Have you ever wondered what The Third Man might be like as a musical? Or The Time Traveller’s Wife? Or perhaps even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? If you live anywhere near London you don’t have to. The same applies for Sunset Boulevard, Mrs. Doubtfire, Back to the Future, and Brokeback Mountain. Musical takes on films are now a staple in the British capital’s theatreland, and clearly everyone wants a piece of the action.
You can see the attraction for a West End producer or a playhouse needing to put bums on seats in the wake of the pandemic. Curiosity, nostalgia, and brand recognition make a potent combination, with lasting affection for the original sure to drive ticket sales, sight unseen. Bring in a creative or two with their own loyal fanbases – Bryan Adams, say, or Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics – and you’ll have a package intriguing enough to tempt filmgoers and music lovers alike. So much so, indeed, that you’ll likely accrue a healthy advance long before you even have to face the critics’ sharpened quills.
As a former theatre critic myself, it’s been interesting to see the medium I used to write about permeated in recent years by the one I write about now. And if the crossover works – as with the likes of Amélie, The Band’s Visit, and Heathers – it can be the best of both worlds. For all that, I can’t help feeling cinema’s inroads into theatre have cost the latter more than it’s actually gained. Established IP might be savvy business-wise, but it’s also something of a crutch – a buttress against risk that ultimately stifles genuine innovation and inventiveness.
Back in the day, a composer and lyricist duo such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice could take a seemingly unpromising notion – the life of an Argentinian dictator’s wife, for example – and mould it into theatrical gold. Who would take a punt today on a newcomer with a concept that outlandish? Films and musicals have been great bedfellows, but the time has surely come for a trial separation. Or is it just me?