May 25, 2006

Movical Chairs

So Slate is covering theater, willy-nilly. Its latest piece, on the trend of movies being turned into stage musicals, mostly states the obvious: that musicals are devilishly hard to get right, and starting with proven source material is more than just box-office insurance or "branding." It's also practical and wise. After all, the best musicals were based on material that had a previous life, from My Fair Lady to Sweeney Todd. This is true even of great musicals cobbled together from sources other than well-made plays, like short stories or collections: Guys and Dolls, Cabaret, Fiddler. When I really think about it, I can't recall a truly great musical with an entirely original book. Some have pointed out to me The Music Man, but I'm not sure I'd put that in the top rank of musicals. Can you think of others?

5 comments:

parabasis said...

Urinetown comes to mind.

I was going to say Chicago (which I truly adore) but it's an adaptation too, isn't it? Although a very liberalized one?

Joe Drymala said...

Follies.

Joe Drymala said...

Oh, and of course, A Chorus Line.

parabasis said...

And how could we forget "Falsettos"?

Anonymous said...

I can't fault you for dissing The Music Man. I was cast in it a few years ago, and had never seen it, so I rented the Robert Preston movie, which I thought (at the time) was chintzy crap. Then throughout rehearsals and 20-odd performances of the piece, I hated the show even more. But something funny has happened in the years since then—I find myself humming the melodies to myself at random, and life often provides contexts that recall the music or even the libretto. In retrospect, I find The Music Man to be one of the most indelible shows in the American musical theatre canon. Some acquaintences of mine have even attributed the roots of hip-hop to Willson's score, which has about as much speaking-to-rhythm (rapping?) as singing. I'm not sure about that, but I will say that I think the show deserves strip-down redux on Broadway, like the current critical darling, Sweeny Todd. I think with the right casting and direction, this slice of Americana could be even more engaging and acerbically satirical today as ever... My 2¢.