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Do Movie Musical Adaptations Help or Hinder Live Theatre?

What do movie musical adaptations mean for Broadway?

Forget the times when being a musical theatre nerd meant a life of shame and embarrassment. Now, it’s cool to enjoy your showtunes. Perhaps it’s because of popularity of Glee and Pitch Perfect, but being a musical theatre enthusiast is finally socially acceptable these days. Because of this change in social trend, there has been an influx in movie musical adaptations. Both FOX and NBC have had several live musicals, such as Grease and The Wiz. Audiences are eagerly awaiting the movie musical adaption of In The Heights, now produced by music mogul Jay Z. While the success of these adaptations vary from production to production, they undoubtedly bring an awareness of the musical to audiences who otherwise would not have access to them. But, it raises the question; Do these movie musical adaptations help or hinder the popularity of musical theatre.

Several current Broadway shows have had a successful movie musical adaptation. There is a fear amongst many stage actors: will the movie musical adaption replace the Broadway production? Without a doubt it is financially more reasonable for many people, especially as Broadway prices continue to inch higher and higher. For the price of $30, one can buy the Blu-Ray and watch it as many times as their heart desires. Why spend a least twice that to see it done once on a Broadway stage?

Does this mean that movie musical adaptations will hinder the business of theatre? Not necessarily. Look at the success of shows like Chicago and Phantom of the Opera. Both movies captured audiences who previously had not seen the musical before and became an instant classic. Chicago even went on to win 6 Oscars, including Best Picture. Instead of deterring business from the Broadway productions, the movies created an excitement about them.  People wanted to see the show that started it all.

However, not all shows have had such success when adapting for film. Look at movies such as Hairspray (2007) , Rock of Ages (2012), and Jersey Boys (2014). While all of the shows were classics when on Broadway, the movie musical adaptation did not prove to be enough to keep them afloat. This could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it was bad casting. Perhaps the choice of director was a poor fit. Or, simply, perhaps the show doesn’t translate well into the live-on-film format. For whatever the reason, these movies did not seem to have the desired effect that the Broadway producers were surely hoping for. While these musicals may have been hits on the Great White Way, they did not have the same response upon the silver screen. It is likely that is a testament to the power of live theatre. There is a different energy when you are in a room seeing these actors bring these character to life right before your eyes. Before you is a living, breathing person. Live theatre removes the barrier that is present with a movie. You instantly feel your energy tethered with that of the actor as they bravely explore a wide range of emotions. And perhaps this sensation resonates with part of our humanity. We cannot help but feel a stronger sense of empathy when a live human stands before us.

So, what’s the verdict? In our opinion, movie musical adaptations are helpful to broaden the audience of theatre. It creates new fans of shows that who previously may not have ever been exposed to the show. While there is no guarantee that they will ever go to see the show live, it is more likely that they purchase things with which they are more familiar.  

 

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