Saturday, October 11, 2014

That musical was great...but the movie came first!

For those of you who read my last post concerning musicals that have been turned into movies, I present to you the thrilling conclusion: Movies that have been turned into musicals.  That’s right, the door swings both ways and while Broadway’s best have been filling the silver screen, cinematic classics have been working their way through the boards on Broadway as well.   However, unlike the previous post, I’m not going to spend the pixels to explain to you the history of the screen-to-stage adaptation, but instead try to answer the question: What kind of movie lends itself to Broadway.  This question is much harder to answer because, at first glance, there seems to be no one ingredient to be found in every adaptive Broadway smash.

One common assumption is that a successful movie would make for a successful musical.  This, a very logical assumption, is quite true in several cases.  Indeed many blockbuster movies such as Mary Poppins and Leagally Blonde have earned similar critical and commercial success on the stage as they did on screen.  However, on the whole, my observation shows that it is actually the less successful movies whose musical adaptations tend to flourish.  Low budget films like Little Shop of Horrors and Newsies have found incredible success on stage whereas the adaptations of many of their more critically acclaimed counterparts such as Ghost and Big Fish fizzled.

Another logical assumption is that musical movies that are prime candidates for theater adaptations.  If a movie already has a winning soundtrack, then why wouldn’t it be able to seamlessly transition onto the stage?  This theory seems to me to have been proven true by Academy Award winning scores such as those of The Lion King and Aladdin that went on to become equally successful on the Great White Way.  Of course, I often find that these musical masterpieces prove most effective when they’re complemented with re-orchestrations and original songs.  In the case of the previous two shows, songs that never appeared in the movie incarnations, such as The Lion King’s “Endless Night” and Aladdin’s “Proud of Your Boy”, serve as some of the stage version’s strongest moments.

So is there one particular genre (other than musicals) that make a good Broadway transfer?  Well, Broadway certainly accepts all types.  Documentaries (Hands on a Hard Body), Horror Movies (Carrie), and Action films (Rocky) have all found homes on the Broadway stage.  However, despite all of this diversity, there are a few genres that seem to be more prevalent:

Romance movies are a popular choice, as is proven by films such as Once and The Bridges of Madison County that became successful musicals in the past several years.  I expect that this is largely because the love song has for years been one of Broadway’s most beloved tools, and what better showcase for a beautiful duet than a beautiful love story?

Broadway has also welcomed several shows based off of laugh out loud comedies such as Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  This brand of entertainment has become so popular in theater because the larger-than-life characters in such movies seamlessly transfer to the stage and the audience comes to the theater fully prepared to suspend their disbelief (often a necessity for enjoying stage shows).

But by far, the most common movie genre that I’ve seen find success on the Great White Way is family friendly entertainment.  This is somewhat ironic because I would call the majority of successful Broadway musicals in general to be “PG-13 at best,” but apparently that rule doesn’t hold true to adaptations.  Whether you look to holiday classics like A Christmas Story and Elf, animated masterpieces like Beauty and the Beast and Shrek, or childhood favorites such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Matilda, PG-rated movies have quite a successful reputation on New York Stages.  While I can’t say with any degree of certainty why children’s movies seem to be such successful choices when it comes to stage adaptations, I expect a large portion of it is that parents don’t necessarily want to take a chance on anything new when they take their child to the theater.  If there’s a movie that the kids already know and trust, then why not see those characters come to life in a fun, safe environment?

Now that I think about it, there’s one more component that a surprising number of successful screen-to-stage adaptations seem to share: Walt Disney.  From Beauty and the Beast to Aladdin and everything in between, it seems Disney Theatrical Productions can do no wrong in their adaptations.  With a record like there’s, it’s no wonder that they have several more shows – including The Jungle Book and The Hunchback of Notre Dame –already in development.

So while any and all types of movies can be made into musical, if you want to have the best chance of success, I suggest choose an obscure children’s’ movie that already has a great soundtrack, and if it happened to be written by Disney, then that wouldn’t hurt.

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