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!


  1. Well, it's the same with today's movies, isn't it? In these past few years, we've seen movies based off of books (The Great Gatsby), movies based off of musicals (Les Miserables), and even movies based off of other movies/comic books (Batman... So much Batman!!). It seems that these have done well because they have elements of familiarity to us. They're the classics--things that we can watch over and over and always get misty-eyed because we've grown up knowing the plots and characters like they were old friends (Harry Potter, for the win!!). That isn't to say that original movies wouldn't be welcomed--it would be great to see something new on the silver screen--but Hollywood seems to have trouble coming up with totally original material as of late. That might be true of musical theatre as well, OR it might just be an oversight on the audience's part. Maybe the musicals that we need to be watching aren't the ones that are getting all the attention. I guess it all really depends on what audiences have come to expect when they go to a musical, and the way they judge it is based off of those expectations.
    To actually answer one of your questions: In my opinion, there are more original plays than musicals simply because of the elaborate nature of the standard musical. Think about it: To write a great original play, you need character development, substance, plot, and the ability to evoke the desired emotional response from your audience. To write a great original musical, you need all that, plus TONS of awesome original music! It could take years to put together in order to have a truly lasting impact on the world, and that's not to mention the fact that musicals often have more elaborate sets and costumes than plays do! Also, if you really want a musical to produce a certain emotion, you need to scrutinize every aspect to make sure that it won't produce the opposite emotion (Springtime for Hitler, bwahahahahaha).
    But then again, it has been done before, and it can be done again. And since you're thinking about it, maybe you should be the one to make it happen. :D

    1. I'll be honest, I have the same issue with Hollywood. I mean, I love a good series (e.g. The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Harry Potter, etc.) as much as the next guy , but I think it's kind of ridiculous how much they're stretching these stories. Especially because now and then you see a really original movie (Now You See Me comes to mind) and you think to yourself: "Man! Why are there not more movies like this?!"

      I like what you said about "the musicals that we need to be watching aren't the ones that are getting all the attention." THAT IS SO TRUE! In fact, I'm throwing around the idea of writing a blog post about the most underrated musicals because there are so many great ones that, for one reason or another, didn't receive much (if any) recognition. And that's really a shame, because every time a "textbook adaptation" musical succeeds when an "indie original" musical fails, it just encourages the bad behavior.

      I agree with what you say about the original plays. I think a lot of it is that since original musicals take so much longer, we see less of them per year, even if there are the same number of people working on them. And I also think that part of it is because all music writers (whether they're working on adaptations or not) are writing original music, it's possible that the same (or at least nearly similar number) of original plays and original scores come out. That ratio just doesn't carry over to the shows. Does that make sense?

      As to your suggestion that I write an original musical, I would absolutely love to, but I’m afraid that’s just not where I’m gifted. I’ve tried my hand at writing straight plays a little, and I actually am kind of helping a friend of mine with the book of a musical he’s writing the music to, but I’m afraid I have little to no musical gifts, so I could never write music on my own.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!! It really makes my days to see comments! :D

  2. It may just be my natural cynicism but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, "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..." The financial investors are typically looking for a good return on investment (ROI). So, the new and unique productions that get funded are either the result of marketing research that shows this "new musical" does have potential for a significant ROI, or because the financial investors are in a position to accept a low (or negative) ROI. That may be the case either because they are financially well off, or because, as you say, "...[they] believe the payout of trusting a new musical could be well worth the risk." Please note that I have been careful to reference "financial investor" because I realize that investments come in all shapes and sizes. Those who are closer to the performance side (as opposed to the financial side) are making a different kind of investment and therefore are looking for a different ROI. That's why I think the best option for new musicals is to have one who is close to the performance side who is also financially independent. That's when the, "payout of trusting a new musical" becomes worth the risk. Great topic! Keep 'em coming!

    1. I agree completely. Producers are looking to make money and there's nothing wrong with that. And, because of this, there are other theatrical venues (such as all of the nonprofit off-broadway theaters) where original musicals are far more common.

      And I agree that the ideal investor for an original musical is "one who is close to the performance side who is also financially independent" (which, is reason number 24,601 that I want to be super wealthy one day). So I think Broadway needs more producers like that. More people who aren't looking to make a buck as much as they are looking to contribute to the artistic integrety of our generation (wow...that was horribly cheesy, but you get the point). So I think the solution is either we need to start introducing more rich people to theater or (and I like this idea much better) we need to start making theater people rich!

      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting (I got so excited when I saw that somebody commented). If you have any suggestions for other posts or anything, then just let me know.