The New Direction of Theatre
By: Megan McCasland
If you’ve kept up with what shows are currently on or heading to Broadway, you’ll notice that a lot of them are a retelling of other popular works. In fact, 14 out of 30 shows scheduled for the 2017-18 Broadway season are either adaptations or revivals, and that list doesn’t even include shows that are in the works.
Not only are well-known titles being re-imagined in the theatre, but well-known celebrities have also been starring on Broadway. And some shows, like Cinderella and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying have had multiple celebrities during their run (Carly Rae Jepsen, Fran Drescher, and Keke Palmer were in Cinderella; Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss, and Nick Jonas were in How to Succeed).
So why are stories like Mean Girls, Frozen, SpongeBob SquarePants, and King Kong getting adapted for the stage, and classics like Hello Dolly!, Carousel, My Fair Lady, and Cats making their way back to Broadway?
Well, I think it’s for the same reason why stars like Brendon Urie (Kinky Boots), Vanessa Hudgens (Gigi), Sara Bareilles, and Jason Mraz (Waitress) made—or will make, in Mraz’s case—their Broadway debuts, or why there are nine movies in The Fast and the Furious franchise and twenty-nine Godzilla films: people want to see what they know they like.
I get it; why would you want to spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket to a show that you know nothing about with cast members that you don’t recognize? It’s a familiarity thing—kind of like how people choose a place to eat for lunch on a Sunday afternoon out of a list of restaurants they enjoy. I’m not in an adventurous mood, so why would I want to try something new when I already know what I like?
So, in the same way that the movie industry makes, remakes, and expands the stories and plot-lines that we know and love, the theatre industry has had to adjust to fit the desires of audiences.
Of course, original shows are still produced and many, like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Waitress, become huge hits. After all, shows have to start somewhere before they can have a revival production.
Personally, I don’t think that revivals are necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes revivals bring a different interpretation to a classic that ends up working really well, like Deaf West’s Spring Awakening. Sometimes the revival is a person’s first experience with the show, like the 2016 revival of She Loves Me was for me (and it was a great first experience, let me just say). Plus, it’s interesting to see how different a revival is from the original when you factor in modern technology.
While I have to admit I’m a little nervous about the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, I’m interested to see what the set and costume designers are going to do to transform the theatre into Bikini Bottom. Is the actor playing SpongeBob going to have a square box for the base of his costume? How are they going to make the audience feel like we’re underwater?
While on the subject of adaptations, I’m also interested to see how they’re going to bring Frozen to the stage. I know they have “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion Theatre” in Disneyland, but the production quality is not quite the same as a Broadway musical. And I’m curious to see where they are going to add songs to the Mean Girls story line.
Live theatre is a living, breathing art form. It is important that the industry develops shows that people will be interested in seeing in order to keep theatre around, especially during times when the arts are being threatened by budget cuts from the government. I’m okay with seeing celebrities on stage, revivals, and adaptations of popular movies/TV shows as long as they are well-done and fit the roles they’re cast in.
Picture found on Google Images (labeled for reuse).