Five movies we hope will (never?) be made into musicals

Since Broadway shows are frequently based on Hollywood hits, here are some well-known flicks that might make excellent—or terrible!—tuners

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Every season brings a new batch of musicals based on Hollywood hits (or indie faves, such as the surprisingly long-running Once). This spring alone we’re seeing Rocky, Aladdin, Bullets Over Broadway, The Bridges of Madison County and Off Broadway, a sassy tuner based on the mean-girls satire Heathers (pictured above). Oh, also: Anyone who complains about movie-based musicals is an idiot. The form has always drawn from other media—novels, plays or even comic books—and adaptation is as old as theater itself. It’s just that our collective pop-unconscious is dominated by IMDb. With that in mind, here’s a thought experiment: What five titles would fill us with mingled horror (and excitement) if we heard that they were Broadway-bound?

  • Gravity (2013)

    PRO: This could be a nonstop musical thrill ride for two actors—plus a couple others making cameos. Yes, it happens in space and yes, there’s a lot of floating around, but the story is rooted in huge, heightened emotions—which musicals need. There’s a killer role for Laura Benanti here. You’d have to find the right song idiom to put in Ryan Stone’s mouth that wouldn’t turn into kitsch or bathos—but who ever thought a singing, psychopathic barber would be a classic?

    CON: Two letters: F/X. You’d need Julie Taymor, Robert Lepage and lots of treasure to create the stage equivalent for those amazing CG shots. Still, who doesn’t love an impossible challenge?

  • There’s Something About Mary (1998)

    PRO: The Farrelly Brothers’ bad-taste rom-com is begging for a big ole musical makeover, preferably with a bouncy pop score filled with R-rated puns and rhymes. Can we get Robert Lopez of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon on the phone? He’s got experience with puppets, too—which would come in handy for the scene where Ted nearly kills Puffy the dog with too many sedatives.

    CON: There’s some goofy, tangential plotting that a book writer would have to smooth out, and the screenplay’s gender politics definitely need a second look.

  • Do the Right Thing (1989)

    PRO: From its opening blast of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to the way writer-director-star Spike Lee weaves jazz, hip-hop and funk through the soundtrack, this movie is practically giving notes on a Broadway transfer. Lee himself would have to adapt the screenplay, figuring out if Mookie would be our (unreliable) narrator, or if he’d amplify the Greek chorus of the three local men on the sidewalk. Like the film, the musical would be an ensemble affair, with vivid roles for both seasoned character actors and newcomers.

    CON: Do you keep the racially charged, post-Reagan time frame or update it, taking into consideration the last 25 years of musical and social evolution? That’s a big question that could make or break it.

  • The Hangover (2009)

    PRO: Three (well, technically four) male leads triple the fun for what could be a rock-driven comedy about blacking out in Las Vegas and trying to put the pieces back together. You’ve got the ladies’ man, the nerd and the awkward man-child. Off the top of our heads that means Steven Pasquale, Christian Borle and Josh Gad (if he can be tempted back to the Broadway). Bobby Steggart can play MIA groom-to-be Doug, and John Douglas Thompson can make a cameo as Mike Tyson. As for score, David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is no stranger to songs about men behaving badly.

    CON: How to convey the sense of lost time that is crucial to the plot? Also, there’s a reason why most Broadway musicals don’t feature a live tiger and an actual baby.

  • Coming to America (1988)

    PRO: One of Eddie Murphy’s best comedies has a perfect template for Broadway musicals: hero from a small town comes to the big city and finds love and a surrogate family. Only here, the small town is the fictional African country Zamunda, and our hero is Prince Akeem who, bored with his pampered life, travels to the USA to find an independent-minded woman to marry. There’s romance and urban satire in equal measure, a rich array of locations from ghetto-fabulous Queens to a fantastically wealthy African nation.

    CON: This is such a ’80s flick you’d have to update it or the politics and gags would fall pretty flat. Also, who but Eddie Murphy and his amazing makeup crew could render multiple characters—Akeem, Randy Watson, Saul—so convincingly and hilariously?

Gravity (2013)

PRO: This could be a nonstop musical thrill ride for two actors—plus a couple others making cameos. Yes, it happens in space and yes, there’s a lot of floating around, but the story is rooted in huge, heightened emotions—which musicals need. There’s a killer role for Laura Benanti here. You’d have to find the right song idiom to put in Ryan Stone’s mouth that wouldn’t turn into kitsch or bathos—but who ever thought a singing, psychopathic barber would be a classic?

CON: Two letters: F/X. You’d need Julie Taymor, Robert Lepage and lots of treasure to create the stage equivalent for those amazing CG shots. Still, who doesn’t love an impossible challenge?

Is it possible that one day one of these hypothetical shows could actually happen—and join our list of the greatest film-to-musical adaptations?


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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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