Spotlight On: Page to Stage Adaptations

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If you’ve taken a look at the musicals and plays of the past the few seasons and were surprised to find that you recognized a majority of them because you read the book version, it’s not just you. The 2015 and 2016 Best Musical Tony Award winners – Fun Home and Hamilton, respectively – were both adapted from previously written works. In fact, in recent years, Broadway has been dominated by book to show adaptations. American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, are just a few examples of this phenomenon from past seasons.

The rise of book-to-stage adaptations has resulted in an imbalance of adapted versus original works in modern theatre as of late. It’s arguably easier to improve on an already existing story and transfer it to a different medium rather than create your own. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. Many adaptations like Wicked take the original source material and add new plot points to already existing ones, while other shows like Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are adaptations of a much longer text like War and Peace and make the story feel fresh by doing something unique and innovative in the staging.

Despite this, the dramatization of books is certainly not a new concept. The concept dates all the way back to beginning of theatre with the satyr plays of the Ancient Greeks, which were based on epic poems or myths. And while literary adaptations of today may not be based on myths or legends, there’s definitely a huge benefit when it comes to show based on works people are already familiar with: a built in audience. Introducing someone who’s never seen a theatre show in their life is hard, but if they become enticed through an adaptation of something they already  have knowledge of, it becomes a little easier.

Although literary adaptations on stage may have a bit of a bad rap in 2017, we should give credit where credit is due. Stage adaptations of books can bring in new audiences and new innovations to theatre as a whole. So the next time you read a great book, don’t be surprised if you see it on stage sometime soon.


What are your favorite shows based on books? Is there a book you want to see a stage adaption of? Let me know in the comments!

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Spotlight On: Movie Musicals

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The 89th annual Academy Awards are this weekend, and with La La Land – an original musical – being one of the nominated films gaining a whole lot of traction, I figured we should take a look back at movie musicals of the recent past and how they came to be. Some of these films have also been accepted into the Oscar nominated club, and some haven’t. Opinions on these movie musicals vary, from being beloved by people of all ages to being the center of extreme dislike by those who are sticklers for a faithful adaptation. But the truth is, a movie can’t fit the entire two hour or so plot of a musical into its allotted time frame. Film audiences are completely different than theatre audiences in terms of want they want out of their respective medium and the gratification they get from watching it. While we’re on that subject, let me say now that this is a theatre blog, not a film blog. I don’t claim to be incredibly knowledgeable on the craft of film. So let’s dive into some contemporary movie musicals and how they are adapted from their source material.

Les Misérables (2012)

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This beloved musical originating from the West End was already adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name, so the 2012 film adaptation had quite a lot to live up to. Despite the story’s sprawling history, this adaptation, featuring acclaimed actors like Hugh Jackman (Jean ValJean) and Anne Hathaway (Fantine), went over well relatively well with fans and critics alike. The film contains almost every song from the stage production, save for some lyric changes and shorted songs here and there. Director Tom Hooper was commended for his decision to let the cast sing live on set, instead of lip syncing and recording over the take later. This allowed for more emotional and real moments that the audience could connect to. And these efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the Academy, either. The film was nominated for eight Oscar awards in 2013 and ended up taking home four. Musical or not, this goes to show the true testament of Les Misérables‘s cathartic take on hope and the human spirit.

Rent (2005)

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First premiering Off Broadway in 1996, Rent was a musical that changed the game. It is credited for making the pop/rock style musical popular, a sub genre that is certainly no shortage of in musical theatre today. It was provocative enough for people to pay attention to it and its subject matter that dealt with LGBT characters, drugs abuse, and AIDS/HIV. The 2005 film adaptation was able to satiate its legions of fans by bring back almost the entire original Broadway cast to play their same roles. Despite quite a few songs being cut or shortened – such as “Goodbye Love” and “Halloween” – long time “Rentheads” still keep coming back to this one.

The Last Five Years (2015)

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Based on his personal life, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years chronicles five years of the relationship of a young couple: Cathy (played by Anna Kendrick in the film), an aspiring actress, and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), an aspiring writer. In the musical, Cathy’s songs start from the end of her and Jamie’s relationship, and Jamie’s songs are vice versa, allowing for a brief moment in the middle where the two’s respective paths truly cross. This interesting way of storytelling was kept intact for the 2015 film adapation, and it definitely adds another layer of depth to the interactions Cathy and Jamie have. With gorgeous shots and costumes, I’d say this movie musical adaptation is worth a watch.


What are your thoughts on movie musicals? Was there anything I missed? Let me know if I should do a part two on movie musicals in the comments!

Spotlight On: Fansens

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Earlier this week, I reviewed the highly anticipated Dear Evan Hansen cast album. In that post, I briefly mentioned that Dear Evan Hansen has a decently sized and devoted fanbase. They’re called “Fansens”, and I’m definitely a member. So for today’s post, let’s dive into who Fansens are and why they love Dear Evan Hansen.

Fansens are an incredibly unique and fascinating fan group to interact with and be apart of. Hailing from every walk of life imaginable, Fansens come in varying degrees of obsession – some have just discovered the show, while others have seen it in every iteration multiple times. Some make fanart, have tattoos of lyrics from the show that have meaning to them, and some make memes on Twitter. Due to the show’s high school protagonists, many Fansens are also teenagers and young adults. Fansens of this age are the ones who can truly relate to what goes on in Dear Evan Hansen, and even more so thanks to the accessibility of Dear Evan Hansen through all its social media platforms. But it’s not just the official Dear Evan Hansen social media that has people talking. A slew of Tumblr fan accounts, a Facebook group, and a newly created subreddit are just a fraction of the groups of fans who are taking to the internet to share their love of the musical.

I spoke with my friend from Utah, Abram Berry, about what makes Dear Evan Hansen so appealing to teenagers: “I love Dear Evan Hansen because it paints mental illness in a realistic way,” Berry explained. “It’s not treated as a joke, but instead as a real struggle in these characters’ lives”.

Despite the majority of the fanbase being young people, that’s not stopping adults from loving the show too. The mother characters of “Heidi” (played by Rachel Bay Jones) and “Cynthia” (played by Jennifer Laura Thompson) in the show, affectionately referred to as the “Moms of Dear Evan Hansen” by their actresses have deeply resonated with parents who take their kids to see the show. In fact, the show’s subject matter has inspired some parents to forge a deeper connection with their children after seeing the show.

Since the cast album was just released last week, I assume that the Fansens will only grow from here on out. With all the buzz Dear Evan Hansen has been created just two months into its Broadway run, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the Fansen community sometime soon. As for Abram’s reasoning to become a Fansen, he had one last thing to add: “Ben Platt is a frickin’ adorable puppy”.


Dear Evan Hansen is currently playing on Broadway. For more information visit dearevanhansen.com.

 

 

Spotlight On: Pasek and Paul

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Benj Pasek, 31, (left) and Justin Paul, 32
With seven Golden Globes, 14 Oscar nominations, and a hilariously accurate Saturday Night Live skit under its belt, it’s no understatement that the 2016 film La La Land is one of the biggest movie musical sensations in decades. But it’s the accoladed and accomplished young men behind the lyrics of director Damien Chazelle’s soaring cinematic masterpiece who are quickly rising to the top in both the film and Broadway industries alike.

Justin Pasek, 32, and Benj Paul, 31, are the composing duo responsible for the snappy lyrics to “Another Day of Sun” and the other La La Land songs you hope no one hears you singing in your car. The two self-proclaimed best friends met in college at University of Michigan at age 18, and from there began writing song cycles – their first being Edges, written in 2005. After college, Pasek and Paul’s debut as a Broadway song writing team came in 2010, when they signed on to the creative team for A Christmas Story: The Musical which premiered at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and then later transferred to Broadway in 2012 with positive reviews and three Tony Award nominations. Around the same time, team’s next musical, Dogfight (based on the 1991 film of the same name), premiered Off Broadway in 2012 to, once again, a good amount of critical acclaim, gaining the pair a cult-following status in the theatre community.

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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in La La Land, with lyrics written by Pasek and Paul.
Outside of La La Land, Pasek and Paul’s current composing endeavour is another Broadway musical, titled Dear Evan Hansen, about the titular high schooler who gets wrapped up in a lie surrounding another student’s death. Since its open in December 2016, critics and audiences alike have praised the show saying it could very well sweep the 2017 Tonys, with Pasek and Paul being some of the top contenders for the Best Original Score award. With the pair having just won a Golden Globe for La La Land as well as receiving two Oscar nominations, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see Pasek and Paul win the Tony based on their track record so far. Because they’re relatively new on the scene, Pasek and Paul are some of the first composers to utilize social media to their advantage when sharing their works, which has spread to Dear Evan Hansen’s marketing team, allowing them and Pasek and Paul themselves to engage in more intimate connections with their fans.

More than just La La Land, Pasek and Paul have planted their feet in the world of young new musical theatre composers, and are making it clear that they’re here to stay. The duo has proved themselves worthy of the theatre community’s acceptance time and time again, with lyrics that are relatable and complex throughout all of their works, and now the obvious success of Dear Evan Hansen, I’m confident in saying that the path ahead of these talented men is paved with more incredible and discussion worthy opportunities.