Everything evolves, including Broadway. Prior to the opening of Oklahoma!, most musicals were more like revues or vaudeville pieces, where the songs and dances were the feature, but, were glued loosely together with mediocre stories, or comedy sketches.
All of that changed in 1943, when Curly started singing “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…” from off stage. The audience was confused. Where was the opening chorus. Why is this old lady churning butter on stage and a mysterious sound singing a cappella. Broadway was forever different, and “Oklahoma!” was the impetus.
“Oklahoma” was based on the 1931 play “Green Grow The Lilacs”, and for the next few decades, popular plays would be turned into musicals…”Romeo and Juliet” became “West Side Story”; “The Matchmaker” became “Hello Dolly”; “Pygmalion” became “My Fair Lady”, and so on. There was the occasional book thrown in there: The Memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee became “Gypsy”; James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” became “South Pacific”. But for the most part, Broadway turned to popular art forms of the day for inspiration.
So that brings us to today. If you look over the past decade, the following films have become successful musicals: “The Producers”, “Legally Blonde”, “Beauty and The Beast”. At one point it seemed like every day I would hear of another film being turned into a musical, and it made me sick.
But then I realized…. The trend is just continuing… in 1943, when Oklahoma premiered, there was not too many popular movies to draw inspiration from, so it’s only natural, that now we use this art form, to an extent.
Prior to the 1990s, there were only a handful of movies turned into musicals, “Applause” (All About Eve); “Carnival” (Lili); and a few more I imagine, but it didn’t really come into full bloom until “The Producers”. At one point, I thought Broadway was going to become a jukebox musical town. The most successful show for a time was “Mamma Mia”, and it looked as if everyone was trying to (unsuccessfully) turn a popular songwriter’s music into a stage show. The only true success of this, artistically, is Jersey Boys. Since “The Producers”, every season has had a movie-turned-musical. So, it appears as if this is where the trend is heading.
To all future composers and adapters out there: please pick quality source material. Or follow the “Xanadu” example – improve the original. Some rumblings I’ve heard is Mean Girls, The Musical – good idea; Back To Future, the musical – not so much of a good idea. But hey, if that doesn’t work, maybe we can go back to 1943 and see Oklahoma! In Marty’s Delorean.