Oct 26

Don’t Hate on Adaptations

If you were at Broadway on Broadway, you most likely remember Perez Hilton’s speech announcing all the new musicals coming to Broadway this season. He mentioned A Christmas Story, Matilda and Kinky Boots, after which he added, “all based on movies, because that’s what Broadway does these days.”

Sure, I chuckled. I’m sure you did too.

But then I started thinking. What is necessarily wrong with musicals adapted from movies? Why did everyone chuckle at this semi-snarky statement? Are these adaptions really more prevalent “these days?”

I’m a frequent reader of Howard Sherman’s blog. Howard is the former executive director of the American Theatre Wing. If you want to see the opinions of a very influential and opinionated man in theater  I recommend following him on Twitter. Anyhow, he wrote a blog on this similar topic not long ago, and the conclusion he came to was that if the art is good, it shouldn’t matter where a musical comes from. I have to agree with him, and here’s why:

The movie-turned-musical is NOT a new concept.

There, I said it.  As much as people like to complain that movie-musicals are going to be the death of original shows today, it’s not rooted in anything. I’ll admit, especially in the last few seasons, there seems to be a growing percentage of this writing style. I’m not going to disagree with that. But let’s take a look back.

I’m going to list a bunch of shows, all adapted from musicals.  Some I’m sure you know about (Disney), but others may be a surprise. Some are even classics from many years ago. Ultimately, I would like you to really think about whether or not you would be okay with getting rid of these shows from the history of musical theater:

Mary Poppins
The Lion King
Beauty and the Beast
Singin’ in the Rain
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Producers
Young Frankenstein
9 to 5
Urban Cowboy
Thoroughly Modern Millie
The Color Purple
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Leap of Faith
Sister Act
The Full Monty
Legally Blonde
Catch Me If You Can
Mary Poppins

But now let’s get into the ones that may surprise you…

42nd Street
Phantom of the Opera
All About Eve
Woman of the Year
Promises, Promises
Billy Elliot
Sunset Boulevard
Little Shop of Horrors
Sweet Charity

Were you surprised to find out that any of these were adapted from movies? I was. 42nd Street is the one that really surprises me. These are just a select few, and looking down the list, here is what I see:

  1. Everybody does it.  No matter the composer, whether it be Alan Menken, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John, Marc Shaiman or any of the others, everyone gets inspiration every now and then from a well-told story in movie form. That doesn’t mean that these guys don’t know how to write an original show though.
  2. These are important shows. Okay, maybe they weren’t all pivotal to the history of American theater, but what about Phantom? Would you really want to sacrifice Hairspray? Millie? Little Shop? I didn’t think so, and I personally don’t know what the modern musical would look like without these important contributions.
  3. These are special shows. Whether you have a place in your heart for Beauty and the Beast because it was your first show on Broadway (like it was for me), or you were blown away by the pure cinematic staging of Billy Elliot, these are shows that have graced us all in some way. And many of them may be the very reason that we love Broadway today.

So, here’s my final point: Don’t hate on movies-turned-musicals. The people adapting them are working just as hard as those starting from scratch, and the shows are often just as enjoyable.  Sure, we need original works on Broadway. I’m not arguing with that, and I will be the first to support any new work. It’s essential to our growth. But every now and then, a musical will come along that is based on existing material. Maybe it’s a book, a play, or perhaps even a film.  Regardless, it deserves respect as a theatrical work on Broadway right next to everything else.

Photo credit: Backstage

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