toby is Miss Julie’s dog. Played by John Kennedy, he is beloved by everyone in the Greenroom.

 

As you can tell, this is a beautifully diverse cast of characters (featuring different ethnicities and ability levels), and their love for the performing arts and each other is a wonderful thing to behold. But they are not alone in this show!

 

The Guest Stars

Julie’s Greenroom includes a small army of famous guest stars who help to teach the Greenies, all of whom are former Greenies themselves. Idina Menzel shows up in the first episode, and somehow it only gets better from there. Josh Groban, Chris Colfer, Sara Bareilles, David Hyde Pierce, and Tituss Burgess make up just some of the amazing guests who come in. Also amazing is Julie Andrews’ long-time friend Carol Burnett, who makes a special appearance. They offer guidance to Greenies, sing songs, and generally make learning about the arts a lot of fun.

 

The Featured Groups

Every episode also includes a look at a performing group somewhere in the world that celebrates whatever the topic is that day. Whether it’s backstage at Wicked, a dance troupe for dancers with disabilities, a huge choir, or storytellers, we see these groups at work. Real-world artists get highlighted and the Greenies (plus the audience) can be inspired by the work they do.

 

The Songs

Every episode of the show features an original song. The guest stars sing, Gus sings, the Greenies sing, and even Miss Julie sings (bringing so much happiness that I’m honestly tearing up with sheer joy just thinking about it). The songs teach lessons, bring people together, and make everything about the show shine even brighter.

 

The Lessons

I’ve been involved in theatre pretty steadily for seven years now, so I thought I knew most of what there is to know. Watching this show proved me wrong. Even though these lessons are designed for kids, they are never condescending. They make the topics approachable and generate curiosity so kids will want to learn more. Do you know a kid who thinks they want to be involved with theatre, music, dance, or crew? This is the perfect way to show them what performing is all about.

 

It’s Amazing

Are you ever disappointed in how a TV show ends? Find yourself feeling empty when a series is over? Wishing for something that the show never provided? Not Julie’s Greenroom. Every disaster is handled with grace. Every action and word has meaning. Everything builds to the most beautiful conclusion that leaves you feeling full and happy. Julie Andrews created this show with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton and expert of children’s media Judy Rothman, and you can tell so much love was poured into the series. Every warmup makes you smile, every scene is filled with life, and I can say with 100% certainty that if it doesn’t get more seasons, this will be the biggest crime against entertainment of all time. “The show must go on!”

TV Show Musicals: An Exercise in Mediocrity

Darren Wildeman

There I was a few weeks ago, seeing promos for the new TV show Rise -- a show that's both a musical and about theatre. Needless to say ATB caught wind of this as well.

There was buzz of the new show, excitement building up. Then came the big night, I didn't watch. I let a few days pass, read some mostly positive reviews in ATB and still only had a passing interest. A few days later, I hesitantly put on the music from the show, hoping to like it. I wanted my impression of TV show musicals to change. Rather than changing my opinion, it got reinforced.

 Unsurprisingly the music is forced, made for radio, non-plot advancing, low quality tunes that wouldn’t get stuck in your head if you used a crowbar and superglue.

“But, Darren you haven’t watched the show, how do you know the songs don’t advance the plot?” One might say. It’s a very fair point and I do personally argue that someone needs to see something to fully judge it -- However, there are a couple of red flags.

The first red flag is that they use a song that was on the radio in the last year in “Glorious” as well as a piece from the Broadway Musical Spring Awakening. 

I understand that it’s because they’re performing the show, but it is still off-putting to me.  It is so hard to build a plot around a piece of music that already exists. This is why most jukebox musicals are so poorly regarded. Outside of Jersey Boys winning the Tony, a lot of them don’t even last a full year on Broadway such as All Shook Up which is based on the music of Elvis which opened and closed in seven months. Granted, a piece of music doesn’t necessarily have to move the show however, since Showboat, this is what the vast majority of well-regarded pieces of musical theatre have done, and is generally what makes a musical to be considered good.

 As for the songs that are original, they just aren’t memorable. It’s entirely possible that these songs do contribute to the plot of the show, but a rap about playing football? Really? The rhymes in it are so weak and it is extremely hard to take seriously. The other music, while original, sounds like a stereotypical imitation of Glee. Again, it’s nice, but doesn’t stand out. The plot of the show might be great, I’ve seen a lot of posts saying that, and if so, that’s fantastic. I think a show about theatre would be really cool. However, I’m focusing more about the musical aspect of Rise, and the other shows. For the most part, these shows either don’t need to be a musical, or need better original music. Repeatedly reusing music just comes off as lazy.

Speaking of needing original music, let’s jump into Glee. Let me start by saying I have nothing against the performers. Most of them are incredibly talented people and a lot of them had very good careers after the show ended. I’ll also give Glee some credit, they did manage to make some prewritten songs work for the plot. In terms of moving the plot I’d say they did an excellent job when choosing some of the songs they did. They work with the story, but they still don’t work as well as an original song would have. You see, when you pick already existing music, it won’t fit your narrative perfectly. It might be really close but if you write a song you can write it around exactly what’s happening instead of shoehorning a song in.

Photo by JTaI1129/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by JTaI1129/iStock / Getty Images

My next criticism is the music itself. It’s not that it's bad, but it’s that they don’t cover songs well. The vocals don’t stand out and the production value of the performances is bland. If you’re going to cover powerful and well known songs, you have to make them stand out and not make them sound like a mediocre American Idol audition. Glee had some fantastic vocalists on it, but with such amazing vocals they give some really bland performances. Songs like "Don’t Stop Believing", "I Will Always Love You", "Teenage Dream", and "If I Were a Boy" among many others Glee covered are really popular and well known. However, none of these performances really separated themselves from any other covers on the internet or the original versions of the songs. Some of these performances also come off as downright cheesy. There are scenes from Glee that are supposed to be sad and make the audience cry, but I find myself cringing or rolling my eyes at some of these scenes. Rather than having songs that are forced, or are way too well known to be covered well, there could have songs that authentically show what’s been happening, with even more power than a forced pop song.

I understand the whole point of Glee is to be covers, but at times these covers come off as lame at best. They look and feel forced, and don’t always move the plot as well as they should. Sure, some of them do work, but there is still an element of being forced and having the story written around the song rather than having the song telling the story, which is less than ideal. However, even TV shows who use original music don’t often work, an example being Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I honestly have no idea what the music is trying to do. Some of it sounds like classic theatre, while some sounds like modern pop, while having everything in between. In the first place, it has no direction, nothing that links the songs together, and nothing that sets it apart. The songs aren’t recognizable and don’t really separate themselves. It isn’t well written and sounds mediocre at best. This isn’t even the worst part, the lyrics are uninventive and fall completely flat. The lyrics of a musical are supposed to push the musical along and make you think about the show and what’s happening. The lyrics in this show are shallow, insipid, and leave the viewer unable to think on any level. They are a classic example of telling and not showing, there just isn’t any depth at all to these songs and the music seems so unnecessary.

 If you’re going to make something a musical, having music for the sake of it is not the direction to go in. Have the music do something, and add to the story. Don’t just let it be a quirky song. The lyrics of every song should tell you exactly what’s happening while songs in a musical should go deeper than that. For example of this, look at Sondheim. He does this well- his music tells you what’s happening, but so many of his shows also have a much deeper narrative. Sondheim, Alan Menken, and many other successful writers also have a melodic theme throughout the show that keeps reappearing which also helps push the plot.  These songs sound like they were picked at random. Speaking of themes and lines I can follow

Let’s turn to Smash/Bombshell. I honestly expected to put this series on blast. However, I was pleasantly surprised by it, when I listen to the music I can tell it’s trying to tell a story. With Smash and Bombshell, you can tell that the songs have a purpose; they’re trying to point you somewhere. A lot of them are original songs written around the plot and for the plot. I understand that the other musicals had their reasons for using other songs, but you still can’t get the same story telling as if you write something original. The themes in Smash are prominent as well. This show addresses a lot of the criticisms I had of the previous shows. This show still isn’t bulletproof from criticism as some of the music does sound like it’s a bit forced and generic. However, it does this better than anything else I have listened to.

Some of these shows have their strong points, but for the most part TV show musicals just crumble under any sort of analysis. The TV format isn’t meant to handle music. An average stage or movie musical runs two to two and a half hours. A TV show is generally one hour with commercials. The music in a show adds takes up some of that valuable time. I think this is where things can get thrown off. Even if you only have to build around one four or five minute song that’s still five minutes where you have to figure out how the plot is going to move. It can disrupt the entire show. This article looked at four major TV series and only one of them managed to kind of work, which is not a good percentage. If you want music with your story, you’re better off going to the local theatre or turning on a musical movie.