It used to be that a Broadway show would be a hit on stage, then be made as a movie. But as anyone who has followed Broadway in the last twenty years knows, with the success of Disney Theatrical Group and the the success of Mel Brooks‘ The Producers at the turn of the twenty-first century, that trend has been mostly reversed — hit movies are now becoming Broadway shows, with a significant amount of Broadway shows of the last dozen years being based on popular movies.
This trend is more evident than ever, with Newsies, Once, Leap of Faith, Ghost: The Musical, Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert all currently on the Great White Way. And in the works are Broadway shows based on movies that one would likely never suspect of making a good musical: Rocky, Back to the Future, and Animal House.
Though movies-to-musicals like The Producers, Hairspray, Spamalot, and Billy Elliot became big hits, each winning the Tony Award for Best Musical — with The Producers and Hairspray being such big hits that they were even being remade as musical movies — a movie turned musical isn’t always a major success. Adaptations of Young Frankenstein, Shrek, Elf, High Fidelity, Urban Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever, and Catch Me If You Can were met with little critical or financial success, and in many cases lacked both. Some only lasted weeks, not months, before closing.
Yet Broadway producer Ken Davenport argues that the success rate for movies-turned-musicals isn’t any worse than original musicals, point out, “Only 20 to 30 percent of Broadway shows return their investment. Totally original musicals that aren’t based on anything are unbelievably rare, and have a big failure rate. I look for source material that will make a great musical, and I don’t care if it’s from a book, a movie or a postcard!”
One of the major motivating factors includes audience recognition, with producers hoping that fans of the original film will make the trip to Broadway. Producer Manny Azenberg says, “A hit film is a brand, and it gives you that recognition factor,” though he admits, “It takes some of the creativity and originality out of the process.”