Over two-dozen Broadway shows premiere during the 2013-2014 season. Among them are The Bridges of Madison County, Rocky, Aladdin and Big Fish. Sound familiar? Out of nearly twenty-five new musicals, over a fourth have been seen before, in the movie theatre. Translating a Hollywood script onto the stage is risky. Some musicals prove extremely successful; The Lion King stands as the fourth longest-running Broadway musical. Others, however, close in as little as three weeks. As more Broadway marquees display familiar, well-known titles, theatregoers wonder if the Great White Way will stay a haven for creative, new work, or simply copy and paste entertaining, yet recycled, favorites.
Though imitative, familiar stories sell tickets. An inexperienced theatregoer is more likely to buy tickets to The Lion King than to If/Then. The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, and Cinderella get a reluctant foot in the door. The shows are great, don’t get me wrong. Cinderella‘s score is classic, The Lion King is brought to life in an incredible manner, and Mamma Mia! is a fun, laugh out loud musical that has audiences singing along and on their feet night after night. But the best part about these musicals? That patron, who would otherwise not even attend a Broadway show, is now a theatre fan. Consequently, he or she may reach out of his or her comfort zone and see If/Then, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or Lady Day next time. Headlining superstars such as Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, and Audra McDonald don’t hurt, either. Returning patrons keep the often- struggling Broadway economy thriving, and make it possible for producers to stage original shows.
Musicals inspired by books, plays, and films are not uncommon. Seeing a wave of films on the stage does not necessarily mean the beginning of the end for vibrant Broadway theatre. Kiss Me Kate, Hands on a Hardbody, and 42nd Street are just some of hundreds of shows with unoriginal beginnings. A Broadway production inspired by a little-known documentary, however, vastly differs from Legally Blonde: The Musical, nearly a carbon copy of the Hollywood script, with new songs inserted to appeal to the Broadway stage. While it gets patrons in seats, it also stomps on unprecedented future hits. A big-budget show based on the Hollywood smash, Rocky, is much more likely to receive backers than a brand new, completely innovative show. Unfortunately, the novelty also suffers when a movie repackages itself and presents itself as new, for nearly $85 a ticket.
Whether audiences better receive musical movies remains a toss up. Newsies– one of my favorite musicals- and Once emerged as box office successes, and continue to sell out. Sometimes, however, stories become lost in translation. Catch Me if You Can and Ghost: The Musical closed after five months. The highly anticipated Big Fish closed in under four weeks. Despite these responses, however, the bright lights of Broadway have always encouraged expression. Whether from a familiar movie plot, or a never-before-seen production, it is important to keep live theatre alive and audiences in seats- no matter the origin of the script.