Opinion: Don't turn your nose up at screen-to-stage musicals

11 Jun
Posted in: Features
Author: Amanda Reynolds
From Stage To Screen

Is there any end to the number of screen-to-stage shows on offer? Guest blogger Amanda Reynolds makes the case for newcomers Strictly Ballroom and An Officer & a Gentleman and long-running favourites such as Grease, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray. Just don't bring your popcorn to the theatre...

With more and more shows being produced, written and opening each year, what can production companies do to ensure they attract audience members? Hire a celebrity cast member? Revive a musical favourite? Market the show to death via social media? Well, what a lot of production teams do is turn to the film industry.

Recently opened in London, Strictly Ballroom is the just the latest screen-to-stager to hit the West End. It's adapted from the Australian 1992 hit film written by Baz Luhrmann. This dazzling London production, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, has been changed and updated since opening in West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016 and then visiting Toronto, Canada in 2017. McOnie has already made a name for himself as a trail-blazing choreographer and has won numerous awards and accolades such as the 2016 Olivier Award for Best Choreography for In The Heights . Increasingly, he's branching out into direction too, both here and across the pond in New York where his original production of King Kong opens later this year. Currently playing in the Piccadilly Theatre in London, Strictly Ballroom looks like a sure-fire hit for fans of the film and the numerous West End favourites that star in it. Not to mention any fans of the ballroom dancing craze fuelled by Strictly Come Dancing's return to BBC1.

If you're not in London, don't feel left. Some of the best screen to stage shows are on tour. This year on the road, you can catch productions of Legally Blonde, Hairspray, Flashdance and, just launched, An Officer and a Gentleman. The last, based on the Oscar-winning film starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, is produced by Leicester Curve Theatre and has a feel-good score full of classic 1980s anthems such as ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, ‘Material Girl’, and ‘The Final Countdown’. Curve artistic director Nikolai Foster helms the production, which has choreography by Kate Prince and musical supervision by Tony Award-winning Sarah Travis. 

How many more screen-to-stage musicals can YOU name? My ever-growing list of ones to watch (or watch again) includes: School of Rock, Kinky Boots, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ghost the Musical, The Lion King, Rock of Ages, Dirty Dancing and many more.

There certainly is a demand for this kind of show. They often attract audience members from far and wide, including those who may not have gone to the theatre previously. Of course, as with all shows, quality can vary enormously.

On the one hand, if not done right, screen-to-stage musicals can appear to lack originality or simply fall into the category of 'Jukebox Musicals'. But, on the other hand, they bring in audience members, and when done well, they can create new shows in their own right. Importantly, they allow our fantastically talented performers and creatives to keep working and developing.

Theatre can be very subjective and opinions matter. There needs to be variety; without it, audience members would dwindle and so, in turn, would our fantastically rich theatre world. What is so brilliant about the UK is that, year upon year, shows are created, revived, opened, closed and all the time with one sole purpose: to entertain. To allow the audience to be whisked away to another place for those two and a half hours.

As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if that show is an original piece of theatre, a revival or a screen to stage show. So keep your eyes open for the latest shows to be heading your way! Sit back and enjoy - but please leave the popcorn for the cinema!