The rise of movies to musicals: Why Broadway needs to return to its roots


Staff Writer

Graphic by Alexa Williams '14 Arts Editor

Graphic by Alexa Williams ’14
Arts Editor

In recent years there has been an increase in the movie to musical phenomenon. The rise makes sense as it is understandable that producers and directors would want to cash in on a successful movie by turning it into a musical. Some of these movies-turned-musicals have been highly successful—take “Matilda the Musical,” for instance, which nabbed 12 Tony award nominations this year and played to 96 percent capacity on Broadway in its first week of previews. Others, like “Big Fish,” “Spider-Man” and “Carrie”—such a legendary failure that it’s part of the title of Ken Mandelbaum’s book on Broadway Musical flops—have fallen hard and are left no choice but to close. It’s not that all new musicals are bad, but rather that in the rush to repeat the success found on the silver screen, no consideration is given to whether making a musical based on “Spider-Man” is a smart idea at all.

Consider “Big Fish.” The musical is based on the 2003 Tim Burton movie of the same name. However, in contrast to the movie’s success, the musical is set to close at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York on Dec. 29 after 98 regular performances. With Broadway veterans like Norbert Leo Butz starring in the role played by Ewan McGregor in the movie, and Susan Stroman, a multiple Tony Award-winner, directing it, “Big Fish” should have been a hit. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, this musical, which opened with a price tag of $14 million, “adds up to little more than a long string of loosely strung musical numbers in which Edward’s [the main character] extravagant tales of derring-didn’t are dramatized.”

Then there’s “Spider-Man,” a great movie that never should have been turned into a musical. The first time I heard of this musical was on a JetBlue flight back to campus, watching the Broadway channel, since I love musicals. The channel was showcasing a variety of musicals, new and returning to Broadway. Out of all the musicals showcased, including “Bring It On the Musical”—which is actually doing quite well—“Spider-Man” instantly stood out as the one that would flop.  In fact, there’s already a book out about its flop, titled “Song of Spider-Man: Inside the Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History,” by Glen Berger. The show, featuring music from U2’s Bono and The Edge, was directed by Julie Taymor, a director who has won two Tony Awards and received four more nominations. “Spider-Man” cost nearly $80 million. The show suffered from many setbacks, including the death of its original producer, Tony Adams; Bono and The Edge’s lack of time to write and record music, as they were touring; and director Julie Taymor’s focus on the two movies she was directing at the time. Even though Taymor was eventually replaced, “Spider-Man” was heralded by critics as a distater. In fact, in the more positive part of his review, New York reviewer Scott Brown described the show as “savage and deeply confusing—a boiling cancer-scape of living pain—that is nevertheless thrilling.”

What flops like “Spider-Man” and “Big Fish” should teach producers is that there is merit in taking the time to consider whether a show will make sense. What works on the silver screen might not work in a musical. Where are the days when musicals were born from an idea or story and tailored to fit Broadway instead of just trying to capitalize on a trend? And these movie-to-musical flops do not even account for the numerous “new musical” flops such as “First Date” and “Leap of Faith” which were closed shortly after their opening. Maybe it’s time for Broadway to revisit successes like “Matilda The Musical,” “Annie,” “The Lion King” and “Cinderella” to see what made and makes them so great.

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