For any musical theater lover, it’s always a joy when you find a reference to a musical you love in a television series you love, too. On that note, one semi-little-known fact about Ted Lasso is that creators Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, and Bill Lawrence aren’t just huge rom-com fans – they’re avid musical fanboys as well. They’ve sprinkled their love of musical theater throughout the series in the form of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references.
Here at Screen Speck, I am our resident theatre kid (derogatory): I’ve been performing since I was ten, it was my original major in college, and it’s my current day job. And so I have taken it upon myself to create the Definitive, Subjective Ranking of Ted Lasso‘s Musical References (so far).
#1: The Julie Andrews Debate – Season 3 Episode 3
Ted Lasso‘s current #1 musical reference in the series takes place in the current season’s third episode, “4-5-1.“ While discussing how to integrate their newest player, Zava, into the team, the show invokes The Sound of Music: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Ted apologizes to Roy for the early-morning musical allegories (?), to which Roy essentially responds that it’s okay, because he used to have a crush on Julie Andrews.
This excites Ted and sparks a conversation about everyone’s favorite Julie Andrews role. Roy’s is Maria. Beard’s is Eliza Doolittle, which honestly, makes so much sense. (Don’t ask me why, it just does.) Higgins and Ted both share a love of Mary Poppins. Fun fact: I did not watch Mary Poppins for the first time until I was 23, because I needed to watch it before watching the 2018 sequel. I subsequently loved the original so much that I cried in an IHOP. She’s MY favorite Julie Andrews character, too.
Finally, Trent Crimm chimes in to let everyone know that his favorite Julie Andrews character is Queen Clarisse Reinaldi, Queen of Genovia. Which is so real of him, and made me like him a little better. (And made everyone 👀 about his sexuality.)
#2: Hamilton – Season 2, Episode 1
Coming in at number 2, we have the Hamilton reference in “Goodbye, Earl.” Ted and Beard are having dinner at the Crown and Anchor when Ted says “Can I get real a second? Put down my meal a second?” Beard replies, “Put down your beer and tell your buddy how you feel a second?” It’s a play on the lyrics from Hamilton’s “Right Hand Man” – “Check it – can I be real a second? / For just a millisecond? / Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?”
For anyone still unfamiliar with this show (I know, but believe it or not there are people who don’t know Hamilton almost a decade after it exploded into public consciousness), the reference goes right over their head. Everyone else recognizes the cadence immediately. Which is what make this such a wonderful reference – it’s so well done that it’s not too on-the-nose.
#3: Once – Season 2 Episode 4
Once is one of the most underrated musicals – both the film and the stage adaptation – of the 21st century. The show hardly ever gets mentioned in modern media. This is pretty wild, if you ask me, considering the show’s most well-known song, “Falling Slowly” won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song. The stage adaptation also won a whopping eight Tony Awards and the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Needless to say, when Ted and Rebecca walk down Paved Court and stop to listen to buskers singing Wham!‘s “Last Christmas” (in one of Ted Lasso‘s most rom-com-coded moments), and Ted remarks that buskers remind him of Once – which he liked so much, he saw it twice – I lost my goddamn marbles.
Honestly, though, I shouldn’t have been that surprised; Jason Sudeikis sang “Falling Slowly” on Last Man on Earth. Regardless, this reference was still most pleasing to ME.
#4: Oklahoma! – Season 3 Episode 4
First of all: Hannah Waddingham, catch me outside for flat-out fucking spoiling this reference on Instagram before the Ted Lasso Season 3 premiered. This scene came in episode 4, “Big Week,” but Apple TV+ sent the screener out over a month ago. The day it dropped, I was on set and too impatient to wait until I got home to watch, so I started watching in public. Which was a terrible idea, because all of a sudden I was in Penn Station having to pause my phone to not have a goddamn meltdown.
The reference is a callback to “Tan Lines,” from Ted Lasso Season 1, when Ted and Rebecca are sitting in her office after he’s banged his head on the grate because he was just so excited that his family was coming to see him. He explains to Rebecca that while he and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Michelle, were in couples’ therapy, they used the word “Oklahoma” as a code word meaning they had to tell each other the god’s honest truth. [Of course, that isn’t all that was happening in Ted and Michelle’s couples therapy – ed.]
In Season 1, Ted uses the word on Rebecca after asking her if she’s enjoying their getting to know one another; at first, she says yes, only to tell him she’s not when he pulls an “Oklahoma” on her. In Season 3, though, it’s Rebecca who pulls an “Oklahoma” on Ted, because she knows he’s upset and that he’s holding back on purpose for fear of burdening her. Let that sink in: Rebecca didn’t even like Ted when she learned about the significance of “Oklahoma,” yet she was still listening to him and tucked this one away into the crevices of that pretty little platinum blonde head of hers.
So far, Ted Lasso Season 3 has been laced with callbacks to the series’ first season. But this one was just so unexpected that it left me SHOOK to my core.
#5. Chicago – Season 3 Episode 6
When Ted wanders the streets of Amsterdam alone because he told Beard to go out without him, and Rebecca, the person he did want to spend the evening with is MIA because she lost her phone after falling into a canal and did not receive any of his 15 text messages, he ends up at an American restaurant that he’d wanted to try while there. The host gives him the option of sitting in one of their three different seating areas: the Big Apple, the Windy City, and Hollywood. Ted makes a Chicago reference that made me scream laugh. The Roxie Hart name drop? The “Cell Block Tango” reference? His excitement to make the references and the restaurant host absolutely not getting it because they don’t know that Chicago is the Windy City? It’s gold.
#6: The King and I – Season 3 Episode 1
When Nate (Nick Mohammed) is in the middle of his first presser as West Ham United’s Head Coach, one of the journos in the room asks him how it’s going with his new team, and he quotes “Getting to Know You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. It falls absolutely fucking flat for the room. Just thinking about it makes me laugh. It’s a great reference to use, but it also shows the stark difference between the environment at West Ham United vs. AFC Richmond. If he’d made that joke in the press room at Nelson Road, he’d have gotten a few laughs – if not from the press, at least from his colleagues. Especially Ted, who would’ve beamed with pride.
#7: Frozen – Season 1 Episode 7
Frozen took the world by storm in 2013, to the point where it’s been nearly ten years and it still inspires a visceral reaction. There are two references to the movie musical in this episode and for the sake of brevity I’m ranking them as one thing. The mental image of Rebecca singing “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?“ through the door with her then-six-year-old niece, Nora, is so sweet. It’s even more so now, considering we now know how much Rebecca wanted to be a mother. Also, the song is cute as hell even when it gets a little depressing.
This is also the episode where Sudeikis takes advantage of the fact that Waddingham is a West End and Broadway leading lady and uses his powers as series creator (and writer of this episode) for the greater good. He wrote in a karaoke scene and had Hannah sing “Let It Go” and the result makes you go “ADEEM DEZEL WHO???”
#8. West Side Story – Season 2 Episode 8
West Side Story is Stephen Sondheim‘s most-referenced work in Ted Lasso. This is a hate crime against me specifically, a WSS hater – as is my right as a Latina, because the show is full of awful tropes about Latinos and it can never be saved, no matter how many times it’s reworked and modernized. I love Sondheim; I’m eagerly awaiting my 40s so I can finally play some of the many roles of his to which I lovingly refer as the “Sondheim Hags” (all of the women he wrote for my vocal range are the older ones). And we all can’t be Hannah Waddingham and have a role aged down a decade for her to play.
That being said! When Dr. Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) gets hit by a car while riding her bike, Ted is the one who picks her up from the hospital; he was the last person Sharon had called, so that’s who the doctors called. As Ted walks her home, he tells his therapist that when she was drugged up, she sent him several voice notes of herself singing “Tonight” from the musical, as both Tony and Maria. Iconic. I wish there had been more of it to hear. I may hate WSS, but I can admit that some of the songs are fun.
# 9: Jesus Christ Superstar – Season 3 Episode 1
This is the most natural, most subtle musical reference in anything that I’ve ever seen. Ted walks in to Rebecca’s office and after a brief exchange about how his son’s gone back to Kansas, he asks “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happenin’.” It’s the opening lines of the song “What’s The Buzz?” from Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Jesus Christ Superstar and the integration of it into the scene is just too seamless. And it’s made even better by the fact that none of the other characters catch on, even this is not the first time that Ted references musicals (nor will it be the last).
#10: Singin’ in the Rain – Season 2 Episode 10
I think about this reference all the time. It’s when Ted Lasso reveals to the audience that Ted met Rebecca’s dad before he kicked it, when we never even got to meet him! Not only did Ted meet her dad, but he watched Mr. Welton perform a whole number from Singin’ in The Rain, just to make Rebecca laugh. Compounding this bittersweet awfulness is the fact that that earlier in “No Weddings and a Funeral” we found out Rebecca spent her entire life hating her dad after she walked in on him cheating on her mother and his response was to just…pretend it never happened.
Yet as complicated as Rebecca’s feelings about her dad were, the man was still her dad. Ted’s anecdote about him reminded Rebecca that not all of her memories of him were awful. It’s one of those moments between Ted and Rebecca that show us they understand each other in a way that no one else can: Ted’s the only other character in the series who we know for a fact has dead dad trauma. So he’s the only one who understands the massive loss Rebecca’s just suffered. And he gives her back a moment with her dad that she didn’t even know she needed.
#11: Jesus Christ Superstar – Season 3 Episode 3
The usage of the titular number from Jesus Christ Superstar during the scene where Zava rips off his shirt to reveal his massive back tattoo of himself as God, while Jamie looks at him in disgust…absolutely delicious. No notes.
#12: Oklahoma! – Season 1 Episode 5
The first Oklahoma reference comes in season one’s “Tan Lines” when, as referenced above, Ted talks to Rebecca about how he and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Michelle, used the word to be completely honest with one another. He also mentions how whenever he hears the song “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” all he can think about is Michelle telling him that his endless optimism is exhausting.
In Season 1, I actually felt bad for both Ted and Michelle in their crumbling marriage, because she really wanted to feel like she did when they were first married. Due to recent developments, though, Michelle sucks! But you know what didn’t suck? The sexy Oklahoma! revival in 2019, which is currently running on the West End (home to this year’s Olivier Awards hosted by Hannah Waddingham!).
#13: West Side Story – Season 1 Episode 4
When Roy and Jamie are being little bitches in Season 1, causing a literal divide in the team, Ted brings up how much their rivalry reminds him of the Sharks and the Jets. We also learn that Nate was the understudy for Anita because he went to an all-boys school, which is very much giving Shakespeare in that, in his era, men played the women because women couldn’t be on stage. This moment makes me laugh every time because the thought of Nate in a wig singing “America” is priceless.
#14. Les Miserables – Season 3 Episode 3
Ted asks what you get when you combine one of Hugh Jackman’s best roles with a New York city getaway, and Sam responds with “Jean Valjean Catskills.” Les Miserables is a musical you either love or hate (I’d say I’m a hater, but the number of times I listen to it says otherwise; also, Nick Jonas is the best Marius, fight me on that) but the movie adaptation being referenced in the series is even funnier when you know that Hannah Waddingham is an extra in it.
#15: The King and I – Season 1 Episode 5
This is just a subtle nod to the show. Ted is rambling about songs from Oklahoma! and Rebecca chimes in with “Shall We Dance?” Ted corrects her without missing a beat, telling Rebecca that song is from The King and I. There’s no way Ted wasn’t a theatre kid in high school. No. Way.
#16. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Season 1 Episode 10
Ted asks the team for suggestions of trick plays that they’ve played throughout their careers, One player mentions a play named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is offered up by one of the players, to which Ted responds that Dick Van Dyke has one of the most authentic English accents in film. I love Ted. We all know that’s a goodamn lie, but he’s always looking on the bright side of things – so of course he doesn’t think Dick Van Dyke’s legendarily terrible chimney sweep accent is awful, because what does Ted know about authentic English accents anyway?
#17. The Wizard of Oz – Season 1 Episode 1
In Ted Lasso‘s pilot episode, when Ted and Beard are looking at Tower Bridge, Ted turns to Beard and says “I got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s an obvious nod to The Wizard of Oz, but, also, low-hanging fruit.
#18. Oliver! – Season 2 Episode 6
This reference is super simple. It’s just Beard (Brendan Hunt) asking his (awful) girlfriend, Jane (Phoebe Walsh) if the driver’s cap she just gave him isn’t too Oliver Twist-like. Nothing overly complex or deep, hence its low ranking. [Plus it’s really more a reference to the novel – ed.]
#19. Funny Face – Season 1 Episode 8
When Roy asks The Diamond Dogs for advice about Keeley, Nate references the song “‘S Wonderful” from Gerswhin’s Funny Face. This is the oldest musical reference in the series to date, as the musical opened on Broadway in 1927. I rank it this low simply because it’s a reference that wouldn’t be caught easily by younger musical fans.
- Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz is referenced in passing in the first episode. I omitted this from the rankings since when most people hear the title they think of Chicago first.
- Ted Lasso uses Marcus Mumford’s cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Carousel, in Season 1 Episode 10.
- My Fair Lady gets another mention in Season 3 Episode 5…but it’s just not substantial enough to write about.
We’ve still got half the season to go, so I will update this list will be updated with each new episode that has a new musical reference – check back often, and tell your friends.
I’ve noted the subtle references and wondered if the non-theatre kids were picking up on it. After watching tonight with Hair, The Wiz and Le Miz, I wondered if someone was keeping track. Of all the musical dropping, the Julie Andrews confessions were the best! Keep up the good work, Sydney!