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All the World's Shakespeare's Stage! Breaking Down Musicals Based on Shakespeare

All the World's Shakespeare's Stage! Breaking Down Musicals Based on Shakespeare
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

In honor of Kiss Me, Kate's opening on Broadway tonight, we're breaking down some of Broadway's biggest hits influenced by theatre's biggest playwright: William Shakespeare! The Bard's work is as pervasive as ever and unstoppable even in song.

1. Kiss Me Kate

The show of the hour, Kiss Me, Kate draws influence from The Taming of the Shrew, the infamous tale of headstrong Katherina and her taming suitor Petruchio. Kiss Me, Kate, however, allegedly draws from more than just Shakespeare. Theatre lore has it that the show was based on a production of Shrew put on by husband and wife team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne whose daily battles were amusing enough to inspire producer Arnold Saint-Subber to commission a show based on the show...based on the show.

2. The Lion King

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps...perchance to dream?

While 'to be or not to be' isn't exactly a phrase one would expect from the mouth of a lion, The Lion King draws its story straight from Shakespearean mega-hit Hamlet. The story of a king murdered by his brother and a young prince's struggle to get off of his furry butt and take back the kingdom plays out on the African serengeti with as much drama as Simba's brooding teen counterpart brings to Denmark. Luckily we have Disney to thank for a relatively happy ending (for Nala especially).

All the World's Shakespeare's Stage! Breaking Down Musicals Based on Shakespeare
Photo Credit: Deen Van Meer

3. West Side Story

If we had a dollar for every adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, we'd be able to put on the biggest budget West Side Story the world stage has ever seen. We'd also have a superiority complex because hey, ours has Sondheim.

West Side Story's tale of woe and surprisingly rhythmically coordinated gang members has been thrilling audiences since its premiere in 1957. The subject of race relations, starcrossed love, immigration, and feeling pretty have persisted over the generations to keep West Side Story among the most influential musicals in the canon.

All the World's Shakespeare's Stage! Breaking Down Musicals Based on Shakespeare
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

4. Something Rotten

Maybe not based on Shakespeare in the most technical sense, but, well, he's in it. Something Rotten is basically the theatre community's most public inside joke. With cracks at Cats, Les Mis, and everything in between, Something Rotten turns theatre in on itself, weaving Shakespearean storylines and characters into an egg-cellent comic narrative.

5. All Shook Up

All Shook Up shakes up some Shakespeare. With elements of Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and even A Midsummer Night's Dream, the groovin' love story carries audiences away on its motorcycle of romance and hip-swivelling rock and roll. Mistaken identity and cross-dressing, unrequited love, and a need for revenge keep Shakespeare's favorite themes alive in 1950's middle America.

All the World's Shakespeare's Stage! Breaking Down Musicals Based on Shakespeare
Photo Credit: Marcs Stern

Honorable Mention: The Donkey Show

Somewhere between a musical, a cabaret performance, and an immersive theatrical experience lies A.R.T.'s The Donkey Show. Based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, the production is described as "the ultimate disco experience-a crazy circus of mirror balls and feathered divas, of roller skaters and hustle queens".

The Donkey Show parties every Saturday night at A.R.T.'s Club Oberon in Cambridge.

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From This Author Julie Musbach

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