The New Era of Broadway Turned into Film

Kerrera Jackson, Staff Writer

Some of the most classic and highly acclaimed films of all time were once Broadway musicals. This includes Chicago, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story, all of which won Best Picture at the Oscars in the years that they were released. However, the newer Broadway to film adaptations have not always been as highly received as these classics. 

Cats, a musical first performed in 1980, just got another film adaptation in 2019. The film is based off of the classic Broadway musical by the same name, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which won a Tony award in 1981. The story of Cats follows a tribe of cats that must decide which of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and receive a better life. 

The film directed by Tom Hooper received a measly 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and lost Universal Pictures as much as $114 million. The film features Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, James Cordon and many other famous actors. As soon as the trailer was released, thousands of people online were criticising the animation of the people-cat hybrids. Even without the freakish cat people, reviews across the board claim that it was boring and completely fell flat in storytelling and production. Many people online have also claimed that they had to walk out of the theater because it was so boring. Overall, this adaptation was not a success. 

The Boys in the Band was a new addition to Netflix this September. This play first premiered off-Broadway in 1968 and then was revived on Broadway in 2018. It is also the second film adaptation. This play revolves around a group of gay men who gather for a birthday party in New York City. 

When the play was first showcased off-Broadway, it was groundbreaking in its unapologetic portrayal of gay men. The 2020 film included the same cast that was involved in the revival in 2018–all gay actors including Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. This adaptation produced by Ryan Murphy received an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and was overall well-received by critics.

The newest Broadway musical that’s been turned into a movie is The Prom. The Prom premiered on Broadway in 2018 and was just released on Netflix on December 11th. The story focuses around a teen girl in a small Indiana town who wants to take her girlfriend to prom but is not allowed to by the school. When former Broadway stars hear about this, they head to the town to shake things up. The film is directed by Ryan Murphy and features a star-studded cast, including Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 62% and reviews are mixed to positive. 

Overall, these and the many other newer adaptations have not been as highly received as their Broadway counterparts. There is also a large difference between the classic Broadway to original and new film adaptations–I don’t think any critic would compare The Sound of Music to Cats. Many times these films include a large star-studded cast but then forget about the actual content and production of these films. It is considerably hard to translate stage to screen, but, as it’s been seen in the past, it can be incredibly well done. 

“I think the classic adaptations are a lot better. I don’t really know what it is, but lately remakes just aren’t the same and seem to disappoint,” said Jin Bang, ‘22.

There is one key reason why these films are important and should continue to be made, even if they’re a little lackluster: accessibility of the stage. Broadway tickets are on average over $100 and they greatly increase the better the seats get. The average person has not been to a Broadway show, and the price for tickets was climbing before the COVID-19 shutdown. These film adaptations allow people, no matter their economic positions, to experience a Broadway production. 

Only a handful of Broadway performances have been professionally recorded and released for streaming. If it became standard practice to record plays and musicals and to make these recordings available on a streaming service, like BroadwayHD, or a more mainstream service such as Netflix or Hulu, those who cannot be present for a show due to geographic, economic, or other constraints could watch the performance at their leisure. Streaming these performances would increase exposure to theater for those who live in rural areas, artists would be compensated, and their work would not be marred by poor film quality,” said Alexandra Blitzer, a writer for the Brown Political Review

“I think the filmed adaptations like Hamilton and Legally Blonde from the early 2010s with original casts are a great way to let more people enjoy musicals outside of NYC. These films create more accessibility and a bigger market for those who want to consume theatre media but don’t have the ability to,” said Bang.

It is unfair to keep such a beloved form of entertainment solely accessible to a selective group of people, and Broadway needs to realize this and change accordingly.