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History of Movies to Musicals on Broadway

The 2017-2018 Broadway season reached 13,792,614 in attendance and grossed over $1.6 million. Despite these record setting numbers, discussion and debate broke out amongst fans as all four Tony nominated Best Musicals were stage adaptations of films; The Band’s Visit, SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical, Frozen, and Mean Girls. 

The Broadway cast of Some Like It Hot

A major criticism of Broadway is the trend of stage adaptations of popular movies, which has been featured heavily in recent seasons. With this upcoming season having two announced adaptations, Almost Famous and Some Like It Hot, and even more rumored for the future including The Notebook, The Devil Wears Prada, and a transfer of the West End’s Back to the Future, there is an understandable interest in the creation and development of original stories on Broadway. What many theatergoers are unaware of is that this trend isn’t new to Broadway. In fact, Broadway has a long history of translating movies to the stage including some classic and fan favorite shows. 

Little Shop Of Horrors

While some adaptations are more obvious, such as the Disney Broadway catalog including shows like Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, and The Lion King, many well known theater classics were inspired by movies. Sondheim and Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, which originally opened on Broadway in 1973 and ran for 601 performances, is based on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night. The well-known Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon staple Sweet Charity, written by Neil SImon with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, is based on the 1957 screenplay Nights of Cabiria. Little Shop of Horrors, whose award winning Off-Broadway revival is currently running at the Westside Theatre, is based on the low budget 1960 dark comedy, The Little Shop of Horrors. Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Sunset Boulevard, which broke advance sale records and sold over 1 million tickets with its original Broadway production, is based on the 1950 film of the same name. Some other classics include Nine, based on Frederico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½, On The 20th Century, based on the 1930s film of the same name, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair, and Promises, Promises, based on the 1960 film The Apartment.  

Heathers The Musical on Roku

Beyond the classics, many fan favorites, such as Heathers which currently has a production on the West End, are based on films. The 2007 Legally Blonde, which has become a go-to for many community theaters and High Schools across the country, is heavily based heavily on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon as well as the Amanda Brown novel. The beloved Sara Bareilles musical Waitress, which ran on Broadway from 2016 to 2020 and returned in a limited engagement in 2021, is based on the 2007 film written by Adrienne Shelly. Other fan favorite adaptations include the currently running Beetlejuice, based on the Tim Burton horror comedy, 9 to 5, based on the 1980 film, Anastasia, based on the 1997 animated movie, and many more. 

Billy Elliott the Musical

Some screen to stage adaptations have even garnered critical acclaim and gone on to win Tony Awards, such as Once, which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical. Carnival, which won the 1962 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical and an Outer Critics Circle Award, was based on the 1953 film Lili. The 2013 winner Kinky Boots, which ran on Broadway for 2,507 performances and is currently running Off-Broadway at Stage 42, is based on a 2005 British film of the same name. The 2021 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Moulin Rouge!, is based on the 2001 film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Other Tony Award winning adaptations include Billy Elliot the Musical, Spamalot, Hairspray, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Producers, and Passion. 

The river flows both ways. While many musicals based on films have gone on to win awards and break records, Hollywood continues to turn out movies based on beloved Broadway shows. In the last 5 years alone, there have been a slew of film adaptations of Musicals including Jonathan Larsons’ Tick, Tick…Boom, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda starring Andrew Garfield, a remake of West Side Story directed by Stephen, In The Heights, 13, The Prom, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Last 5 Years (although this came out in 2014 and has yet to have a Broadway production). Coming to Netflix this December will be a movie adaptation of the acclaimed musical Matilda. The long-running Broadway musical Wicked, which has multiple national tours and international productions, has a film adaptation in the late stages of development starring Ariana Grande, Cynthia Erivo, and Jonathan Bailey. 

While there should be a healthy mix of original stories and adaptations in commercial theater, the relationship between Broadway and the silver screen has an extensive history that shouldn’t be dismissed. If a screen to stage adaptation is done well, it has the potential to connect with audiences, set records, and become a staple in the theater canon. 

Cover Story Interviews

Twenty Questions with Tony Winner Blair Brown

In 2000, Blair Brown won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Margrethe in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Brown first appeared on a New York stage in the 1975 New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Comedy of Errors and boasts an impressive theatre resume including the 1989 Broadway production of Secret Rapture, the 1995 Lincoln Center Theater production of Arcadia, two runs as Frau Schneider in the 1998 and 2003 productions of Cabaret, and the 2006 production of The Clean House. She can currently be seen at Studio 54 as Ms. Innes in Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, playing through July 24th only. 

On Screen, Brown appeared in the 1973 Oscar winning film, The Paper Chase, as well as in The Choirboy, Altered States, One Trick Pony, Stealing Home, and A Flash of Green. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her leading role opposite John Belushi in Continental Divide. She received a second Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the TV miniseries Kennedy. She had a 5-year run on the television comedy-drama, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, where she received 5 consecutive Emmy Award nominations. In 2008, Brown appeared on the Fox television series The Fringe, and was featured as Judy King in 3 seasons of the Netflix comedy-drama series, Orange is the New Black

We were fortunate enough to speak with Blair and get Twenty questions with a Tony Award Winner. 

Blair Brown at the 2000 Tony Awards.

1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award?

Why wasn’t there an ensemble award?  There still isn’t. I was in a three-character play, Copenhagen, and Michael Cumpsty and Phil Bosco and I were totally dependent on each other for our performances. 

2. What were your first thoughts upon winning?

It’s just nice to win a prize even though we know it doesn’t really matter. 

3. Do you have any fond memories from the night of the ceremony? 

My son in a tux as my date. I got a chance to thank the brilliant wig maker, Paul Huntley, whose artistry in helping actors create characters was largely unrecognized, and I got to sing and dance Irish music on that huge Radio City stage in that gargantuan house. A nice night!

4. What is the biggest change you experienced after winning?

You get better billing. That’s it really

5. Where is your award now? 

In a cabinet mixed in with small ceramics my son made as a child. 

6. Who has been a mentor in your career?

I never had a mentor but there were two actors that I wanted to be like: Marian Seldes and Roger Rees. They both brought such genuine joy and enthusiasm to this work they loved. I try to remember that. 

7. What is the best advice you have received in your career?

One day in rehearsal at the Guthrie Theater playing Portia in The Merchant of Venice I was having a crisis of confidence. Michael Langham, the director, took me aside and basically said “You expect people to pay money to watch you think and feel so get on with it”. He said it in a slightly nicer way but that’s what he meant and it’s true, we do! 

8. Do you have any preperformance rituals?

I make up different rituals for every show. 

9. What is the last book you read?

I Just finished rereading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. A wonderful look at Russian short story writing that can inform what actors do creating characters. 

10. What is a dream role of yours?

I wish I’d done more Shakespeare, more Shaw, more Restoration comedies. I was in the wrong country. 

11. What previous role of yours had your favorite costumes?

My Favorite, most favorite costume was a gown designed for Camino Real by Michael Krass that was based on a 1950’s Dior petal dress. I shed sequins and petals wherever I walked. Divine!

12. Which of your previous roles did you feel most similar to?

I always felt Gretta in James Joyce’s The Dead was someone I could have been. 

13. Which of your previous roles did you feel most different from?

When I was in drama school I was cast as a termagant in John Osbourne’s Live Like Pigs because I’d been complaining about playing ingenues. I had to look up the word and I was ridiculous as this older hardened prostitute!

14. Is there a role that you would like to revisit?

I’d like to revisit playing Prospera in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was such a rich and interesting experience to switch that protagonist’s gender, fascinating to feel the story play out differently. I’d like another shot at it with Emily Mann directing again. 

15. What has been a challenge you’ve faced in your career?

The biggest challenge for me was trying to balance raising my son with the work I loved doing but also needed to do to support us. 

16. What is a song that always makes you smile?

“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” by Cole Porter always gets me smiling. 

17. What is your favorite cocktail?

Danny Meyer’s Tabla on Madison Square used to make a Citrus Ginger Snap cocktail. Delish!

18. What is a place you would like to visit?

I want to see more of Scotland, those wild islands.  

19. What is your favorite show tune?

No single show tune stands out. It’s a crowded field. Anything from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.  Or The Threepenny Opera.  Or The Band’s Visit

20. What is your favorite part of theatre?

My favorite part of theater is rehearsal and tech when the play emerges.  Thrilling!  My 2nd favorite is the moment after the Sunday matinee when you’ve run the 8-show gauntlet and you breathe a sigh of relief and accomplishment. 

Samira Wiley and Blair Brown in Orange is the New Black.