Monday, September 16, 2013

Original Musicals

Original musicals.  Remember those?  Remember when you could go to the theater and be genuinely surprised by the way the plot would progress?  Remember when you could go see a show and be introduced to new characters and find out about their lives and the lives of the people they surrounded themselves with?    It seems those days are in the past.

Let's think about the nominees for Best Musical this past year:

        • Kinky Boots
        • Matilda
        • Bring It On
        • A Christmas Story

Know what they all have in common?  They were all based off of movies.  Not one of them was a truly "original musical."

Now, perhaps all that proves is that the most popular musicals are the ones based off of something.  Ok, let's look at the other musicals this past year:
        • Hands on a Hardbody (based off a documentary)
        • Motown (based loosely off a book, and it's characters were all real people)
        • Chaplin (based off a man's life)
        • Scandalous (based off a woman's life)

Think the Revivals fared any better? Think again:
        • Annie (based off a radio program)
        • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (based off a book)
        • Pippin (based off a man's life)
        • Cinderella (based off a movie...which was based off a fairy tale)
        • Jekyll & Hyde (based off a book).
 Have I made my point?
And, it isn't just movies either.  It seems practically every medium has been eventually turned into a musical.  Musicals have sprung from Books (e.g. The Scarlet Pimpernel), Movies (e.g. Newsies), Operas (e.g. Aida), TV Shows (e.g. Addams Family), Comic-books (e.g. Spiderman), History (e.g. Titanic), Plays (Golden Boy), Fairy Tales (e.g. Into the Woods), Short Stories (e.g. A Year with Frog and Toad), Fan-fictions (e.g. Love Never Dies)...You see where this is going?

Even shows that try to make themselves look really different from their source material (such as RENT or West Side Story) still can't be counted as completely original works because they took their characters and plot line from an older work.
So now the question is, can anybody write an original musical any more?  The answer is yes.  They aren't as common, but there are still a few amazingly talented writers creating genius original works.  In fact, some of the most popular musicals of recent years (Next to Normal, title of Show, Urinetown, Book of Mormon, In the Heights, etc. ) were completely original ideas.

Now, I don't want you to think that I hate all adaptation musicals.  I don't.  Many of my favorite musicals (some of which are listed in this blog) are adaptations.  It's not the number of adaptations that frustrates me, it's the ratio.  Adaptations can be fun, but when Broadway theaters are packed full of nothing but adaptations then that should be a sign that something is very wrong.  I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who have ideas for original Musicals (if you don't, then come talk to me. I've got at least 20), so this is a call to each of them to start writing.  And, what's more, producers need to be willing to take a chance on new musicals.  Granted, they're slightly riskier because they don't come with a guaranteed audience, but I believe the payout of trusting a new musical could be well worth the risk.

What do you think?  Are you equally outraged by the ratio of adaptations to original musicals, or do you think I'm blowing it out of proportion?  And what about plays?  Why do you suppose there are so many more original plays?  I'd love to hear any thoughts you have in the comments section below.  And be sure to vote in the poll about which posts you want to see more of in the future.  As always, thanks for reading!