The 10 Best Stage Musicals Based on Movies

The majority of new Broadway productions seem to owe a lot to Hollywood. Much like popular theme park rides or film franchises these days, familiar IPs are where the money is at, and Broadway is no different. So when looking at the big sellers on The Great White Way are, we have to ask a big question about film-to-stage adaptations – do all movie-to-musical adaptations work, and which ones truly become greater than their silver screen counterpart?

Well, with the Broadway opening of Frozen and Mean Girls this season (and with Beetlejuice on the horizon), it seems only fitting to have a list that shows off the brightest stars of the movie-to-musical world. So grab your best outfit, don’t forget your tickets, and make sure to unwrap your candy in advance. The curtain on this article is about to go up!

Best Musical Adaptations of Movies

La Cage aux Folles

Stand-out Song: “I Am What I Am”

Based on the French comedy film of the same name, with a book written by Harvey Fierstein in 1983 and a score by the legendary Jerry Herman, La Cage tells the story of a happily married couple – Georges, the owner of the titular nightclub, and Albin, the club’s main drag queen performer. Nothing could break the magic of their romance, until Georges’ son (Jean-Michel) comes home with the news that he plans to marry the daughter of a very conservative political family. Now, the two men must figure out how to be themselves in an unaccepting environment, and keep the hope for their love alive and well amidst this new development in their lives.

At the 1984 Tony Awards, La Cage aux Folles took the top prize as the Best Musical that year. The original Albin, George Hearn, went on to perform “I Am What I Am” at the ceremony – a song that would later become an anthem for the LGBTQ community for decades to come. Simply, La Cage aux Folles makes this list not only because it is a near perfect show, but it also serves as a milestone in both musical theater and media that was made during the time of the AIDS Crisis. It proved that gay musicals could make money on The Great White Way, and showed a world terrified of gay men that their love was no different than anyone else’s, and that is a lesson that never goes out of style even in 2018.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Stand-out Song: “If I Can’t Love Her

One of the first musicals I got to see on Broadway was Disney’s first venture into the world of theater – Beauty and the Beast. Based on the 1991 Oscar nominated film from the House of Mouse, this was a movie destined to be brought to life on a theater stage, especially since critics already proclaimed it the best new musical not playing on Broadway when the animated project was released. And without its theatrical existence, Disney Theatrical wouldn’t be what it is today.

Beauty and the Beast tells the classic tale of Belle, a young girl whose father, Maurice, becomes trapped in a mysterious Beast’s castle. She asks the creature to let her father go in exchange for her capture. This choice leads her down a path of discovering both who she really is, while helping The Beast come to same realization, and also breaking the curse on him and his enchanted household staff. Plus, there’s the evil Gaston, and all of the lovable characters and moments from the animated film you know and love.

But what makes the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast the superior telling of Disney’s take on the “tale as old as time” can be explained in one simple word: development. The original animated film was an example of a lightning in a bottle – due to the rushed production schedule forcing the team to make some risky decisions so that the project could be finished on time. But with the musical, things like Belle’s relationship with her father, her inner struggles about living in the castle, along with giving Beast a few songs to express his feelings, fill in the gaps of a story that needed just the tiniest bit of fluffing here and there. It’ll also make you love these characters and the story even more, and those are the best kind of musical adaptations.

Sunset Boulevard

Stand-Out Song: “As If We Never Said Goodbye”

When most people ask me what is one of the best movies or musicals, there’s a clear answer for both: Sunset Boulevard.  This is one of the rare cases where both versions are equally flawless in their execution, and translate to film and theater smoothly. And with the (arguably) best score of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career accompanying this theatrical adaptation, and the amazing talent that have performed the show around the world (including Oscar nominated Glenn Close in the lead role of Norma), there’s a lot to back up how truly fantastic this piece of theater really is.

Based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, Sunset begins its tragic story amidst the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, is hoping to find his next paying gig so that he can survive, but no one will take his work. He is chased down by car repossession agents, and as his car breaks down, he stumbles into the parking lot of a mysterious mansion on Sunset. This home belongs to Norma Desmond, a middle-age actress from the silent film era, with her head stuck in the fantasies of her youth. This meeting will lead Joe down a dark path of love, betrayal, jealously, and murder…and the cards might not be in Mr. Gillis’ favor.

I’ve always believed that the best musicals are the ones in which you never realize that it is indeed a musical to begin with – and Sunset is one of the best examples of this. Every song feels natural and organic, and never like a big moment for the show to pause the storytelling. The characters, of course, get their times to shine as the plot progresses, but even with Norma’s two numbers, the energy and shadow of tension never loses its grip on the audience, which is why it has remained one of my favorite shows, period.

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