Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stop ripping off H'wood, B'way

I'm not a Broadway follower by any stretch. In my life, while I've certainly been to lots of live theater performances, only two of them were on Broadway, and both were musicals. One was called The Life, a story about Times Square hookers and pimps, in the days before Disney steamrolled over them all. It was recommended to me by Bill from the Third Avenue video store I used to work at, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a pity it didn't last longer. The other one was Rent

Now it's not even like I'm all that picky when it comes to Broadway shows, because like I said, I don't go to very many of them, but these days, I have even less of an incentive to see one. Why? Because chances are, I've already seen it - on the silver screen!

Yep, I'm talking about the disturbing trend of Hollywood movies being made into Broadway musicals. A stroll down the Great White Way in recent years looks more and more like a Netflix queue: The Lion King, Sister Act, The Color Purple, Mary Poppins, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Hairspray - whether the film version had a musical element to it or not, Broadway looks more and more towards Hollywood (and films in general, really) for its ideas. And now we can look forward to musical adaptations of Newsies, Ghost, Once, and even Rocky! I really love it when Hollywood then makes a new movie out of the musical version, which itself came from a movie! The snake devouring its own tail in one big cycle.

Personally, I blame The Lion King. When Disney staked its claim to the Broadway scene, it came at a time when Times Square was undergoing its metamorphosis into family-friendliness. Now as a New Yorker, I'm of two minds about this, and this is something I've written about before: on the one hand, it is a city government's responsibility to make its city the best it can be for everyone who lives there. However, even those peep shows and grindhouse theaters served a purpose, and for better or for worse, they were an intrinsic part of New York's identity (as The Life made quite clear). But that's tangential to my main point.

Disney arrived, hyped the hell outta The Lion King musical, and quicker than you can say "hakuna matata," it became a phenomenal success, and ever since, the floodgates have remained open for more musicals based on movies. (Although to be fair, the reverse has also been true, particularly back in the old days.)

I'm not getting into issues of quality; I haven't seen The Lion King or any of the other movie-based musicals, but I'm sure they have their merits. But I think it's disappointing that the same industry that made stars out of Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein (& Hart), Lerner & Lowe, George & Ira Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Webber now follows Hollywood's lead instead of doing the leading themselves. And again, I'm saying this and I'm not even a Broadway fan.

Yes, I know there are plenty of gems to be found off-Broadway, and not every Broadway show rips off the movies. (Some of them just take a famous singer's songbook and builds a show around that.) I just feel the need to complain since this is something I've seen happening for years and it bugs me a little. If Broadway audiences want regurgitated material like Hollywood audiences want them, who am I to say no?

Any Broadway fans out there who hear what I'm saying?


  1. I'm not a Broadway fan as I actually haven't seen any, though I do enjoy some plays that toured in my neck of the woods. I see your point, Rich, I mean why not create original plays?? I guess the same like Hollywood, there are just a shortage of creative writers. I think some stories just don't fit to be made into stage production... I mean, Spiderman is just an odd one to see on stage, but something like Phantom of the Opera is perfect for stage.

  2. 'Spider-Man' really ups the spectacle factor. Seeing Peter Pan 'flying' is one thing, but this is a whole new level. I suppose modern audiences expect it now.


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