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Spotlight On Movies That Became Musicals

Becky Broderick Becky Broderick
August 28th, 2008 10:30am EDT
The Little MermaidFans of movie musicals know that most of their favorites, like "Grease," "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," and "Oklahoma!" were adapted from popular Broadway plays. However, the trend in recent years has been to flip that formula around by taking a big-screen hit and trying to turn it into a small-stage sensation.

Disney has had great success with its theatrical adaptations, starting in 1994 with the critically-acclaimed "Beauty and the Beast." The hits kept coming with stage productions of "The Lion King," "Mary Poppins," and, most recently, "The Little Mermaid."

VIDEO: The Little Mermaid - "Part of Your World," performed on an ABC News special presentation




While the kiddies are sure to enjoy the Disney plays, the adults might be more interested in two currently-running comedies: "Spamalot" and "Young Frankenstein."

"Spamalot" the musical is "lovingly ripped off from" the 1975 picture, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and follows the silly adventures of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The original Broadway cast starred Tim Curry ("Rocky Horror Picture Show"), David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier"), Sara Ramirez ("Grey's Anatomy"), and Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons"), and has recently featured Stephen Collins ("7th Heaven"), and singers Clay Aiken and Drew Lachey. The production won the "Best Musical" Tony in 2005, has enjoyed critical success, and continues to do well at the box office.

VIDEO: Spamalot - "Find Your Grail," performed at the 59th Annual Tony Awards



Not faring so well is the theatrical version of Mel Brooks' 1974 film, "Young Frankenstein." While still bagging a few Tony noms and some other industry awards, the show has received mostly mixed reviews, and damaging, negative ones from some of the country's most influential publications - "The New Yorker," "New York Times," "Chicago Tribune," and "Time." Many critics and fans agreed that, even with the star-power of original cast member Megan Mullally ("Will and Grace"), the stage production has never been able to match the sparkle and wit of the movie.

Another promising Broadway musical that was ultimately sunk (after only eight months) by bad press was the stage version of Adam Sandler's goofy '90s tale of love in the '80s, "The Wedding Singer." Though hailed as harmless fun by some, most reviewers wrote it off as mediocre at best.

It's surprising, then, that the theatrical adaptation of "Xanadu" - the 1980 Olivia Newton-John dud that might be one of the worst movies ever made - has not only received rave reviews, but took home four Tonys in 2008. It seems that even the biggest theatre snobs can't deny the campy, tongue-in-cheek fun of this play on wheels! No doubt that the original movie soundtrack, featuring all of those awesomely cheesy ELO and ONJ tunes, helped make the transformation from forgettable flick to memorable musical that much easier.

VIDEO: Xanadu - "Suddenly," performed on "The View"



In the case of "Hairspray," all of the music had to be created from scratch. In John Waters' original 1988 film, most of the songs featured were popular '60s pop and soul tunes. For the tale's translation to Broadway in 2002, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman created a stunning original score that won one of the eight Tonys awarded to the production. After finding success on the small stage, "Hairspray" found itself back on the big screen again in 2007 as a movie musical starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and teen heartthrob Zac Efron. So, "Hairspray" is a movie musical based on a musical that was based on a movie! Confused?

Well, "Hairspray" is not the only production with such an interesting history. Another campy classic, "Little Shop of Horrors," basically followed the same path. Originally a Roger Corman B-movie from the '60s, it was transformed into a hugely-popular Off-Broadway musical in 1982 by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Due to the success of the subsequent 1986 film adaptation starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, the play was finally brought to Broadway theatres in 2003. Going one further than "Hairspray," this story also hit the small screen in 1991 as an animated TV series called "Little Shop."

A more recent television series with roots in the theatre is "Legally Blonde - The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods." (Whew. Say that five times fast.) As you can guess by the title, this MTV reality series was created to find a new lead actress for the Broadway production of "Legally Blonde." The idea to adapt the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie into a musical was considered an odd idea by most, but the play has been doing well since opening last year, and even managed to get a good review from the "New York Times." Some theatre-goers aren't sure if the new Elle, MTV series-winner Bailey Hanks (no relation to Tom), can fill originator Laura Bell Bundy's pink pumps, but so far the buzz has been good.

VIDEO: Legally Blonde - "Omigod You Guys," performed on "The View"



So, what do you think? Do you think it's easier to turn a musical into a movie or a movie into a musical? What are your favorite movie musicals? And how long do you think it will be before we see "Dude, Where's My Car: The Musical?" Talk (or sing) to us!

Becky Broderick
Story by Becky Broderick

Starpulse contributing writer