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Mark Shenton’s top 10 film-to-stage musicals

A scene from the 2015 tour of The Producers. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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No, Dreamgirls is not the stage version of the Oscar-winning film but an original 1981 Broadway stage musical that was turned into a 2006 film. On the other hand, both Hairspray and The Producers began as straight films, then became stage musicals, before new film musicals were made of their stage incarnations. A new original stage version of Strictly Ballroom – which began life as a student play when its creator Baz Luhrmann was studying at National Institute of Dramatic Art, then became his first feature film – opens in Leeds on December 6.

Currently doing the touring rounds is a 1996 musical version of the 1988 film Big, and next year Mel Brooks’ 2007 stage version of his own 1974 film, Young Frankenstein, will be revamped for a UK production opening in Newcastle ahead of the West End. Below is a list of my favourite film-to-stage adaptations – wholly new musicals made out of films, rather than stage versions of movie musicals such as An American in Paris (coming to the West End from Broadway early in the new Year), Singin’ in the Rain, The Lion King, Disney’s Newsies or Once.

1. Nine

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 was the basis for the Maury Yeston scored and Tommy Tune staged 1982 Broadway masterwork Nine about a philandering film director facing both a creative and existential crisis as his complicated love life implodes around him. It received its British premiere in a 1996 production at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by David Leveaux, who subsequently also revived it on Broadway in 2003 in one of the best revivals I’ve ever seen.

2. Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Another Yeston/Tune musical, based on a 1929 novella that’s famous for its 1932 film. This turned a portrait of life in a Berlin hotel in Weimar Germany into a kaleidoscopic portrait of a society on the cusp of change. The original 1989 Broadway production came to the West End’s Dominion Theatre in 1992; new, non-replica versions were also staged by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004, and again by Thom Southerland at Southwark Playhouse in 2015 that proved how dazzling it is.

3. The Producers

Polymath director/writer Mel Brooks turned into a Broadway composer with this 2001 stage version of his 1968 film comedy, and it’s even better and funnier than the original film.

4 . A Little Night Music

Even Stephen Sondheim hasn’t been averse to turning films into musicals – in 1973, he created a masterpiece of longing and regret out of Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. His 1994 musical Passion is also based on a foreign movie, the 1981 Italian classic Passione d’Amore.

5. Billy Elliot

Director Stephen Daldry and playwright/screenwriter Lee Hall turned their 2000 film into a musical in 2005 with composer Elton John joining the team for one of the best British musicals of the century so far (and still touring now).

6. Sunset Boulevard

Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Billy Wilder’s 1950 film about a deluded former movie star attempting a comeback lent itself utterly naturally to a musical of operatic grandeur from Andrew Lloyd Webber and his writing partners Don Black and Christopher Hampton, first seen on stage in the West End in 1993, and subsequently on Broadway in 1994. This year it returned to the London stage in a production at the London Coliseum, with Glenn Close reprising her Tony-winning Broadway performance 21 years later as Norma Desmond; next year she will take it back to Broadway, too, at the Palace Theatre from February 2, joined by her London co-stars Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis, Siobhan Dillon as Betty Shaefer and Fred Johanson as Max von Mayerling.

7. Promises, Promises

Another musical based on a Billy Wilder film (1950’s The Apartment), Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s sole Broadway entry is a tuneful delight. I can’t wait to see it revived at Southwark Playhouse from January 17.

8. Grey Gardens

A celebrated 1975 documentary was turned into a bracing 2006 musical by playwright Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie that yearningly depicted a real-life co-dependent relationship between a mother and daughter that was full of feeling. It received its British premiere at Southwark Playhouse last January with a cast led by Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell and remains one of the best musicals of the year.

9. Monty Python’s Spamalot

Les Dennis in Spamalot in 2013
Les Dennis in Spamalot in 2013

The spirit of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Life of Brian – and a couple of the songs written for them – were the basis for this glorious meta-musical about the business of putting on shows. Premiered on Broadway in 2005, it came to the West End in 2006, and has seemingly been on a UK tour ever since, with repeated returns to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre.

10. The Full Monty

Broadway regularly takes English films such as the current transatlantic hit Kinky Boots and turns them into musicals, but my favourite is the David Yazbek scored 2000 version of the comedy that’s even better than the subsequent non-musical British stage version. Yazbek has also turned Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown into stage musicals that weren’t as successful, but are ripe with good melodies.

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