May 2, 2024 opinion

Hollywood, please stop making movie musicals!

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Abigail Gonzalez Zavala in North Carolina, United States

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December 6, 2019. 'Mean Girls' on Broadway.

Picture by: Judith Jackson | Flickr

Amid the rapidly evolving entertainment scene, we have witnessed a surge in adapting beloved stage productions into feature films.

Cats (2019), Mean Girls (2024), and Wicked (2024), among others, have made the leap from live theatre to the silver screen. While these adaptations attempt to capture the essence of the original stories, there is a lingering sense that something is lost in translation – the raw and real energy of live theatre.

Take the recent Mean Girls, for instance. Writer Tina Fey attempted to bridge the gap between the devoted fans of the original 2004 comedy, with the Broadway lovers, and with the rising Gen Z audience.

However, in the process, the adaptation, which was mainly based on the musical, fell short, with songs cut and other alterations that diluted the essence of both the original movie and the Broadway experience.

One of the inherent challenges with stage-to-film adaptations is the balancing act required to maintain the essence of live performance while catering to the evolving tastes of audiences.

Some movies have done well, such as 2021’s Oscar-nominated Tick, Tick… Boom! or the much-beloved Les Misérables (2012), but in general, Hollywood’s attempt to please everyone ends up leaving no one satisfied.

The struggle to translate the unique energy of live theatre onto the screen is evident. The spontaneity, the connection between actors and the audience, the design, and the raw unfiltered emotions that make live performance special often can’t be replicated onscreen.

On top of that, the financial returns and critical acclaim of these stage-to-film adaptations have often been underwhelming. Despite the star-studded casts and high productions, these movies haven’t lived up to audience expectations. The box office numbers and ratings pale in comparison to the success of their live counterparts.

For example, the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical Cats has made a worldwide gross of over $3bn since its premiere in 1981, while the abysmal movie adaptation has only scraped in a measly $75mn against a production budget of about $95mn.

Hollywood’s lack of imagination is evident –it’s yet another example of taking an already successful idea and beating it to death.

One alternative to lacklustre film adaptations is pro-shot recordings of stage musicals. Pro-shots offer a cost-effective and efficient means of distributing a theatrical production to a wide audience.

This approach avoids the pitfalls of attempting to cater to broad audiences through film adaptations, which often result in compromises to the integrity of the source material, allowing viewers to experience authentic, live theatre from the comfort of their home.

They provide a more satisfying experience for both devoted fans of the original production and newcomers. A prime example of the success of pro-shot recordings is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (2020) on Disney+, which was released right before the pandemic.

This pro-shot not only preserved the energy of the live-stage production but also served as a lifeline for Broadway and live theatre.

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  • 'Hamilton' (2020) / Image courtesy of Disney

    Picture by: Disney

  • With theatres closed during the global pandemic, the release provided a much-needed cultural injection, allowing audiences worldwide to experience live theatre from their homes, at an affordable cost.

    Its accessibility on a widely available streaming platform democratized access to a production previously limited to those near Broadway, expanding its audience base and reinforcing the importance of inclusivity in the arts.

    Ultimately, the industry should embrace the potential of pro-shot recordings as a superior alternative to adapting stage musicals into feature films.

    While the allure of transforming beloved musicals into cinematic experiences is understandable, Hollywood should ensure that the legacy of stage productions lives on in a manner that truly honors their artistry and impact.

    Written by:

    author_bio

    Abigail Gonzalez Zavala

    Contributor

    North Carolina, United States

    Born in 2006, Abigail (Abby) Gonzalez Zavala is a Mexican-American from North Carolina, passionate about DEIA, intersectionality, economic equity, and theater. She plans to study economics and film after high school to bridge economics and art to enhance arts diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

    Abby also advocates for underrepresented voices, she organizes workshops and forums to foster respectful and productive conversations on prevalent topics. Her endeavors in film direction and advocacy intertwine as she channels her energy into amplifying marginalized narratives and challenging disparities.

    Through her multifaceted dedication, Abby strives to harmonize the artistic landscape, creating a space where every voice is heard and celebrated!

    Edited by:

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    Justin Sau

    Culture editor

    Hong Kong, SAR

    opinion

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