Looking for an idea? Look, look, look to your childhood.

While the making of a musical from an idea is a tricky, tricky thing,  I often find that most unsuccessful musicals go wrong much earlier than the actual execution.  It’s the idea that often wasn’t meant to be musicalized.

I’m sure you can name a dozen or so titles that you knew weren’t going to work the moment you heard what they were about or what they were based on, right?

Why sure, every story can be made into a musical.

But not every story can be made into a successful musical.

Most producers I know are constantly looking for ideas for new musicals . . . They scour movie listings, Barnes & Noble bookstores (if there are any left), in between their seat cushions . . . hoping to find something that can make the leap onto the musical stage.

So if you’re looking for a new idea, here’s a trick that I’ve used a few times, and that I know others have as well.  Think back to when you were growing up.  What books, movies, musical artists, poems, fairy tales, limericks, etc. did you enjoy . . . that you still think about today?  What stories stuck with you?  What music stuck with you?  What captured your imagination then, that still captures your imagination now?

Anything that can have an affect on you over several years, at different levels of maturity, is probably a super strong concept that affected others as well.  And if it captured the imagination of a young person, it probably has just that right amount of fantasy or “special something” that is required for a successful musical.

Don’t buy this concept?  Just look at the passionate responses to the Sunday Giveaway we did a few weeks ago about stories we ran into as kids, that we’d love to see done as shows today.

Craig Carnelia wrote a song called “The Kid Inside” Is There Life After High School.  The musical didn’t work, unfortunately, but the song was dead on.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Rich says:

    The problem I have with this picture is there are precious few childhood stories, however meaningful to given individuals, that have widespread appeal. (Note non-duplicative responses to the P-Perspective Sunday Giveaway.) Want a formula for success? Give me a musical comprising virtually any subject matter with uplifting, slick production stimulating the imagination and 3-4+ really memorable songs (i.e., songs the audience can joyfully hum while leaving the theater) and I’ll show you a guaranteed hit. Sadly, most Broadway musicals have strayed from this model, instead embracing 1-song wonders.

  • Becca S says:

    Great insights, but I’m not sure I agree with your use of the word “trick.” finding material for a new musical shouldn’t be accomplished through a trick, but through real-world experience, experimenting, and inspiration. It’s hard to know if an idea has potential until you share it and see how others respond, see if it can stand on its own two feet outside the realm of your mind. And i think that’s a lot of what you’re saying here, but that doesn’t have to be a trick, and more importantly it doesn’t have to come from things that have already been successfully marketed in other mediums. Broadway can’t keep growing if we don’t encourage more ORIGINAL musicals, even alongside some of the great adaptations that have been going on. We’ll sink to the point that a lot of multimillion dollar films today have reached-everything is based on a book or a play, no new far-out ideas are being generated with film in mind as the original medium (for examples of this done well, see STAR WARS, Rocky, ET, Toy Story, Midnight in Paris, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and countless others). Your childhood can yield those ideas too. It won’t be as easy, but based on what I’ve seen both in original and adapted musicals lately, the former always comes out richer and gives a more full theatrical experience, since it was designed specifically as such.

  • Lowell says:

    I agree. I would look at the emotional context that stuck with you. Is it the sense of hope in STAR WARS? The sense of discovery in E.T.? The sense of adventure in both these stories? Stories that can show the world in a new way, in a way that way that suggests it was in front of you the whole time and you missed it, are riveting to me. What’s the reason that pictures of cats are so popular on the internet? Discovery, vulnerability, and (re)connection always work in a story.

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