Great Adaptations: In Which We Suggest Five Musicals for Broadway

Tyler Coates | April 26th, 2011

"High Fidelity: The Musical" fell short of expectations in 2006.

Each Broadway season brings in a crop of new musicals adapted from popular films. Some are massively successful (The Producers, The Lion King, and Hairspray) while others (High Fidelity, The Wedding Singer, Tarzan) have less than stellar legacies. This season brings two new shows based on movies that seemed to be naturally suited for musical adaptations: Sister Act and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. What is most fascinating is that both of these musicals are based on movies from the early ’90s; one wonders what took the creative teams behind these productions so long to transition the movies to the stage. With that in mind, I came up with five other movies from the ’90s that would surely bring future Broadway audiences to their feet.

Home Alone
The John Hughes-penned holiday classic would be a perfect post-Spider-Man vehicle for Julie Taymor, who desperately needs a rebound after her recent firing. While the technology allowing poor actors to fling across a giant Broadway theatre may still have a few glitches, it would seamlessly transition into Home Alone: The Musical, in which the characters are supposed to fall from the rafters or smack into walls. I’m also imagining Taymor’s imaginative design skills playing a major role in this show — why not have performers represent the booby-traps our hero Kevin lays out for the pair of bumbling burglars, such as trapeze swingers as swinging paint cans? Could you imagine a more action-packed second act? It also gives the chance to bring more irritatingly precocious tweens to Broadway!

Waiting to Exhale
Who doesn’t loves a story about a strong black woman’s self-actualization? Waiting to Exhale has four of those, and 1995′s cultural phenomenon would be the perfect vehicle for a primarily African-American cast, an event that sadly takes place on Broadway only once every few years. Considering the handful of extremely talented African-American actresses (dream cast: Audra McDonald, De’Adre Aziza, Anika Noni Rose, and Tonya Pinkins), it wouldn’t be difficult to keep this show running for years. It’s also the perfect opportunity for Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who wrote fifteen original songs for the film’s soundtrack, to try his hand at a showtune or two. While I’d definitely be up for a live performance of Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry” while a Mercedes is set ablaze on stage, might I also suggest new tunes like “A White Woman (Can Have You)” and “Remember to Breathe”?

My Cousin Vinny
This might have been the best fish-out-of-water story of the ’90s, and a musical adaptation of My Cousin Vinny makes the most sense if only for the overexaggerated Brooklyn and Alabama accents. And really, are there any other characters more suited for musical theatre than Vinny Gambini and Mona Lisa Vito? It would surely win a Tony for the deliberately tacky leather and animal print costume designs, and the first act-closing number “My Biological Clock (Is Ticking Like This)” would feature expertly timed (ha!) choreography and a massive temporal set-piece. Plus, there’s nothing better than a musical courthouse sequence, and that would account for seventy-five percent of the production! The casting of the main character could be tricky (The Book of Mormon‘s delightfully schlubby Josh Gad is probably too young to play the role), but it would certainly be a travesty if Tony-winner Laura Benanti isn’t cast as the female lead.

Forrest Gump
Perhaps the biggest crowd-pleasing film of the ’90s, the tale of a simple Southern man making his way through the turbulent ’60s and ’70s would make a great jukebox musical, and just like Priscilla, the film’s soundtrack provides a lot of classic tunes that are already so recognizable to a generation of music fans who are perhaps too old to stand up at a concert or would rather sit in an air-conditioned Broadway house than outside at an amphitheater. Just imagine the possibilities! Jenny would sing a tearful, heartfelt rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Lieutenant Dan could ruminate on the Vietnam conflict with “Fortunate Son,” and Forrest could croon “Running on Empty” as images of the wide open road appear behind him. Forrest Gump‘s complete lack of subtlety would make for a perfect transition to the Broadway stage! And every generation needs its Hair, and why waste that notion on new musicals examining the current cultural zeitgeist when it’s a whole lot easier to take recent musical theatre graduates, put them in period clothing, and make them sing classic rock songs for our parents?

The Shawshank Redemption
OK, this might be sort of a stretch, but people really love this movie so much for reasons I’ve never quite understood (it airs every day on TBS, right? I’m convinced it does). While the subject matter is a little dark (I suggest cutting the prison-rape scene), it’s got that uplifting message that audiences would connect with so easily. Maybe we could convince Tony Kushner to step in and write the book and lyrics, balancing out the deep, introspective themes with some subversive comic elements. Get that man another Pulitzer! And what a return to Broadway this would be for Stephen King, who hasn’t seen his literary work on stage since 1988′s disastrous Carrie: The Musical. Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz would be perfect in the role originated on screen by Tim Robbins, and what a better way of convincing veteran Ben Vereen to step back into those dancing shoes than offering him the show-stopping number “Get Busy Living (Or Get Busy Dying)!”