The movie to show trend in Musical Theater as seen by me, on the London stage: The Lion King, School of Rock, and 9 to 5: the Musical

About two years ago I wrote about how I had seen the stage musical production of Waitress while in London, and you might want to read that review before this one. It was a musical version of one of my favorite movies, so I was excited to see it… but ultimately was more than a bit bit underwhelmed. Ultimately over the course of that same summer I saw FIVE stage musical productions that had begun as popular movies.

According to wikipedia there are 217 musicals that have been made over the years based on movies, and while this is by no means a new phenomena it seems in recent years to be on that is escalating.  The reason generally given is that musicals are so expensive to produce that in order to ensure success producers tend to prefer to fund sure bets. If the movie was a hit — it stands to reason — it already has an embedded fan base who like me, with regards to Waitress, will buy tickets for the stage version simply because they loved the film… and as long as the musical is essentially true to the movie those audiences will be happy and tell their friends. Back in the day, this used to be why books were made into musicals, but now a days not as many people read as in the past (here are the statistics)…  So while for instance Game of Thrones (the books) were a huge hit, I think its safe to say that no where near as many people read the books as saw the TV series, and I’m going to hazard a guess that sales for the books increased a lot after the HBO version was released — but if those purchasers actually took the time to read said books (they all would make good doorstops, and each in their unabridged audible versions take about 30+ hours to complete) I’d be surprised.

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THIS is where you be buying your theater tickets day of show, here or the theater’s own box office, no where else. Those other booths are rips offs for tourists.

All that said, I’m going to write about the Movie to Musical productions I saw in the summer of 2019, partially to give my review of them, but also to discuss the overall trend.

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The mother of this recent uptick in the trend is the long running show, The Lion King. This as most of you already know began as a Disney cartoon/musical and was converted to the stage in an incredibly innovative way that utilized puppetry and dance to bring puppets to life in a really magical way — especially considering the newness of the form. (At this point regular theater goers are more used to it and hence less impressed)

The above video shows a modification of the show done for an award ceremony that gives you a good idea of why, if you buy tickets for this show, you REALLY want to be seated on or near one of the center aisles — and not one of the exterior ones as I was

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… as The Lion King takes on a sort of 360 degree quality with the performers popping up or travel through various locations around the theater, breaking what is called the 4th wall (the line between the viewers and performers). And yes, if you have not yet seen it this show really SHOULD be on your list of of must see’s, even if you have no kids.

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Believe it or not I couldn’t find this when first came here because I couldn’t see it

Another show I saw, was School of rock, a musical version of the already music heavy Jack Black movie. In case you’ve been living with your head in the ground, this movie was SO popular that there is now a chain of music schools, with outlets around the WORLD, all called “The School of Rock” in honor of the movie.

C967DFA8-C4B4-430B-853B-06CC99B66E21.JPGIn fact a recent participant on the hit TV show American Idol (entering it’s 20th season/year, so that at this point all the contestants grew up watching the show) was a teacher at one of the branches of the chain.

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In case you’re still confused, these are places where kids can go for after school music lessons of the strictly NON classical variety (to be fair there has always been a hole in the market in that regard; I myself asked my parents for music lessons thinking it would be modern music and got stuck playing classical piano and violin — SNOOZE. REALLY, kids should start out playing popular music and then if they are any good switch to classical and or jazz).

Once you’ve entered the theater it’s CLEAR that this is a show parents take their kids too, simply based on the concessions stand’s offering which included stuff I’d never seen at the theater before, including cotton candy, neon colored slushes, and a photo booth…

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That said, the adults also got THEIR ‘candy’ which included not only the mandatory bar serving hard liquor and wine like in every theater, but also alcoholic ice cream and popsicles — which was a first for me.

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The musical, as the following video shows, is essentially a mirror reflection of the movie only with narrative songs (songs that add to the story) thrown in to supplement all the music that was already there.

In fact my major complaint was that while the show was highly enjoyable it stuck TOO closely to movie in one crucial point. The guy they hired for the role was hired in large part (I’m guessing) because he looked a lot Jack Black, a big chubby guy… RATHER than finding a guy who could channel Jack Black‘s energy, which in large part is what made the movie a hit. That said, it was enjoyable and the audience loved it.

Sort of a cool thing, which allowed for the video above (shot it myself) was that unlike every other theater in London which has multiple signs saying DON’T video or even take photos, in this theater they held up signs saying, ‘go ahead and video!’ understanding I suppose that kids would upload it to their accounts making their friends pressure their parents to bring them.

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The 3rd, movie to musical production I saw that summer was 9-5 the musical based on the iconic hit movie from the 1980’s that at the time was staring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin with Dolly Parton as an also ran…

Ironically, while Jane Fonda was actually the one who had the idea for and spear-headed the movie, and was the one who reached out to Dolly to bring her into the production…  (at the time Dolly who’d never made a movie before), the transformation of it into a musical is ALL Dolly Parton — notice how in the picture of me in front of the theater the marquee has her name at the top?

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Also part of the production included a huge projected image of Dolly — look at the “o” in the 9 to 5 in the image above — who was not only talking to the audience but was then singing her hit song with the cast at the curtain call— it was kind of surreal.

According to Dolly, see minute 10:04 in the linked video about her life, she’d rejected all previous offers, but figured this was Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin movie and if it failed it would be on them and wouldn’t blemish her career. Also, she was at that time trying to expand and cross over out of just being a country singer, so her one demand was that she got to write the movie’s theme song, which is still a song you hear today.

All that said, as a musical 9 to 5 was far more successful ‘as its own thing’ than the School of Rock had been, in my opinion. It was essentially the same story but the songs — all written by Dolly (who no one will argue is a very talented song writer) brought their own things to the show, allowing it to stand alone as it’s own thing.

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The musical was playing at the theater of the iconic Savoy Hotel in London — which opened in 1889. The hotel, and it’s theater, were built by the theatrical producer Richard D’Oyly Carte with the profits he derived from his Gilbert and Sullivan “opera” productions as a permanent location for them to stage even more of their works (of which there were many). The English language “operas” of G&S (if you aren’t familiar with them) sort of opened the door for the musical theater art form in England and the United States, and continues to be influential even today.

That said, the Savoy theater is a disabled person’s nightmare. The theater’s best seating, the stalls, is located deepest underground and the building was built in 1889, and there are no elevators for the patrons.

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At the time I found this sign absolutely comical, as there were to elderly people who were even more disabled than I was (I had major issues with my knees and hips at the time that have since gotten better with supplements to help regrow the cartilage and physical therapy). How helpful… only TWENTY-TWO steps to have to negotiate… think about that for a second… the only seats that were marginally accessible to the seriously disabled was the nosebleeds, which are only maybe five or more steps down from ground level
(Someone, I know not whom, uploaded a video of the broadway production to youtube… no idea how long it’ll be up there but it’s have almost 50K views, so if you want to see it you can — till it’s taken down)

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