Some years, as with the shift between revivals and new shows, adaptations swarm the eligibility lists. Depending on the source material, adaptations can either feel contrived or give the audience something completely new and profound. Personally, I lean on the side of original work as I feel it better expands the industry and keeps it fresh.
However, adaptations are never something that should be ruled out, because how else would we have ended up with the hits of Les Miserables and the Phantom of the Opera- both of which were novels before they came to the stage? These may be poor examples however, as these two stories have seen a multitude of adaptations over the years with all kinds of media. Perhaps here, it was the passage of time that led to these specific adaptations being well received. Les Miserables was published by Victor Hugo in 1862, and the musical first debuted on the West End in 1985. Gaston Leroux published The Phantom of the Opera in 1909, and it wasn’t until 1986 that Phantom came to the stage.
The current trend seems to be to snatch plots up as soon as they premiere elsewhere and work on transferring them to the stage. It’s not only Broadway that’s fallen prey to this- The Hunger Games from page to screen, and Star Wars from screen to graphic novel are some recent examples.
It feels like a different game when producers adapt things for the stage, especially if they become musicals for one simple reason: there was no music in Victor Hugo’s novel before Schonberg and Boublil put it there. So what about this season’s adaptations? Of the 5 eligible this year, all have been nominated for awards.
–School of Rock: originally a 2003 film starring Jack Black, this production incorporates music from film and adds new songs as well. Changes to have been made to characters, names, and plot points. Critics gave generally favorable reviews, but many have asked-what does adaptation add to the plot that the movie didn’t? Personally, I view this as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s scramble to make another hit after the Love Never Dies disaster. The show seems fun with great leads in Alex Brightman and Sierra Boggess, but much like Rock of Ages before it, it doesn’t seen like anyone was clamoring for this story to be re-told, especially as the movie is still generally recent. Received 4 nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Actor in a Leading Role.
–Tuck Everlasting: originally a book published in 1975 and then adapted into the 2002 film, the source material obviously contains no music. The production clearly injects musical numbers and manages to weave plot lines unique to book and film. The show had some star power in the form of Terrance Mann and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, but it’s been largely ignored by the award committee. Reviews here were favorable, but the show closed just this past week. The score is whimsical, and the injection of music gives light to the story’s fairytale aesthetic, but I believe the production as a whole wasn’t hard-hitting enough in a season full of Eclipseds and Hamiltons. I think if this would have opened alongside Mary Poppins and Once in lighter seasons it would have fared better. Received a nomination for Best Costume Design.
–American Psycho: originally a book published in 1991 and then 2000 film starring Christian Bale, this production also poses as a cross between horror and black comedy. It draws heavily on book material and the 1980’s setting to influence music choices. The show opened first on the West End in 2013 and has received favorable reviews for both productions. Here’s another show largely ignored by the nomination committee, but since 2013 has already become a “cult classic”. None of the violence is toned down, so a la Sweeney Todd, many don’t have the palette for it, which is why I think it’s been largely ignored. Music and lyrics are by Duncan Sheik, who’s Spring Awakening also received few nominations for it’s revival this season. Received two nominations for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.
–Misery: originally a book published by Stephen King in 1987 and then 1990 film, this production is the only nominated or eligible staged adaptation that is a play, which is down from recent years. Though the film earned Kathy Bates an Academy Award, this show had mixed reviews. The star power of Bruce Willis couldn’t save this production, though perhaps some of this is due to the writing. The novel has already been adapted into two different plays, and to me, a third version feels like this was staged largely just to capitalize on the star power available. This show was also largely ignored by committee, with Laurie Metcalf garnering the only attention for her role as Annie Wilkes, same as Kathy Bates in 1990. Received a nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
–Waitress: originally a 2007 film, the source material is a largely cult hit, and as most of the others, has no music. The production draws heavily from source material but manages to inject and original score by Sara Bareilles, who is a Grammy-winning artist. The film was critically acclaimed, and the show received mixed to positive reviews. Here’s another show that pulled in less nominations than everyone expected, including myself. Personally, I think the opening ran too close to the eligibility cutoff to have full stock taken, however it may be the same case as Tuck Everlasting. Though containing some gritty subject matter, the show is on the lighter side of the spectrum and maybe would have benefitted in the nominations corner had it opened a few years previous. However, no plans have been made to close the show while other eligible shows this season have already had their last run. Received four nominations for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Actor in a Featured Role.
At the end of the day, this year has seen new works dominate both the eligibility rankings and the nominations themselves, but that is not always the case. Some of the longest running shows currently on Broadway are adaptations: The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom, etc. These three shows garnered heavy attention from the nomination committee when they premiered, so perhaps the attention from the Tonys give shows the boost they need to last beyond premiere season.
However, I feel that writers can’t keep making it in the business if there’s nothing fresh to write. If every story goes through the adaptation saga disregarding parodies, what’s going to constitute a success in the industry? Theatre has historically been such an outlet for original work and creatives that didn’t fit into the entertainment mold, I would hate to see it become more commercialized than it already is. While I appreciate the attention that these large-scale adaptation successes have brought to the theatre community, I never want the industry to lose the original creative spark that drew so many of us to the theatre.
MITM Musing: Of your favorite shows, are any adaptations? If you could pick literally anything to see an adaptation of, what would it be? Any predictions as far as how these adaptations will fare at the Tonys?