xactly what’s happening on Broadway stages. However, this is no new trend.
“Ever since musicals were created, most of them have been based on previous source material — other books or other plays,” Robert W. Schneider said. “This trend isn’t abnormal.”
Playbill recently announced on its website the development of the stage adaptation of popular animated musical, “Anastasia,” in addition to other movies coming to the stage such as “Matilda,” currently playing in London’s West End theatre district and opening on the Broadway stage in spring 2013 .
The 2012 Tony Awards were flooded with nominations for musicals that began as films. The winner of the Best Musical category, for example, was “Once,” a musical based on a lesser known, indie film that was released in 2006.
Movies can translate well onto stage for several reasons. One of these reasons is having qualities that make it a good musical, Mary Saunders-Barton said.
“If you watch a movie –– even if it doesn’t have any music in it –– you will be able to identify if it has any characteristics you want to see on stage,” Saunders-Barton, head of voice for musical theatre and interim head of musical theatre, said.
She said the movie must have great music and a great story.
“It has to carry on stage in different kinds of ways — production values, dance, qualities that make it really exciting.”
Susan H. Schulman, professor of directing, said the structure of a movie with its short scenes lends itself well to the structure of a musical.
Schulman, who earned a Tony nomination in 1990 directing Sweeney Todd’s first Broadway revival, said a successful adaptation would use the basic storyline, but is not as much an adaptation as it is as a reinvention.
“The story has to have the ability to sing,” she said. “The movie has to have a sense of poetry to it.”
She cited “The Lion King,” which celebrated its 15th anniversary on a Broadway stage on Nov. 13 , as a successful adaptation because it “did not try to put the movie on the stage.”
Another aspect that enhances a stage adaptation is the simple factor of familiarity, Schneider said. Schneider, assistant professor of theatre, said that the aspect of familiarity is big because people already know the story they are going to see.
Shows are quite expensive to produce. According to an essay regarding a PBS six-part documentary, “Broadway: The American Musical,” by Laurence Maslon, a master teacher at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, a musical today would cost approximately $10 million to produce.
With the exorbitant amount it takes to bring a musical to audiences, ticket prices are not cheap. It begs the question, “Why am I going to spend $700 on something I don’t know?” Schneider said, which adds to the appeal of seeing something familiar.
However, Schneider said not all stage adaptations work because the people who were in the movie were what made the movie successful in the first place. He cited “The Wedding Singer” as an example of an iconic movie turned into a musical, but it was a successful movie because of its stars, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
On the flip side of the situation, Schneider said there are musicals that have been converted into movies and have been more successful on the silver screen, such as “Chicago.”
The idea that all of the musical numbers are in protagonist, Roxie Hart’s head is more realistic than being live, choreographed numbers, he said.
“As time has gone on and we’ve become more and more realistic, we can’t really buy the convention of people bursting into song,” he said.
Schulman said people can be cynical about fantasy.
“[In] a musical that’s well done, you don’t question the singing, you don’t question what’s happening,” she said.
With the increasing popularity of recognizable films turning up on Broadway, including “Sister Act” and “Bring It On: The Musical,” it becomes questioned if there is becoming a targeted audience. This targeted audience usually travels in large crowds with cameras in tow: Tourists.
Schneider said until the 1990s, Broadway wasn’t about tourists, but rather those who wanted to see shows and were open to the experience. Now, the trend is more toward tourism.
“It’s more for the tourists and the commerce than the art and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Penn State Thespians Vice President Andrew Adamietz said that nothing beats the original musical.
The club recently put on a production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” After an extensive process of narrowing down the top choices of what they would perform, Adamietz (junior-secondary English education) said the musical worked in part because of its popularity and appeal to people of all ages.
He said turning a movie into a musical has more of an experimental aspect. He said an important piece that is looked into when doing an adaptation is the story itself.
“It all depends on the plot and how original it is, and what they can do with it,” he said.
He said sometimes the adaptations may not work, such as “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” but there are ones that are extremely successful, such as “Once.”
Broadway may be churning out a new trend for audiences to look for in addition to next batch of movies on the stage. Schneider said we might see more rock albums being turned into musicals, following in the footsteps of Green Day’s “American Idiot.”
“The only way to fix [the trend toward movies] is just if producers are willing to take more chances, and the audience are willing to take more chances,” he said.
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