Throw a $60 Banksy sketch into Times Square and it’s likely to hit a theater hosting a musical that has been adapted from a film. With the era of jukebox musicals whimpering stubbornly along, Broadway is looking for new ready-made material to translate into high-grossing, audience-pleasing, low-risk adaptations.

Sometimes it works. A classic movie gets instantly revived by the Broadway treatment. Disney usually plays this game well and I’m totally psyched for the Aladdin and Hunchback of Notre Dame musicals on the horizon. And look at what Broadway did for The Producers and Spamalot. But these shows all sprouted from original films that had simple and/or comedic plots, larger-than-life characters with very clear motivations and personality traits, and overall optimistic and entertaining goals. Family films and classic comedies fit comfortably into the Broadway mold of spectacle, frivolity, and lots of heart.

Working with material that strays from that formula is a bit trickier, although perhaps it shouldn’t necessarily be so. See, the way I always figured that a successful musical adaptation works is that you look at the original material, see where there’s a key emotional moment, and plug a song into that shiz. Ragtime is one of my favorite musical adaptations because it gives its production a great balance of plot-driven and character-driven substance. Its songs work to drive its enormously proportioned plot forward while also exploring the plot’s emotional resonances in the characters.

So when given a piece of emotionally complex original material, the adaptation formula seems like it could be simply carried out: have a major character development or a complicated relationship or idea? Make a song out of it. Use the advantages that music plus lyrics afford over just plain old dialogue or general statements. A melody can add so much more power to an expression. It can enhance it, mimic it, even contradict it.

So why has Broadway and Off-Broadway  turned three pieces of emotionally rich material into something resembling a Disney musical more than anything. Continue reading “Little Miss Sunshine at 2ST: Why Can’t Musicals Get Dark Material Right?”