It has been proven time and time again that Broadway audiences like the familiar. This year, it’s the Tony Award nominated “The School of Rock,” which is based on the 2003 Jack Black flick. Broadway audiences tend to like stories they already know, or are at least familiar with. Movies-turned-musicals (or plays) remain a constant hit on the Great White Way, but that phenomenon is certainly nothing new. Musicals have used the big screen for inspiration for almost as long as movies have been around. Here is a quick look at five other musicals inspired by the cinema.
Mel Brooks is no stranger to the stage, but his first adaptation of film-to-stage musical was 1967’s “The Producers.” Originally staring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the movie depicted the story of a Broadway producer who decides to mount the biggest flop in musical history. The movie was a hit and won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay (and also garnered a nod for Gene Wilder) but it was the 2001 musical adaptation that broke all the records, winning an astonishing 12 Tony Awards which is the most won by any musical in Broadway History. This year’s nominee “Hamilton” is poised to break “The Producers’” record, though there is quite a bit of competition on the world’s biggest stage.
Much like “The Producers,” “Hairspray” has had a long life prior to finding such a welcoming home on the stage. The original film came out in 1988 thanks to zany writer/director John Waters. It wasn’t an instant hit. Instead, it went on to gain a cult following once it was released on home video. In 2002, Broadway producers finally found a love for the musical about the “pleasantly plump” teenager who teaches the world about racial integration on a local dance television show. The Broadway musical “Hairspray” opened in 2003, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It was then given another film adaptation (in 2007) based on the new material from the 2002 musical version. It may be one of the only cases of a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on a movie musical. So far.
“Little Shop of Horrors”
This is another example of a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on a movie musical that remains a popular hit to this day. “Little Shop of Horrors” first brought the man-eating Audrey II to the world via a black and white comedy/horror film in 1960. Directed by Roger Corman, the original “Little Shop of Horrors” even featured a then-unknown Jack Nicholson as the man who loves visiting the dentist. The flick gained a cult following as well, and received the Broadway treatment — thanks to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken — in 1982. It was in 1986 that movie audiences were treated to the famous film version featuring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and Ellen Greene (who originated the role on Broadway).
The original “Sunset Boulevard” film is ranked as number 12 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Best American Films.” The movie, which featured Gloria Swanson as the faded silent screen star Norma Desmond, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards when it was released in 1950. The film was also among the first to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress. It wasn’t until 1993 that the film got the stage treatment, thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber and starring Gelnn Close. First opening in London, then on Broadway in 1994, “Sunset Boulevard” was not the financial hit producers hoped it would be, however, it still remains as a popular musical among regional and professional theaters alike.
“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Technically, “Monty Python’s Spamalot” isn’t based on the 1975 comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Technically. The 2005 Broadway hit was “lovingly ripped off” from the original Python classic, with a bit of “The Life of Brian” thrown in as well (specifically the addition of the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”). The 2005 Broadway “Spamalot” still told the story of the Knights of the Round Table, but did so with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The musical went on to receive a whopping 14 Tony nominations, winning three, including Best Musical.
Deborah Flomberg is a theater professional, freelance writer and Denver native. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.