Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Heathers: The Musical" or "Why I Love a Moviecal"

I had the best time last night at Joe's Pub.  Months ago I heard that a team of creatives including Tony Award nominee Laurence O'Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) were putting together Heathers: The Musical, based on the 1989 film, and immediately got on the horn (in this case, Facebook) and declared that everyone in my circle was going to go with me.

With the kind of expectations I had set for the event it was entirely possible that I was going to be disappointed.  But this amazing cast, which featured Annaleigh Ashford (Legally Blonde, Wicked) as Veronica and Jeremy Jordan (West Side Story) as J.D. along with an amazing trio of Heathers played by Jenna Leigh Green (Wicked) as Heather Chandler, Corri English as Heather McNamara and Christine Lakin (Reefer Madness) as Heather Duke, totally lived up to everything I had hoped for. And while Director Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness) wasn't part of the cast per se, he did provide biting and witty stage directions while periodically reminding the audience that "it will look awesome in a fully-staged Equity production."

Fully-staged or not, the show was a blast.

Several friends scoffed at the prospect of seeing "another movie turned musical" and complained that "there's no new stories" and "I don't want to see what I've already seen... done poorly".  Well friends, I scoff at that notion.

Movies-turned-musicals are a part of the fabric of the American theatre. Take for instance the following:

  • All things Disney - Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid
  • Billy Elliot
  • Catch Me If You Can*
  • Cry Baby
  • High Fidelity
  • Legally Blonde
  • Nine
  • Nine to Five
  • Shrek
  • Sister Act*
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Xanadu
  • Young Frankenstein
  • *planned for Broadway
And of course, many of our Broadway classics were based on other material to start too.
  • Cabaret was based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera which was based on Christopher Isherwood's novel Goodbye to Berlin
  • Damn Yankees is Faust
  • Guys and Dolls came from Damon Runyon's short story The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown
  • Hello, Dolly! came from Thornton Wilder's The Merchant of Yonkers which he later retitled The Matchmaker
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying came from a how-to book of the same name
  • Kiss Me, Kate was inspired by and uses the original Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew within its own story
  • Man of La Mancha came from Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote
  • My Fair Lady comes from Shaw's Pygmalion which Shaw took from Greek mythology
  • Oklahoma! came from Lynn Riggs's 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs
  • South Pacific came from James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific
  • The Pajama Game came from Richard Bissell's The novel 7 ½ Cents
  • The Wiz came from The Wizard of Oz (with references to both the MGM film and the original Baum stories)
  • West Side Story comes from Romeo and Juliet which Shakespeare himself based on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses
  • and of course, Wicked came from Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
In the end, the old adage may prove true, that there are no "new" stories to tell... just variations on old ones that we revisit, reorder and retell from time to time.  

Aside from the problem of "we already saw that" there is the second issue that many commercial producers have to consider.  If you're piling tens of millions of dollars into a Broadway musical, you want as close to a guarantee as possible that some people will want to see it... and the familiar starts to look like a safe bet.  "Did you like the movie Legally Blonde?  Then you'll love the Broadway musical!"  I believe it is far easier to get people into a show if you're offering them something that they can relate to.

So go buy a ticket to a "moviecal" and enjoy.  I'm pretty sure you will... if you liked it's predecessor.  

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