BWW Blog: Turning Movies into Musicals - Is There a Formula for Success?
When creating a musical, there are many places that one can draw inspiration from. Some, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, read a book and are determined to see the story play out on stage. Others take the songs of others and create a plot around them, like the music of ABBA in Mamma Mia. A few are even able to conjure up entire worlds out of their minds. But one of the more popular forms of media to be adapted in the past few years has been the world of cinema. While there have been quite a few successes with musical movie adaptations over the years, there have been some terrible failures that cannot be forgotten as well. Is there some kind of formula to take a movie and make it into a Broadway hit? Let's take a look at some popular musicals that are adaptations of different movies, ranging from relatively unheard of films to iconic cult classics.
Changing the Script, for Better or for Worse
Prince of Egypt - Of all of the shows that I have seen over the years, this was the one of the ones that I was the most excited for, and, unfortunately, the one that disappointed me the most. The animated movie is one of my favorite movies of all time with its incredible music and wonderful style. Even though I did my best to keep an open mind after the beautiful "Deliver Us" as the opening number, the Prince of Egypt musical on the West End failed to live up to its inspiration. One of the main things that made me dislike it was the fact that they changed important plot points and got rid of the best original songs (and a character). I won't go into any major spoilers but changing the ending of not only the movie but the Bible itself felt a bit sacrilege. The new songs also failed to make an impression on me and many audience members, quite a few of whom left at the interval. There may have been some changes since I saw it during previews, but unfortunately, I doubt that the major aspects that I disliked are now different.
Groundhog Day - This was a show that closed too early and I will stand by that statement forever. Groundhog Day and its great changes to the movie of the same name hold a dear place in my heart. Many appeared to prefer the musical over the movie due to its character development, especially when it came to the main character, Phil Connors (played by the incredible Andy Karl). Tim Minchin's witty lyrics and purposefully repetitive motifs make the audience feel as though they are trapped in the loop along with Phil, and there are many (like me) who wouldn't mind being stuck with that music for more than just a few hours. By making the musical a bit more PG-13-rated (even R-rated) instead of the movie's PG rating, the characters are able to express themselves more plainly and different plot points are able to be explored in a deeper manner.
Cult Classic Successes
Heathers - Many fans around the world first fell in love with Heathers on the silver screen, watching Winona Ryder and Christian Slater go on a teenage killing spree in Westerburg. While there were some who may have been worried when they heard that the cult classic was being made into a musical, they had nothing to fear. Heathers has taken the world by storm, with a performance on the West End starring Carrie Hope Fletcher and a tour of the U.K. being planned. Hundreds of productions have probably been put on around the world, including the iconic "Illegal Heathers" production found on YouTube. Even social media apps like TikTok have fallen prey to the musical, with a silly dance being made to a bit of "Big Fun"'s music and lyrics. Who knows, maybe someday we will finally get to see Heathers on Broadway after all of its successes?
Legally Blonde - Now some may wonder why I'm considering Legally Blonde a "cult classic", but when you're considering iconic movies, many young women cite this one as being an inspiration for empowerment, some even being inspired to become lawyers! But enough of defending my choice, what's done is done. Legally Blonde the musical is one of those shows that perfectly matches the tone of the original movie it is based on. While there isn't much character development (except maybe some for Emmett Forrest), it is just such a fun show! Songs like "Omigod You Guys", "Whipped into Shape", "There! Right! There!", and the iconic "Bend and Snap" are like homing beacons to theatre kids, making them jump out of their chairs and do the choreography they've been practicing in their head for years.
Using Lesser-Known or Failed Movies
Dogfight - While there are some who are quite familiar with Dogfight the movie, I would guess that people are more aware of the Off-Broadway musical version starring Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena. Dogfight is a dark tale that deals with topics including war, prostitution, manipulation, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I must admit that I am not very familiar with the original movie but having been in a production of the musical one understands how powerful the music alone can be, which proves the success of the show. Allowing characters to express themselves through song is typically one of the best ways to connect with audience members, as songwriters have the chance to break the fourth wall through their lyrics. Having simple sets also gives the audience an opportunity to focus more on the characters themselves, allowing them to see them as normal people. And who can deny the bop that is "Some Kind of Time"?
Newsies - While MGM Studios Park (now known as Hollywood Studios) in Walt Disney World, Florida, was still being used as a working film studio, the Streets of New York were used for the set of Newsies, a musical production inspired by the Newsboys' Strike of 1899. Unfortunately for Disney, the movie was an absolute box-office flop, even with Christian Bale's incredible dancing and singing abilities. But fortunately for us musical theatre fans, Disney decided to try again by adapting the movie-musical into a stage production that opened on Broadway in 2012 (after a production at the Paper Mill Playhouse the year before). Newsies is an absolutely incredible show with brilliant choreography, fantastic Alan Menken music, and of course, perfect newsboy costumes. After closing on Broadway, the show continued to stay alive through tours, international productions, and even a filmed version that played in cinemas!
Ultimately, making a musical based off of a popular movie does not guarantee its success. Just as with any production on Broadway, a musical must be able to win over its audience whether its inspiration is well-known or not. As we've seen from the musicals in this list, even shows that use the same tactics may not have the same success as each other. But, as always when it comes to shows, to each his own. One man's least favorite musical will certainly be another's favorite and there is always room for discussion.