Not a day goes by when I don’t wonder what Heidi Range from the Sugababes is up to. Okay, that’s a lie. But I was interested to read that the singer has been cast in a forthcoming musical version of the television series Happy Days – which will tour the UK from next year.
I was particularly interested as it seems to me that there are more and more musicals coming to the stage that are based on television series, instead of books or films. We’ve already had Acorn Antiques (not based on a full series in its own right, admittedly, but part of a long-running show), Jerry Springer the Opera and the (failed) Coronation Street musical Street of Dreams. Next year we will have The X Factor musical (written by Harry Hill) as well as the aforementioned Happy Days.
It seems more likely – because TV shows don’t have soundtracks as such – that a musical based on one will have a new score
So what is the appeal of adapting a television series into a musical?
For starters, unlike a film or a book, the story is not fixed. Musicals based on television series have the option to create new stories around the characters rather than plot lines or specific episodes that were used on TV.
Secondly, musicals based on TV series tend to allow for original music – unlike the majority of those based on existing films. If you look at Dirty Dancing or Priscilla, two big musicals based on films, they make use of songs from their iconic soundtracks. Nothing wrong with that – I loved Priscilla. And of course, some musicals based on films do have original scores – like Ghost and 9 to 5 (with the exception of certain songs – Unchained Melody and 9 to 5). However, it seems more likely – because TV shows don’t have soundtracks as such – that a musical based on one will have a new score. In the case of Happy Days, this has been written by Paul Williams. The X Factor musical has new songs by Steve Brown.
Thirdly, a musical based on a TV show – like those based on films and books – will inevitably have an audience already, because the original TV series will have many fans keen to see how their favourite programme comes across on stage. The flip side to this, however, is that the characters from the TV shows in question have often become associated with a particular actor. So in the case of Happy Days, Henry Winkler (who played the Fonz) and with Acorn Antiques, the likes of Julie Walters and Victoria Wood. Of course Acorn Antiques made use of the original cast – which was part of its appeal. But not all musicals can do this – and so, with Happy Days, we will have someone else playing the Fonz. Whoever that is has big shoes to fill.
None of these points guarantee that a musical based on a TV show will be a success, of course. Look at Street of Dreams, which turned out to be a nightmare for everyone involved – despite the talents of Paul O’Grady. And, you might say, it has not done the Coronation Street brand any favours. In fact, you wonder why ITV gave the licence away to that show so freely in the first place – but that’s another story. Still, where Happy Days is concerned, Winkler will be creative consultant. And the musical is written by Garry Marshall, the TV show’s creator. So there you have two people who really understand the TV series to advise and support the production team.
So, to wrap up, I thought I would end with some TV series that could make brilliant musicals.
My choices would be:
- The Vicar of Dibley. It would have to star Dawn French and use Richard Curtis as the writer. But I for one think this would work a treat.
- Shameless. I would love to see Frank Gallagher strut his stuff on stage, wouldn’t you?
- Casualty. It would have to open with a major disaster – a performer breaking all the fingers on their jazziest hand, for example.
- Made in Chelsea/The Only Way is Essex. Such a dreadful idea that you know it’s only a matter of time.
So, over to you? Which TV series would you like to see as a stage musical?