The musical’s a strange part of the theater world, melodramatic even by the heightened standards of the theater. But that melodrama is exactly what makes them appeal: the open-book, heart-on-the-sleeve, belted out to a tune emotions. And sure, sometimes that seems a little ridiculous, but at other times the only thing that hits the spot is the combo of high drama and high notes.
So now that my brief defense of musicals is finished, let’s talk about the musicals that don’t quite fit. The ones based off movies that you wouldn’t expect, or aren’t going to finish with an emotional reprise of the love theme.
Greed: A Musical for Our Times
This one just came out, with its first run lasting January 17th to February 5th, 2014. Coming from The Tank Ltd, with music, lyrics and book by Michael Roberts (two time winner of the ASCAP Plus Award in musical theater), GREED was directed by Christopher Scott, and deals with the history of greed, from the seventeenth century’s tulip bubble to modern mortgage bundling. Despite the serious topic of the musical, the cast describes GREED: A Musical For Our Times as lighthearted fun. Starring Avenue Q alumni Stephanie D’Abruzzo, and with catchy songs like ‘Inside Information’ and ‘I’ll Cheat On My Taxes’, the musical’s sure to keep people giggling in their seats. Seats which range from $40-65 dollars, unless you want to shell out $499 for one that comes with an onstage cameo. It’s still too new of a production to know too much about how people are reacting to it, but considering how well feted Roberts’ other projects have been, GREED’s future is bright.
Evil Dead: The Musical
It used to be that if you wanted fake blood and laughs in your musicals, you really only had one choice, and it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But now there’s a new option: Evil Dead: The Musical, a Canadian production based on the classic 1981 Sam Raimi film, Evil Dead. It was developed in Toronto 2003, with the approval of both Raimi and the film’s star, Bruce Campbell, and was first performed at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal 2004. A huge hit, it’s had off-Broadway productions and a Toronto revival production that reached 300 performances in 2008, making it one of the longest running productions in Toronto. With catchy songs like “All the Men in my life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons” and the ‘splatter zone’ (the first few rows of the audience, where those sitting are at risk of getting sprayed with fake blood), it’s easy to see the appeal. There’s currently a North American tour underway, with Ryan Ward starring as the chainsaw wielding hero, Ash, as well as a production in Las Vegas that bills itself as the ‘ultimate 4D experience’ (which is somewhat intimidating, considering the subject matter), so if you feel the need to see this one, there’s definitely options available.
Teenage girls are always a good subject for musicals. And is there ever a better location for the high-drama and conflict than high school, with its endless battle of popular versus unpopular? So high-school chick flicks are the perfect vehicles for musical adaptations.
But Jawbreaker‘s not really the first one you’d pick to adapt. Something a little more John Hughes, instead of the 1999 cult movie about lies, popularity and murder, maybe? Jawbreaker tracks the lengths the ‘flawless four’ it girls of a high school will go to after a prank goes horribly wrong, resulting in one of their deaths. The musical’s had its readings in 2013, and is currently preparing for its premiere production in Seattle. Gabriel Barre is attached to direct the musical, with music and lyrics by Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann, with Elizabeth Gillies projected to take on the role of queen bee Courtney. The production’s songs are poppy, from the synth-pop-esque ‘Queen Bitch’ to the ballad ‘Easy’ and generally, looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.
At first glance, Dracula seems, if not perfect, at least well suited to the musical format. There’s true love, evil, the triumph of true love over evil, and it’s a period piece! But, reality rarely ever lives up to the dream. The music was written first by Frank Wildhorn, who had gained a reputation for “pop-schlock” musicals after his critically savaged musicals Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War, combining pop-stars and musical theater to critical disdain. Premiering at La Jolla in 2001, to a playhouse stuffed to 115% capacity, Dracula was a spectacle of special effects and a racy nude scene between Dracula and Lucy Westenra.
The play was panned. Viciously and completely, decrying the music as Andrew Lloyd Webber-lite, the emotional cues missed and the dread found in the novel utterly absent. Productions closed in 2005. However, after heavy revisions, the show was resurrected in Europe. These revisions included the addition of a 40 piece orchestra, the re-arrangement of songs, as well as the composition of several new songs. By 2007, the revisions were complete, and the production of Dracula that played at Graz in Austria was a solid hit.
When you think about it, the characters in Musicals don’t seem to have much in the way of bodily functions. In fact, the closest they usually get are picturesquely dramatic illnesses. Not so for writer Greg Kotis, who came across pay-per-use toilets while traveling, and was inspired. He and Mark Hollmann started writing the musical that would become Urinetown. A satirical musical, Urinetown‘s set in a dystopic, post-drought future where all toilets are controlled by a mega-corporation, and there’s no such thing as a free pee.
Unsurprisingly, it took a while for Urinetown to find backers for its quest to Broadway. But it managed to find a spot in the NYC Fringe Festival, where it was found and loved by the Araca Group, a theater production company, where it opened off-Broadway and transferred to Broadway in 2001. It was a hit, the sly sardonicism appealing to both the masses and critics. It won Tonys in 2002 for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Original Score, as well as being nominated for a score of other awards. The show’s kept spiraling upwards, running from 2001 to 2004 on Broadway, and starting a national tour 2003. Two of the characters, Officer Lockstock and Little Sally have become recurring members in the annual Broadway Cares benefit concert, where they perform skits mocking the year’s Broadway shows. The show’s set to premiere in London this year.
Carrie: The Musical
The Big Decision moments are always wonderful in musicals. You know, Elphaba decides to stand against the Wizard, and announces it with the stirring “Defying Gravity”, or the students build their barricade, while singing “One Day More”. So for that Big Decision moment, how about having a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on our heroine on prom night? Yeah, they adapted Stephen King‘s Carrie into a musical. Its first run was in 1988, where it won a Theater World Award for Best Broadway Debut, and while the theater was sold out every night, the production was scathingly panned by critics, leading the backers to pull their money out of the show, ending its run after only five performances and sixteen previews. As the show had cost more than $7 million dollars, it was disastrous, making it one of the most expensive flops in Broadway history.
However, in 2012, Carrie had an off-Broadway revival, with original composer and lyricist handling revisions. This production was better reviewed, with a several months-long run, succeeding in the director’s plan to give the musical new life. A new production of the play is slated to open this year in California, starring Emma Mercier.
Rocky: the Musical
Musicals are usually based on romances. I suppose you could argue Rocky as a romance, but is it between Rocky and Adrian or is it something more nebulous about sports and human perseverance? Based on the 1976 sleeper hit, the musical version of the boxer’s struggle to go the distance, premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
The premiere production costs reportedly came to $16.5 million, around fifteen times that of the film’s budget. The music was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and combines mostly original music and lyrics, alongside music from the film series, including ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and ‘Gonna Fly Now’. The Hamburg premiere delighted audiences, and the show made its Broadway premiere in February 2014, to equally pleased audiences. Directed by Alex Timbers, a musical theater wunderkind, and produced by Sylvester Stallone (who also helped write the book), Rocky’s not only a critical success, but also a technical masterpiece. The production has both a regular choreographer and a boxing choreographer, and perhaps most impressively, a complicated set piece that allows the boxing ring for the climax to be set in the orchestra, with the first few rows of the audience moving up to watch the production on bleachers to the sides of the ring.