Is what came before more interesting than the original?

There’s a new trend in entertainment, which I like to think that Broadway ignited with the monster success of Wicked, the prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Ok, ok, I know that Wicked was a pretty successful book before it became a ginormously successful musical, but I do believe if it wasn’t for the success of Wicked, we wouldn’t be seeing so many prequels now.

And we are seeing a lot more of them than ever before.

There’s Gotham, the TV series about Batman before he was Batman. There’s the new flick Dracula Untold about the origins of the great blood sucker. And even Shutter Island is getting a prequel treatment.

What is it about Producers’ and the Public’s fascination with what came before?

It’s simple business, actually. When you’ve got a product (in this case, characters) that your consumers love, they will devour anything and everything associated with that product (that’s why Barbie has a dream house and a pink Corvette).  It’s compound marketing.  The prequel has become an intelligent form of merch in a way, offering Authors a chance to tell another story.

And audiences are eating it up.

Before “The Prequel Generation” the entertainment industry only went forward, with Batman 2 and 3 and 17 . . . but there’s something very cathartic for audience members to see the pieces of these characters’ lives come together. It’s like they feel in on the secret.

So we know the television and film world have been eatin’ up prequels. But could more be on the way for the musical stage? We all know that sequels never seem to work on Broadway, but could the reverse be profitable?

Will we see a Phantom prequel?

I dunno, but if you’d like to adapt a classic story with classic characters for the stage, it might be more interesting to think about what came before . . . so you can give us a story we don’t already know.


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  • fran says:

    A Phamtom prequel would be interesting! One of the old movies has the phantom being disfigured in a fire when he tries to use acid to destroy the printing plates after his opera as been appropriated by someone else. Could be an interesting finale to a prequel.

    I think prequels will always be around because we want to know WHY. It’s up there with WHAT IF.

    But I also think it’s dependent on what has happened to the characters in the original. For example, in Gotham, we know Bruce Wayne grows up to be a good guy. We root for him. And I’m sure we’ll root for him in Gotham.

    I saw the last prequel to Planet of the Apes this June and walked out before the end for two reasons:
    – first, all the sign language bored me; and if they could really talk to humans, why wouldn’t the apes just talk to each other?
    -second, I knew how it was going to end, knowing the original. And I didn’t want to sit there and watch all the humans die or be enslaved.

    Wicked’s an interesting success. I was raised with the Wizard of Oz. I remember it being shown every valentine’s day. It was the “perfect souffle” of a movie. I love “Defying Gravity” and it’s the perfect Act 1 finale, but I hated the storyline in Act II. I know it’s based on Frank Baum’s writings (or so I’ve been told as I never read it) but I cling to the original. I really wonder if Jerzy Grotowski had directed it on a bare stage with a single bare lightbulb if it would still be running.

  • R. Scott Williams says:

    Would one call Peter and the Starcatcher a prequel? Finding Neverland seems more along the lines of Moonlight and Magnolias, that is, “how they made that.” Perhaps Saving Mr. Banks could be adapted to a stage musical, though again, that really isn’t a prequel but more a “Making of…”? Films certainly have a better track record with the prequel (the current Star Trek franchise is really an extended prequel to the TV series). The finest film prequel I’ve come across isn’t really remembered as one: The Godfather Part II spent about half its time showing us how Vito Corleone became the mobster later played by Marlon Brando, and provided Robert DeNiro a star-making role and an Oscar to boot.

    • Yes, thank you for making that point. Those segments in The Godfather Part II are absolutely magical.
      They don’t simply give information, they expand the whole emotional
      world of The Godfather. And DeNiro was perfect.

  • Cassandra says:

    Maybe this impulse to know the rest of the story is how even the homeric epics evolved. Part of being captivated means wanting to know what came before that, and before that. After which it will inevitably be, “What happens next?”

    The question of (as Bob Seger put it) “what to leave in, what to leave out” is less of a conundrum when the tale is at least potentially episodic. Thinking of it that way, even when present intention is to write only one specific segment of the greater tale, adds richness, resulting in work peppered with tantalizing suggestions of what is real and true in the story yet for the moment must remain hidden but is always waiting to be coaxed into existence.

  • Tom Hartman says:

    Prequels may make money but are they good? Did we need to know why the Grinch hated Christmas? No. We just needed to know he did. Did we need to know why Willie Wonka went into making candy? That the Dark Knight studied with Liam Neeson?

  • My question: How do trilogies fit into this discussion? Or will we discuss trilogies some
    other time? “Coast of Utopia” was an amazing experience, and became richer with
    each new “take” on this group of people and the expanding range of ideas as well as
    emotional connections that were informing their lives.

    I’ve written two of the three plays in the trilogy that I’m working on, and there seems
    to be richness in the glancing over-laps of #1 and #2. But I’m about to take the third one
    into a whole new direction, only tangential to the first two. At some point, when does one
    start wearing out one’s material?

  • Andrea Wilhelm says:

    You seem to have missed the biggest prequel coming up: The Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts series!

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