In defense of the screen to stage adaptation.

While watching Honeymoon In Vegas the other night, I took a twitter poll asking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on the idea of making Honeymoon into a musical (a project that is currently in development).

Thanks to my recent linking of my twitter and facebook status, I got a flock of a lot of responses before you could say “Wasn’t Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie?”. Here are a few:

Enough with the “from the screen to the stage” and “remake” crap, please.

There are so many amazing new works we can enjoy… 🙂

I totally agree with this [the above post] in the nicest way possible. 🙂

Aren’t there any original ideas?

I think they need to start bringing originality back to Broadway.

No more musicals that were movies – unless it’s Beetlejuice!

Yikes.  Insert sound of clawing kitty here.

Original sounds awesome.  And it’s what I’d prefer any day of the week.  But it’s not as easy, prevalent or desired as you think.

I’ve written about the rise of screen to stage musicals before, but this time, let’s look at stats on originals:

This season, there will be only three completely original new musicals on Broadway that were not based on any pre-existing source material, movie or otherwise:  13, Title of Show and The Story of My Life.

What do they have in common?  I’ll give you a hint.  They all closed.

Last season, there were only three original musicals on Broadway as well:  In The Heights, Passing Strange and Glory Day (plural cruelly omitted purposefully).  Kudos to Heights, but disappointment for the other two.

Two seasons ago?  No originals.

Three years back?  Two:  In My Life and Drowsy Chaperone.  Chaperone worked in a small window, and then went away.

Four years?  Two:  Brooklyn and Spelling Bee (The Bee was actually based on an improv play, but since the play hadn’t achieved any sort of notoriety, we’ll include it here).  The Bee succeeded but the Brooklyn investors would have been better off buying a bridge.

What’s interesting about these stats is not the winners.  I just named 10 shows and 2 recouped and that’s consistent with the commonly quoted stat that 1 in 5 shows make money.  We’re on par.

What’s alarming is that the other 8 shows were very quick flame outs, resulting in a loss of the entire capitalization or close to it (or in some cases, maybe even more?).

Now, all you tweeters  . . . knowing these much higher risk statistics, are you really surprised that Producers and Writers look to source material before their own brains for ideas?

Flip the analysis around and look at some of the most successful musicals during that same five year period:  Wicked, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Mamma Mia, and so on with un-originals and so on.

In fact, look at the longest running musicals of all time:  Only 2 originals in the top 10 (I don’t count Oh! Calcutta!)

I love an original musical.  Falsettos is one of my favs.  But the fact is that their artistic degree of difficulty is exceptionally high (and those critics that scream about lack of original ideas on Broadway should score them like Olympic gymnasts and give them extra points for the attempt).  The financial risk is the highest, and they have a recent history of lower returns.

The truth is, some of those originals I mentioned above were simply not very good.  And despite the statistical history, a great show can always make this post null and void.  So anyone dissatisfied with the lack of originality on the GWW (Great White Way), should get out there and write a great show and I’ll be the first to line up to produce it.

But we do have to remember that Broadway is a very specific place.  It’s a very thin slice of real estate in the center of the world.  Producing and creating theater is different from producing and creating Broadway theater.  And original just doesn’t always work here, whether we like it or not.

Think about it this way.  Broadway is like a museum.  You know, like MoMA.  Unfortunately, not every painter gets his art hung in MoMA, no matter how good they are.  It’s a museum of modern art.  The people that go there, go to see a specific type.  That’s what they want.  And the curators have to pick shows that are not only going to satisfy their patrons, but are going to thrill them.

That doesn’t mean that painters of other styles should stop painting.  It just means that MoMA might not be the place where their art has the best shot at success (interestingly enough – a heck of a lot of painters adapt their images from subjects or landscapes, don’t they?)

So don’t blame the Curators or the Producers or the Writers.  You might just want to pick a different museum.

Still sticking to your guns and think that what audiences really want is originality?  We wondered that same thing on 13 . . . and then we tested a tag line that called the show the most “original new musical on Broadway” (Title of Show used a similar hook).  The results were as follows:

6% of those surveyed were definitely interested in the show based on that tagline.
15% were intrigued by the tagline.
79% of those surveyed said that this tagline “made them NOT interested in seeing 13.”

These results are another example of what those of us on the inside would prefer is not necessarily what the majority of our audience prefers.

So maybe that Beetlejuice idea isn’t so bad after all . . .

It’s never too early to find your audience.

Super props to the Producers of the upcoming musical, First Wives Club, for not even waiting for their musical to be finished before they started looking for their audience.

As discussed in this article, after a series of focus groups (Kudos Point #1), the Producers launched a social networking site (KP #2) called FirstWivesWorld.com where divorced women could meet, interact and share their stories.  With several thousand members and a bunch of bloggers, they’ve created a world for their prime demographic that actually serves a purpose on its own (knowing our industry success rate, I’d bet that this site has a better chance of being profitable than the musical itself!).  If you look closely, you’ll notice that there isn’t even any branding for the musical at this stage.  They are taking the slow, safe, and smart approach (KP Hat Trick).

Musicals take a long time to be developed.  Smart producers use that time to do more than work on the 2nd scene in Act II.

Use that time.  It’s never too early to identify your target.  That doesn’t mean you have to attack them right away.  Just sit back, watch their moves, learn their habits, and when the time is right . . . bada-bing!  You’ll have a marriage made in marketing heaven with no possibility of divorce.

A Purple Elephant?


Seth Godin
would be proud.

It looks like Rodgers and Hart were great songsters and marketers, based on Edward Albee’s reminiscence of his first Broadway show, in this Sunday’s Times.

The first Broadway show I ever saw was in 1935 . . . and it was a musical starring a small elephant and Jimmy Durante.  It had a score by Rodgers and Hart, and it was called Jumbo.  It had in it such songs as “My Romance” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”  It probably hooked me on theater, but I’m sure the hook was the small elephant.

What would Edward Albee remember if he saw your show today?

It doesn’t have to be wildlife, but it has to be something.

(Do you think Durante would be peeved that the elephant got billing before him in Albee’s quote?)

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The ‘In The Heights’ Prequel

I saw my favorite flop this weekend.

I braved a borough and traveled to Brooklyn to see the BAM concert of Capeman, which featured Mr. Simon himself.

It was a wonderful celebration of a musical that didn’t work on Broadway, and still has its flaws.  But those flaws are found in some of the most beautiful and unique music we’ve heard on Broadway in the last decade (Encores, if you’re reading this, put down that script of Flora The Red Menace and call Paul).

As I listened to tunes like “Satin Summer Nights”, I forgave so many of the problems with the piece (most notably that the lyrics tend to be more narrative and do not further the characters arcs).

What made me forgive?  Three words.  Mel.  O.  Dy.

In the commercial musical theater medium, melody is so very important.  Common sense, right?  Then why do so many of the young and upcoming composers avoid it like an STD.  This not only goes for those fresh out of school, but also to those composers who have been anointed by the New York Times as being the future of musical theater (Has anyone realized that Michael John LaChiusa has never had a hit?  Doesn’t it seem odd for him to be teaching Graduate Musical Theatre Writing at NYU?)

In their search to be the next Sondheim, so many seem to forget what artists like Paul Simon, Elton John, Billy Joel,  Andrew Lloyd Webber, Marvin Hamlisch, John Kander and Richard Rodgers knew so very well.
A strong melody is like a drug to an audience.  It opens their mind.

And then, once they have smoked a little of what you’ve offered, you can say whatever you want to them.

And they’ll believe you.

The Definition of a Jukebox Musical

Wikipedia is wrong.

According to everyone’s favorite online encyclopedia, “A jukebox musical is a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its musical score.”

I disagree.  And I’d bet another $100 that Hal Prince would too.  Would you want to tell him that LoveMusik was a jukebox musical?

Here’s my definition:

“A jukebox musical is an original stage musical not based on a film that uses previously released popular songs that have no direct relation to the story as its musical score.”

Ok, so I’m no Webster’s.  Let me explain with examples.

Mamma Mia = Jukebox Musical (An original story about a girl searching for her father using Abba music)

All Shook Up = Jukebox Musical (Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night using Elvis tunes)

Jersey Boys = NOT a Jukebox Musical (Four Seasons music telling the Four Seasons story)

See what I mean?  Jersey Boys just doesn’t feel like a Jukebox musical.

Times They Are a Changin’?  Yes.  Movin’ Out?  Yes.  Good Vibrations?  Put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

Lennon?  No.

Lennon is dependent upon that music.  It couldn’t be done with The Carpenters catalog.  Mamma Mia (with a different title), on the other hand, could have been attempted with Lawrence Welk music.  Sure, it would have sucked, but that’s not the point.  Same thing with LoveMusik.  These are Bio Musicals, not jukebox musicals.

Xanadu, Saturday Night Fever . . . not Jukebox musicals.  They are musical adaptations of movies that already had the music integrated.

Here’s what’s crazy . . . both Wiki’s definition and my definition make shows like Crazy For You and Forever Plaid, jukebox musicals.

Maybe we should add something to the definition that states it only applies to shows after 2001 (the year when Mamma Mia hit Broadway).

Any other definitions out there?

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