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All Musicals Are Adaptations

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"So start off on the right foot and select a story that is all prepared for you. The translation of that story to musical form is quite complex enough. Within that frame you will find more than adequate challenge to your originality and enough on which to experiment."
Alan Jay Lerner, Advice to Young Musical Writers

Many musicals — one could even argue the majority — are adaptations. There are two major reasons for this tendency:

  1. Dramaturgy. Many musicals will have separate artists working on each aspect of the text — book, music and lyrics. Some musicals will have more than one person working on each aspect, and then you have the influence of directors, choreographers and producers. It's hard enough to write a good story as it is, so adapting an existing and proven story provides everybody working on the show with a touchstone.
  2. Commerciality. Primarily, musical theatre has always been a commercial medium that tries to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Moreover, as the sheer costs of staging a Broadway or West End musical continue to skyrocket, producers are under increasing pressure to guarantee their shows will be smash hits. Audiences are more likely to come see a musical (or play, or film ...) based on a property with which they are already familiar, so adaptations are a safer bet than original works, though of course they're not sure hits (as proven by the line of unsuccessful musical adaptations of Cyrano de Bergerac stretching back to 1899).

This trope is so common that it is more useful to list exceptions and parodies than straight examples, and it is often said "great musicals are not written, they are re-written". Note, however, that it can be difficult to define what counts as an "adaptation". Whilst many musicals draw their narrative structure directly from the movie, novel, stage play, comic book, short story, ancient Greek myth etc. on which they were based, many other musicals take their inspiration from a variety of unusual sources — a historical figure or event, a painting, a concept — but provide an original narrative. Historically, this is hardly a new phenomenon, as most operas, operettas and ballets are also adaptations. Only here it is not as obvious to lay people thanks to Adaptation Displacement and because many classic operas were adapted from works which were not as well-known in the first place or which have since been entirely forgotten by the general public.

Incidentally, this is why so many musicals are subtitled The Musical!


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Film and Other

  • Bob's Burgers: The Season 5 premiere "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" revolves around Gene's musical version of Die Hard being passed over for the annual school play over Courtney Wheeler's musical version of Working Girl.
  • The Simpsons has numerous fictional musical adaptations which parody the concept by drawing from bizarre and/or inappropriate sources:
  • The Producers notes a musical adaptation of Hamlet, called Funny Boy; it isn't depicted, but its audience informs us "It's the worst show in town!" in the first scene of the stage version, which takes place on its opening and closing night. While hunting for a show that will "close on page four", Max reads out what is clearly the first line of a musical adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. It's rejected for being too good.
  • The Fairly OddParents! is another twofer: Waterworld: The Musical and, as a Continuity Nod to the episode parodying action movies, Loose Cannon Cop Who Doesn't Play by the Rules: The Musical.
  • MAD had "Keep on Trekkin'", a Star Trek musical that addressed the post-cancellation success of TOS in reruns in The '70s. It ends with the cast turning down a network executive's offer of a Revival because they're making so much money already — it was written before the movie franchise was established in 1979.
    • "Coming Musicals" in MAD #41 suggested that, when Broadway starts running out of likely source material, new musicals could be based on telephone directories, railroad timetables, and cook books, producing song hits like "The Bell-Box Of My Heart" and "Oh, Your Lips Say Central Standard."
    • MAD #100 did an article conceiving musical versions of Moby-Dick, Julius Caesar, A Tale of Two Cities and Tarzan.
    • Later issues had musical versions of Star Wars ("The Force and I") and The Lord of the Rings ("The Ring and I"). Note that Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities and The Lord of the Rings have since been adapted into serious stage musicals, and Disney's Tarzan received a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation. (Lord of the Rings has also since been... rather less seriously adapted.)
    • MADtv (1995) did a skit in the late 1990s spoofing how campy the Batman movie franchise had become by having the 5th one done as a Broadway musical. In fact, Warner Bros. actually had Jim Steinman and David Ives working on a Batman musical for several years, but it didn't pan out.
    • Erin Brockovich: "I may dress like a cheap table dancer / but give me a call if you think you've got cancer.."
    • The only thing preventing a Star Wars musical is George Lucas's dignity. But it has been adapted into an opera. Four times, in fact.
  • A Tale of Two Cities is also staged as a musical (Two Cities) in the Martin Short comedy A Simple Wish.
  • In the movie The Tall Guy Jeff Goldblum's character, trying to get into serious drama, finds himself starring in Elephant!, a musical version of The Elephant Man.
  • On 30 Rock, Jenna has been in musical versions of Con Air and Mystic Pizza.
  • A cutaway reveals Peter once performed in Red Dawn — The Musical on Family Guy. "I'm a Wolverine/And my hatred keeps me warm..."
  • Batman Beyond: "Out Of The Past" opens with Terry taking Bruce Wayne to a musical about... Batman. Bruce was not pleased with the show's lighthearted campy approach about his crime-fighting career. The sad part is that the idea for it came from the fact that someone actually proposed a Batman musical in real life.
    Bruce: You hate me, don't you?
  • Fans! once had a character perform in a musical adaptation of the Book of Leviticus.
  • Sluggy Freelance had Zoe and Kent go see "The Cylon King," a Broadway musical based on Battlestar Galactica. Kent remarks they should have gotten tickets to "Thoroughly Merciless Ming" instead.
  • Gilligan's Island had the castaways staging a musical of version of Hamlet to try to persuade a producer to return to civilisation and take them with him. He steals their idea, returns to civilisation and leaves them stranded.
  • In a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, E. Henry Thripshaw announces that he hopes to turn his next disease into a musical (after his first disease became an In Name Only film).
  • The web series "The Battery's Down" parodies this with Ferris Bueller's Day Off The Musical and Home Alone The Musical.
  • An episode of The Critic features Jay and Doris going to Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest musical, Hunch!, an adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The sequence takes swipes at the commercialism ("Brought to you by Toyota: the hatchback fit for a hunchback!") and strange staging common to ALW's musicals. Note that this episode predated the Disney adaptation of Hunchback — which had its own problems trying to make the story a musical that could also move merchandise — by two years, and the more straightforward Notre-Dame de Paris by four.
  • Rugrats has Reptar On Ice, an Ice Capades-like musical show based on a Godzilla-like action film franchise.
  • In Andrew Lippa's version of The Wild Party, the brothers d'Armano write a musical called Good Heavens, based on the Bible.
  • In one episode of The Venture Bros., Rusty wants to make a musical about his life (a Johnny Quest boy-adventurer sort of childhood with its own cartoon show), though this never gets off the ground. He does get a duet with the in-universe version of Spider-Man, the Brown Widow, which might be a parody of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. For a bonus joke, Brown Widow mentions being in The Sound of Music as a kid, the film of which featured Nicholas Hammond, the 1970s TV Spider-Man, as Friedrich Von Trapp.
  • One episode of Phineas and Ferb revisits one of their early adventures:
    "Y'know Ferb, one of the best times we ever had was when we built that rollercoaster. We should do it again! This time, as a musical! Whadya say? We'll do all the same things, except we'll break into spontaneous singing and choreography with no discernable music source!"
  • The movie Hamlet 2 is about a high-school drama teacher and failed actor trying to stage a musical sequel to the play (which is probably most famous for killing off nearly every major character by the end). Naturally, everyone else thinks it's an utterly terrible idea.
  • An episode of Seinfeld features Scarsdale Surprise, a Tony Award-winning musical based on the highly publicized murder of famous diet book author Dr. Herman Tarnower. It also has a weirdly meta version of this, with another nominee being a musical of the fictitious movie Rochelle, Rochelle that the gang watched in a previous episode.
  • The first episode of season 5 of Jonathan Creek, "The Letters of Septiumus Noone", is set around an operatic adaptation of The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, which Locked Room Mystery fan Jonathan thinks is a travesty.
  • Jon and Al Kaplan make one-song snippets of fictional musical adaptations of 80s action movies on their Youtube channel.
  • In the radio comedy What Does the K Stand For?, Stephen's form teacher claims to have been involved in a musical version of Gone with the Wind called Wind! with Lionel Blair as Rhett Butler.
  • The plot of the Robert Rankin novel Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls is Poole and Omalley creating a musical based on Armageddon: The Musical.
  • In End Boss's World, Flash Man stars as Neo (and the special effects crew) of The Matrix: The Musical, co-starring Dr Mario as Morpheus.
  • One episode of Life in Pieces featured a school play based on The Silence of the Lambs.
  • The Team StarKid web series Movies, Musicals, & Me is a Mockumentary set in a world where all famous films have been overshadowed by their Broadway musical adaptations.
  • Clickhole once played this as an Exaggerated Trope; one article is just a list of gifs that could be adapted into musicals.
  • One episode of Pepper Ann begins with the title character finishing a lead role in a musical based on an in-series plush toy. She's complimented for her performance, then discover she was mistaken for an Identical Stranger who starred in a musical called Phantom of the Apes.
  • Death Becomes Her opens with Madeline appearing in an awful musical version of Sweet Bird Of Youth called Songbird! that bombs.
  • Robot Chicken's Star Wars special featured excerpts of "Star Wars: The Musical." They also had "Le Wrath di Khan", which was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a literal Space Opera.
  • Mad About You once had the Buchmans attending Moby!, a musical version of Moby-Dick.
  • One episode of Disney's Doug revolved around a musical that Guy was inspired to make, based on the Mona Lisa. Yep, he made a musical based on a painting. His reasoning was that it was a surefire hit because the painting is so famous. After demanding several rewrites to make it even more marketable, it ended up lifting elements from Cinderella, Moby Dick, and Pinocchio, as well as featuring a scene during The American Civil War.
    Mona Lisa, please say cheese-a
    And grin a toothy grin for me
    Mona Lisa, I, I say please-a
    Your biggest smile I gotta see!
  • An episode of Supernatural (''Fan Fiction'') revolves around a high school play that is a musical adaptation of the in-universe book series, Supernatural. (Which were unknowingly (well, so he says) written about Sam and Dean's life by 'Carver Edlund', aka the Prophet Chuck Shurley, aka God.)
  • The Art of the Steal: While attempting to explain to the border guard why his wearing a false beard, Francie claims that he is in a play called Witness!: The Musical. (And, yes, he specifically mentions that it has an exclamation mark.)
  • When trying to give a reason as for why the title character of Hawkeye (2021) would be in New York, the showrunner joked he was going to Rogers: The Musical. Marvel surprisingly bought the idea, bringing in the creators of Hairspray to write a song, depicted on-stage with hilarious Stylistic Suck.
  • Critic's Choice by Ira Levin mentions several fictional musical productions adapted from famous novels:
    • When Angela tells Parker that S. P. Champlain, a normally reliable producer who also did an apparently woeful musical version of Anthony Adverse, has read her new play and thinks it's wonderful, her husband sarcastically bursts into an "I Am" Song and dance:
      "Hello, I'm Anthony Adverse,
      And tho' this may be a bad verse,
      I'm mighty glad that I'm he-ere!"
    • Dion, hired to direct Angela's play, was previously involved with Oh, Doctor!, whose success he credits to it being "built on the best foundation of any musical in the past five years. There aren't many novels around that can top Arrowsmith, you know."
    • Ivy, arriving fresh off the sets of an excruciating flop, tells Parker he was right about there being "some books that simply cannot be made into musical comedies and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of them!"


Video Example(s):


Stop The Planet of The Apes

Hilariously parodied in this classic bit, where Troy McClure (You may remember him from such Simpsons episodes as "Bart's Friend Falls in Love" and "Radioactive Man"!) stars in a musical about Planet of The apes, featuring breakdancing orang-utans and a whole number about Dr. Zaius.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / AllMusicalsAreAdaptations

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