Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Bare Necessities

What do films like The Notebook and Clueless have in common? Both are of course fairly slushy and appeal to romantics but are also perfect examples of the current growing trend for theatre companies to adapt films into stage musicals. Having watched Ghost: The Musical in the last week at The Grand during its UK tour, I've been reflecting on what makes a successful adaptation.

The sketchy vocal quality of the leads (with the exception of Wendy Mae Brown who plays Oda Mae) and series of uncatchy songs in Ghost: The Musical made it a disappointment. David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics co-wrote the music and lyrics with the film's original screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin and American songwriter, Glen Ballard - with this in mind, I had expected to leave humming one of the show's infectious tunes; alas, each song seemed to run into the next and added little to the story, seeming to merely act as a means of lengthening its running time. With this in mind, reading reports of the show's previous standing ovations, puzzled me – the only people standing at the end of Wednesday's show seemed to be folk preempting a fast escape from the theatre's sub-tropical temperature.

In the days since the show, I've found myself pondering what makes a good musical stage adaptation. Thinking over musicals of films I've previously enjoyed, the answer seems to lie in the film's original content. John Water's 1988 film Hairspray, early 90s' film Sister Act and Roger Corman's 60's flick, Little Shop Of Horrors, all made perfect stage adaptations, precisely because they all already lent themselves to catchy show tunes - music was already central to their plots or they had easily recognisable soundtracks.

Screen to stage adaptations are of course popular with each film's already existing fan base, allowing enthusiasts to see favourite characters come alive in the flesh. Films with cult status give fans a sense of unity, providing die-hard devotees the chance to recite lines in unison with the actors and in doing so, add to the atmosphere of each live performance; Shows like Fame and Dirty Dancing are a case in point.... Hearing fans singalong to popular tunes or cry out lines from the film like “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” add humour to the experience and make you feel like you're among friends in a theatre full of like-minded allies.

Although memories of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost transport me back to the more optimistic days of my youth, watching the musical reminded me of a teenage mistake. Back in 1990 after the film came out, I foolishly spent well-saved pocket money on the film's soundtrack; I was disappointed to discover that Unchained Melody was the only vocalised song on a predominantly instrumental soundtrack that sounded like a mishmash of special effects. If I'd paid more attention during the film, perhaps I'd have been less surprised and saved myself some money.

To me, this whole experience seems to merely highlight that plot is more important than fluff and sometimes it's better to stick to the bare necessities. With its impressive special effects and sets, Ghost: The Musical would have made a fantastic play, captivating viewers through its story alone. However, despite this rather negative experience, I'm still planning on trying to catch the stage versions of Once and The Commitments. As music is already key to both, I'm expecting to prove my hypothesis...

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