It may surprise the casual theater fan that over 75 Broadway shows got their start on the big screen, but true Broadway buffs know that film-to-stage adaptations have become a major trend on the Great White Way. The major impetus for this movement was the wild success of the Broadway adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which ran from 1994 through 2007.
While many adaptations were not met with rave reviews — several were outright failures — some sit among the best Broadway shows ever produced. To be a truly successful adaptation, great source material is key, but the production must also take a story that is familiar to fans and turn it into something uniquely suited for the Broadway stage. Here are five films turned Broadway shows that did it the best.
The Lion King, based on the popular 1994 Disney movie, debuted on Broadway in 1997. Much of the credit for its wild success is due to the visionary director and designer Julie Taymor. Taymor transformed the children’s cartoon about a young lion learning to become a ruler into a celebration of African heritage. She fills the stage with larger-than-life animal puppets, actors on stilts and amazing costumes, and combines the original music by Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer with African beats, says Broadway World. The production won six Tony Awards in 1998, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical for Julie Taymor, who was the first woman to win that category. By 2014, the show had grossed over $6.2 billion, making it the most successful work in any medium in entertainment history. The Lion King is also the third longest running show in Broadway history, behind Chicago and the Phantom of the Opera. Critics attribute its longevity to the movie, the family-friendly story and that its success is not due to casting big stars.
2. 42nd Street
42nd Street is one of the few film-to-stage adaptations before the modern era of sourcing Broadway from movies. The show premiered in 1980 and was based on a 1933 movie of the same name. Unlike recent adaptations, the Broadway production could not rely on buzz from a recently successful movie, and instead won critical acclaim for its exceptional song and dance numbers, which came to life on the Broadway stage. 42nd Street also has the perfect storyline for lovers of the theater or for anyone with the dream to be a star — a musical about theater itself. The protagonist is an understudy who saves the day at the last minute by playing the lead role and allowing the show to go on, in true Broadway tradition. The original movie score is combined with songs from Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and features tap dancing numbers that overwhelm and delight audiences.
The original production ran for nine years and closed in January of 1989, according to IBDB. The film won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Choreography for its director and choreographer Gower Champion, who sadly died on opening night.
Hairspray debuted at the Neil Simon Theater in 2002, adapted from the John Water’s 1988 cult hit of the same name. Hairspray is the over-the-top story of a plus-sized Tracy Turnblad who, in 1962, dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. It tells the story of her overnight success and mission to racially integrate the show. The exuberance of the score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with the choreography of Jerry Mitchell all under the direction of Jack O’Brien, made this a true stage spectacle, particularly the final number “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” The show was nominated for 13 Tony awards in 2003, wining eight, including Best Direction of a Musical, Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. The show closed in 2009, but not before it came full circle and inspired a film based on the musical in 2007.
Mel Brooks adapted his hilarious 1968 cult film about a producer and his accountant who set out to scam investors by convincing them to give money to a sure-to-fail musical about Hitler. The show that is intended to bomb on opening night instead becomes a wild success — and hilarity ensues. The Broadway adaptation premiered in 2001, and was so popular that it earned a record-breaking $3 million in tickets within three days of opening and setting off bidding wars for tickets, Playbill reports. The stage show benefitted from the genius of Mel Brooks, meaning the material was truly funny on its own, but also from the amazing casting choices of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. The production won 12 Tonys in 2001, the most in Broadway history, including an acting award for Nathan Lane, Best Musical and Best Original Score for the music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, IBDB reports. The stage show was such a success that Mel Brooks remade the movie in 2005, with Lane and Broderick as its stars.
5. Billy Elliot
The joyous 2000 film about a working-class boy in 1984 England who secretly trains and auditions for the prestigious Royal Ballet was adapted for the stage in 2008. The film was a success, nominated for three Oscars and 13 BAFTAs, winning for Best British Film. The film — which was about dance, but not a musical — was revamped for the Broadway stage thanks to book writer Lee Hall and music by Elton John. The stage adaptation kept the spirit of the original movie with Stephen Daldry directing both versions, says Timeout. Opening at the Imperial Theatre in 2008, the show ran for four years and closed in January 2012. The production dominated the 2009 Tony Awards, winning 10 trophies, including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical, an honor shared by the three minors who played the lead role: Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish, and David Alvarez.