Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coming to a Theatre Near You…

Spiderman.  The Lion King.  Shrek.  Billy Elliot.  Legally Blonde.  All movies, seemingly disconnected, correct? Wrong.  All five, as well as countless others are in fact musicals that at one time or another have graced the Broadway stage in New York. 
Film no longer simply influences the average viewer in the theatre or on their DVD player from home.  No, the magic of the cinema has now extended its influence to the Great White Way, ironically enough, seeing as the rising popularity of films once they were invented were seen to be a dooming end for the Broadway venue for entertainment.  Yet, somehow, overpriced tickets have not stopped viewers from flocking stages—community, school, and professional.  Movies may be cheaper and more accessible, but there is something inexplicably magical about watching live performers.
The move from original works to singing adaptations is hard to pinpoint.  Personally, I give credit to Walt Disney and Company with their animated movies including incredible song and dance numbers in their newer films.  It is hard-pressed to find a child of the 90’s who does not know at least the tune to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Our Guest,” or “Under the Sea.”  When Beauty and the Beast was adapted from screen to stage in 1994, a window of opportunity was created for filmmakers and Broadway investors alike.  Suddenly, almost every movie with some sort of cult following was making its way to the Broadway stages.  Mel Brooks fans were given a sing song version of The Producers, Valley Girls across the nation could sing along with Elle Woods as she journeyed off to Harvard to find true love in Legally Blonde the Musical, even action lovers can now travel to the Big Apple and find Spiderman zipping his way across the stage to the tune of Bono’s newly written music.  
Disney continued to adapt, and not only produced the smash international hit The Lion King, but created other musicals out of other popular movies, such as Tarzan, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid.  Even little known movies, such as Thoroughly Modern Millie (made in the sixties starring Julie Andrews) and Billy Elliot (a British film made in 2000) have made their Broadway debut.  Much like movies, there is a Broadway film adaptation for everyone.  
The question remains, are these musicals worthwhile seeing, especially if there already is a movie serving as inspiration?  My argument is both yes and no.  What matters is the reinterpretation of the story.  If the material is transformed, adapted, and changed into something far more creative and interesting on a different level, then by all means it is worth seeing.  The Lion King is beautiful on screen, but the use of intricate puppetry arts give the musical an edge that just cannot be captured with a camera.  John Water’s Hairspray was so completely transformed on stage, both by creating entire songs out of iconic lines and developing minor as well as major characters, that not only was the stage production a critical success, but even sparked a recent movie remake based on the Broadway production.  
Other shows—such as Shrek the Musical and Cry-Baby (another remake of a John Waters film from the 80’s) seem only to add a few extra songs to the already beloved movie, therefore not fully taking the viewer to a completely different world than what they were expecting.  Bottom line—films are spreading their influence.  Broadway is just one venue that films are affecting, both well and poorly.  Creativity can allow a stage show to take a beloved movie to heights unimaginable to a movie, or it can serve as a poor yet expensive substitute for a movie that is better watched in the comfort of a personal living room.  Only time will tell what hit movies will debut soon on the stages of Broadway, and more importantly which of those will be magical retellings of classic tales.  

-Ashley Thompson

1 comment:

  1. Don't you think there is a class/social/economic issue involved in this comparison? Just think about who actually gets to see Broadway musicals. Could there be other factors than artistic merit?