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November 4, 2021

As Seen on TV: Plays & Musicals Connected to Television


When television was first rising in popularity at the midpoint of the 20th century, the traditional stage play was a fitting genre for early adaptation. Young writers like Paddy Chayefsky created original anthology dramas, weekly series that presented new or adapted plays under a single umbrella title.

After that “Golden Age,” many of TV’s most popular programs and sitcoms were later adapted by their authors for presentation on the stage.

Check out this list of Concord catalog plays and musicals that began on TV, inspired TV adaptations, or thoughtfully muse about a particular TV phenomenon’s impact on culture.

’Allo ’Allo by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 5f, 10m)
Based on the hugely successful British television series, which ran for seven seasons, this uproarious comedy relates the adventures of a hapless cafe owner, Rene, in occupied France. The play features fan-favorite TV characters like Rene’s tone-deaf wife Edith, Major-General von Klinkerhoffen, and the Gestapo officer Herr Flick.

’Allo ’Allo 2 by Jeremy Lloyd, David Croft, David Lovesy, Steve Clark and David Pibworth (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 11m)
This sequel to the popular stage production of ’Allo ’Allo continues the adventures of the reluctant resistance hero and harassed café owner, René Artois, in German-occupied wartime France. It features many of your favorite characters from the TV series and original stage play.

3C by David Adjmi (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Satire / 3f, 3m)
This black comedy by David Adjmi tries to excavate the grimy subtext lurking under a sitcom like Three’s Company. The war in Vietnam is over and Brad, an ex-serviceman, lands in LA to start a new life. When he winds up trashed in Connie and Linda’s kitchen after a raucous night of partying, the trio strike a deal with hilarious and devastating consequences.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz, Eric Schaeffer, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson (US/UK)
(Short musical, Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 5m, 1 any gender)
A 30-minute stage adaptation of the classic animated TV special featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the gang discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Fun fact: the original A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special was going to have a laugh track!

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 2m)
Adapted from the UK teleplay filled with drinks, snacks and fatuous small talk. Laurence and Beverly’s daughter Abigail is having a party, to which new neighbor Susan has been dis-invited. As Laurence and Beverly entertain their neighbors with drinks, marital strain reveals itself, anxiety mounts, and rock music reverberates off the roof.

Are You Being Served? by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 8m)
Based on the popular British television comedy, this stage show revels in innuendo and nonstop double entendres. A motley crew of department store workers spend a staff holiday at a one star establishment in Spain, and their encounters with everything from a Spanish crumpet to randy revolutionaries leaves everything intact but their modesty.

Blue Remembered Hills by Dennis Potter (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 5m)
This deceptively simple story originally aired in 1979 as part of the BBC’s Play for Today series. Seven English children (played by adults) play, fight, fantasize and swagger on a summer afternoon during World War II.

Calamity Jane by Charles K. Freeman and James O’Hanlon (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 4m +Ensemble)
This stage musical, based on the tale of the real-life sharpshooter Martha Jane Cannary and the 1953 Warner Bros. film musical, aired as a celebrated 1963 CBS television special starring Carol Burnett, fresh off her Broadway success in Once Upon a Mattress. The musical, which features the hit song “Secret Love,” finds outspoken, hardheaded Calam tangled in a mix-up at a wild-west saloon and theater.

A Catered Affair by Harvey Fierstein, John Bucchino, Gore Vidal and Paddy Chayefsky (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 6f, 4m +Ensemble)
Paddy Chayefsky’s television play A Catered Affair was first broadcast in 1955, was adapted into a feature MGM film in 1956, and was worked by Fierstein and Bucchino into a musical in 2007. The poignant dramatic musical tells the story of a Bronx mother’s efforts to give her only daughter the elaborate wedding she never had – which the bride never asked for.

Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 6f, 5m +Ensemble)
This timelessly enchanting piece was produced by Walt Disney Television as a TV film in 1997. It featured singer/songwriter Brandy in the titular role, alongside a cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander and Veanne Cox. Before the Disney TV movie, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was adapted into a 1965 TV broadcast for CBS starring Lesley Ann Warren, and prior to that was the musical’s 1957 debut, live on television, starring Julie Andrews.

The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 5m, 4 girls, 1 boy)
The Darling Buds of May, a British comedy drama television series produced by Yorkshire Television, was first broadcast in 1991. The TV series is an adaptation of the novel by H.E. Bates, who also authored this stage version. Buds of May centers on Pop Larkin, who makes a fortune from scrap-iron deals but has never paid income tax, and lives in rural idyllic bliss with generous-hearted Ma and their six children.

The Doctor in Wonderland by Don Zolidis (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 5f, 3m, 17 any gender)
This parody mixes up the worlds of a certain time-traveling Doctor and Alice’s Wonderland. When Dr. What and his companion Cara are separated in this curious realm, they meet all the usual suspects. It’s up to the time-traveling duo to escape and get their phone booth fixed before it’s off with their heads!

The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 15m)
It’s 1929. Two ambitious visionaries race against each other to invent a device called “television.” Separated by two thousand miles, each knows that if he stops working, even for a moment, the other will gain the edge. Who will unlock the key to the greatest innovation of the 20th century: the ruthless media mogul, or the self-taught Idaho farm boy? The answer comes to compelling life in The Farnsworth Invention, a play from Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, The Newsroom and The Social Network.

Free to Be… You and Me conceived by Marlo Thomas and friends (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 2m, Expandable)
Marlo Thomas conceived a children’s book that, instead of telling boys and girls who they should be, would open them to the possibilities of who they could be. She gathered many of her supremely talented friends from various worlds of the arts and the remarkable result is highly regarded as a modern classic of children’s literature. First, the friends made a musical album. Then a 1974 TV special brought a selection of the album’s songs to the small screen via live-action, puppetry and animation.

The Lover by Harold Pinter (US/UK)
(Short Play / 1f, 2m)
Pinter’s works appear in many forms, and many of his plays notably began as scripts for television. In The Lover, a married couple engages in erotic role-playing to keep their marriage fresh, until husband Richard blends his alter-ego with his true self. Other Pinter works that began on TV include Night School (UK) and The Basement (US/UK).

Happy Days — A New Musical by Gary Marshall and Paul Williams (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 7f, 10m + Ensemble)
Based on the American sitcom that aired on ABC from 1974 to 1984, the Happy Days musical is set around the fourth season of the TV series. The famed drive-in malt shop and number one hangout, Arnold’s, is in danger of demolition. So the gang teams up to save it with a dance contest and a TV-worthy wrestling match.

Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 6m +Ensemble)
Adapted from Dale Wasserman’s 1959 non-musical teleplay I, Don Quixote, the musical Man of La Mancha is the heartbreaking and inspirational story of one man’s refusal to give up his impossible dream. The show opens with Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes awaiting trial during the Spanish Inquisition; he and his fellow prisoners perform a play-within-a-play, telling the story of one man’s quest to right the world’s wrongs.

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dark Comedy / 5f, 3m)
This play investigates how television becomes part of the cultural fabric and exists as common ground for conversation. After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors share a campfire and begin to piece together the plot of The Simpsons “Cape Feare” episode entirely from memory. Seven years later, and snippets of cartoons, sitcoms, and pop culture have become the live entertainment of a post-apocalyptic society. Seventy-five years later, these are the myths and legends from which new performances are born.

Mustard by Eva O’Connor (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 1f)
This one-woman show was adapted into an episode of Storyland on RTE. When E meets the man of her dreams, a professional cyclist, love hits her in the pubic bone like a train. For a brief period she is high on life – he’s the answer to her crippling loneliness, her self-harm issues, her non-existent career. But when the cyclist cheats on her and ends the relationship, E plummets into a black hole of heartbreak. She turns to her only friend – mustard.

Once Upon a Mattress by Mary Rodgers, Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 7m +Ensemble)
This 1958 musical was adapted for television three times: first in 1964, in black and white, with Carol Burnett reprising her Broadway triumph as Princess Winnifred; next in 1972, in color, with Burnett again starring, this time alongside Bernadette Peters and Ken Berry; and finally, in a 2005 made-for-TV film on The Wonderful World of Disney, starring Tracey Ullman and featuring Burnett as evil Queen Aggravain. A clever reimagining of The Princess and the Pea, the musical follows Winnifred the Woebegone, a simple swamp princess looking for love.

Our Day Out by Willy Russell and Bob Eaton (UK)
(Short Musical, Drama / 16f, 23m)
Our Day Out began its life as a television play about poor children from Liverpool, England. The musical charts the particular day the students from Mrs. Kay’s “Progress Class” are unleashed for a day’s coach trip to Alton Towers. When the destination changes to Wales, a battle of wits begins between exuberant pupils and dry Mr. Briggs.

Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em by Guy Unsworth and Raymond Allen (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 4m)
This stage version of the 1970s English sitcom stays true to the original while delivering a fresh and unique farce. Betty has exciting news for Frank, but he’s preoccupied by possible newfound fame as a magician. With guests arriving for dinner and crossed wires all round, priceless misunderstanding is on the menu. Check out our exclusive interview with Raymond Allen about how his hit TV sitcom was adapted for the stage.

The SpongeBob Musical by Kyle Jarrow and Tina Landau (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 16 any gender)
Adapted from the iconic Nickelodeon series! SpongeBob, Patrick, Sandy, Squidward and all of Bikini Bottom face total annihilation — until a most unexpected hero rises to take center stage. The SpongeBob Musical is based on the beloved animated series created by Stephen Hillenburg and features a book by Kyle Jarrow, with original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, with additional music by Tom Kitt.

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett (US/UK)
(Monologue Collection, Dramatic Comedy / 1m or f)
Alan Bennett sealed his reputation as the master of observation with this series of 12 groundbreaking monologues, originally filmed for BBC Television. At once darkly comic, tragically poignant and wonderfully uplifting, Talking Heads is widely regarded as a modern classic.

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 13m)
The classic American courtroom drama written by Reginald Rose began as a 1954 teleplay, before it was adapted for the stage a year later. The piece went on to be adapted as a film in 1957 starring Henry Fonda. A young delinquent is on trial for the murder of his aggressive father. The judge has directed the jury to find the boy guilty if there is no reasonable doubt. Eleven of the jurors declare there is no reasonable doubt, but one of them, while far from convinced of the boy’s innocence, feels that some of the evidence against him has been ambiguous.

Waiting for God by Michael Aitkens (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 4m)
All the favorite characters from the original 1990s BBC series are reimagined for 2017, facing the challenges that come with growing old disgracefully in the era of the silver surfer. At Bayview Retirement Village, battle-axe extraordinaire Diana Trent conspires with new resident Tom Ballard to give the conniving manager his comeuppance through a hilarious conspiracy with unexpectedly heart-warming results.

For more TV-related plays and musicals, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.