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The 10 Best Movie to Musical Adaptations

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 7

Movie to Musical Magic

It's an age-old story; book adapted for the stage, stage play transformed into musical, musical hits the big screen in stunning Technicolor. In more recent years though, there has been somewhat of a reversal in the trend. Movie musicals are not made with such frequency as in the Golden Era of Hollywood, but many classic movies have found themselves being adapted for the stage, both as straight pieces of theatre (Rain Man, When Harry Met Sally, Cool Hand Luke) and as big budget glossy musicals. It's the latter I'm going to explore here.

My criteria are;
  • Musicals adapted from films that didn't have musical numbers to begin with (so I'm excluding all the Disney adaptations which were musical movies in the first place)
  • Musicals that had an original score written for the stage adaptation
  • The most famous incarnation of the story prior to the musical was the movie version (although some of those movies may have been based on lesser known novels)

Some musical adaptations of famous films have been hugely successful, others have received critical acclaim but failed to spark the imagination of the public. Interestingly none of the top ten longest running Broadway musicals are adaptations from films. Which is your favourite?

1, Sister Act

Sister Act

the musical was written by Cherie Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, with lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. It is based on the hit 1992 film comedy of the same name and tells the story of a convent in financial difficulty and a nightclub singer posing as a nun to escape her criminal ex-lover.

The first production opened at the London Palladium in the West End in 2009 and transferred to Broadway in 2011.

Whoopi Goldberg, who appeared in the film version, is one of the show's producers, and spent a short time playing the role of Mother Superior in the West End production. Patina Miller received Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Award nominations for her portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier, and won the Theatre World Award.

2, Big

Big the musical is an adaptation of the 1988 Tom Hanks film Big. It was directed by Mike Ockrent and featured music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., with choreography by Susan Stroman. The story revolves around a 12-year-old boy, who becomes an adult overnight after being granted a wish at a carnival.

The show received divided reviews when it opened on Broadway in April 1996. After a run of just 193 performances it closed, and went down in history as one of Broadway's costliest money-losers. Despite its ill-fate, the show received 5 Tony Award nominations.

3, Ghost

Ghost is a musical with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. It is based on the hit 1990 romantic thriller of the same name and tells the story of Sam and Molly, who are attacked walking home one evening. Tragically, Sam dies and becomes caught between the real world and the next.

It opened in the West End in summer 2011 starring Richard Fleeshman, Caissie Levy and Sharon D. Clarke, and transferred to Broadway in spring 2012. The score features mainly original music, but does include the song Unchained Melody which has become synonymous with the movie.

4, 9 to 5

9 to 5 has music and lyrics by Dolly Parton (who made her screen debut in the 1980 movie on which the musical is based) and a book by Patricia Resnick. Resnick had co-written the screenplay with Colin Higgins, the director of the film. 9 to 5 tells the story of three female co-workers and their pig of a boss.

The musical premiered at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in September 2008 and opened on Broadway on April 30, 2009. It was nominated for a record fifteen Drama Desk Awards and four Tony Awards.

5, Xanadu

Xanadu is a musical comedy with a book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, based on the 1980 cult classic film of the same name.

The plot of the musical centres around a Greek muse, Clio, who comes down from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California on a mission to inspire a struggling artist, Sonny. But, when Clio falls into forbidden love with the mortal Sonny, her jealous sisters grab the opportunity to punish her, and Clio faces the possibility of banishment to the underworld.

Xanadu opened on Broadway in 2007 and ran for over 500 performances. It won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Drama Desk Award for Best Book.

6, Hairspray

Hairspray has music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and is based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. It is set in Baltimore, in 1962 and focuses on the over-sized dancing teenager Tracy Turnblad and her dream to appear on The Corny Collins Show. The show deals with issues of discrimination in many forms.

The musical opened on Broadway in 2002 and won eight Tony Awards (from a massive thirteen nominations). The West End transfer was nominated for a record eleven Laurence Olivier Awards, winning four of them.

Having been originally based on a non-musical movie, the musical was then adapted for the big screen completing the circle. The movie starred a host of big names including John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Zac Effron, and Christopher Walken.

7, Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde the musical has music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and a book by Heather Hach. It is based on the 2001 film of the same name and tells the story of Elle Woods, a fashion merchandising major who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner.

The show opened on Broadway in 2007 and received mainly excellent reviews. It received seven Tony nominations and ten Drama Desk nominations but didn't win any. The West End transfer was even more critically acclaimed and won three Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.

In October 2007, the Broadway production was aired on MTV as a build-up to a reality TV talent show to find the next Elle Woods on Broadway. The winner was Bailey Hanks, who played the role from July 2008 until the production closed in October of the same year.

8, Peggy Sue Got Married

Peggy Sue Got Married is a musical adapted from the Francis Ford Coppola film of the same name. The score for the musical was composed by Bob Gaudio, with lyrics by Jerry Leichtling and a book by Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling.

The story focuses on a woman (Peggy Sue) on the verge of a divorce, who finds herself transported back to her senior year in high school.

The musical has only ever had one major professional outing; in the West End in 2001. It starred Ruthie Henshall as Peggy Sue, and earned her an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.

9, The Wedding Singer

The Wedding Singer the musical was written by Matthew Sklar (music), Chad Beguelin (lyrics), and Beguelin and Tim Herlihy (Book). It is based on the 1998 film The Wedding Singer and the plot centres around the wedding singer of the title and his quest to get over being stood up at the altar.

The musical opened on Broadway at in April 2006 and closed in December of the same year after a relatively short run of 284 performances.

10, Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is based on the 1950 film of the same title, and tells the story of faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, and a young, ambitious screenwriter called Joe Gillis. Romance and tragedy ensue.

The original production opened in the West End in 1993 and has gone on to have several successful runs internationally. The show has been the subject of several legal battles and the original London production lost money due to extraordinary running costs.

A whole host of famous faces have appeared in the show internationally including Patti LuPone, Elaine Paige, Glenn Close, Betty Buckley, Petula Clark, Rita Moreno, John Barrowman and Hugh Jackman.

So, in your opinion, have I missed off one of the best movie to musical adaptations?



May 8, 2012 4:13am
I have seen several of the movies, but none of the musical/theater versions.
I am not surprised that none of them made it really big as theater versions.
May 8, 2012 4:22am
Sunset boulevard did pretty well. I think sometimes it's better to leave things alone - if it ain't broke and all that! Thanks for the comment x
Jun 20, 2012 4:04am
A Broadway play would be a dream come true.
Jun 20, 2012 4:32am
I haven't seen many of these movies, but I have seen the Broadway shows. For those who haven't seen a Broadway show -- GO! Live with so much talent is amazing!
Jun 20, 2012 4:34am
Absolutely right Jack_Luca. I was in New York last October and went to a different show almost every night!!
Jun 20, 2012 8:58am
I haven't seen Musical Plays in a long time but I really would like to see Ghost and Sister Act one day. I loved both movies.

Jun 20, 2012 3:47pm
Yeah - Sister Act is great. You should treat yourself.
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