Do stage musicals based on non musical films work?
Is this a great way of getting more people to experience theatre or is this sort of adaptation the beginning of the decay of theatre culture?
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I am a mass patron of the arts and one of my favorite art forms is the theatre. The theatre’s purpose is to challenge, confront, educate and entertain us.
It’s disappointing when a person travels to New York or London and only watches the standard blockbuster theatre. For example, The Lion King, Mama Mia and The Phantom of the Opera. It gets worse when a person is only ever interested in the theatre when a musical stage adaptation of a non musical film comes along.
Hollywood has always looked to the theatre for inspirations for film adaptations. The opposite has become commonplace over the last few decades and non musical films are being translated into stage shows. Adaptations include Legally Blonde, King Kong, The Full Monty, Rocky, Sister Act, Catch Me If You Can, 9 to 5, Ghost, The Full Monty, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, The Wedding Singer, Footloose, Big, Saturday Night Fever, Witches of Eastwick and Carrie.
Pop culture films are accessible and they have a recognizable brand name. So they attract people to the theatre to see the franchise name.
The average budget needed to open a musical on Broadway is about $10 million with an average of $500,000 is needed to keep the show running per week. With these high costs producers need to ensure they pack out houses for years before they see any profit, which makes them nervous.
If a theatre goer is to spend in between $50-$120 per ticket, as opposed to a $16 movie ticket, they want to ensure that they have a good time.
The writing process is simplified if there is a strong story present already. The only real challenge is composing and writing musical numbers and figuring out how to tell the story musically. Hence, a product that can be palatable and marketable to the mass majority.
Mel Brook’s The Producers was the first successful product of this medium. The 1955 film Smiles of A Summer Night by Ingmar Bergman was musically adapted for the stage as A Little Night Music. Stephen Sodenheim and Hugh Wheeler’s adaptation was both award winning, financially successful, and regarded as highly sophisticated. It spawned the famous and wonderful song “Send in The Clowns”. The film Hairspray was successfully translated to a stage musical in 2002.
Serious theatre goers, like myself, and musical theatre devotees generally oppose these types of translations. For the few handfuls of successful adaptations, there have been countless financial and critical failures. Why persist with such a dreadful formula when it has proven to not work on so many levels?
Some material just doesn’t make a successful transition. Quite often these works are a reflection of the decay of the theatre. Broadway is becoming similar to Hollywood, they are desperately trying to reach a mass audience at all costs. Therefore the integrity of the theatre is being compromised in order to cater to mass culture. The musical numbers are often poor and the shows rely on a visual dazzle. They abandon solid character development and narrative.
Legally Blonde and King Kong received such appraisals. Aussie Theatre said “King Kong is spectacular visually and technically, it is theatre we have never seen before. But the story is not there. It’s filled with illogical leaps, clunky dialogue and the melodrama of unearned emotion. It feels like it was written around the spectacle. The music is forgettable, though not boring. But it doesn’t add more but a beat for the spectacle that its supporting”.
Legally Blonde received a scathing review in The Sunday Telegraph “It’s a great big empty vessel of a show that makes a lot of noise and not much else. It should have been entitled “Irredeemably Bland”. I was aware that for the whole two hours and twenty five minutes that it ran, I was sitting among a group of people with vacant smiles on faces that otherwise seemed entirely numbed. That was how I looked, too. It is the expression that registers when what one is seeing doesn’t entirely sync with what is going on in one’s brain”
Legally Blonde and King Kong were financially successful productions. It never fails to amaze me when garbage does so well among the masses.
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