The movie musical goes in and out of fashion, but sooner or later it always comes back swinging. From the Depression-era Busby Berkeley films to the Rodgers and Hammerstein spectacles of the late 1950s and early 1960s to the modern Disney animated movies, there’s never a shortage of song and dance.
In fact, filmmakers have gone to stage musicals for inspiration so many times, a lot of the greats have already been made into movies, often several times over. Still, there are plenty of productions, especially ones from the past ten or twenty years, that are aching for a film adaptation.
Who doesn’t secretly cherish the thought of the Muppets gone a little bit bad? That’s why “Avenue Q” was such a massive hit when it first came out, and is still popular today. On a dingier version of Sesame Street, a group of down-on-their-luck puppets and humans co-exist as they try to make sense of their lives that have gone woefully off-track. We were all raised on this style of puppets, so it’s only fitting that they reflect our cynicism as we age together.
9“The People in the Picture”
“The People in the Picture” was not a major success on the stage, but it has a cinematic quality that would make it perfect fodder for a screen adaptation. A Holocaust survivor recounts stories of her pre-war Yiddish theater troupe to her adoring granddaughter, and their conversations are intercut with flashbacks to the past. It is a touching, emotionally evocative musical told in a way that would have maximum impact if committed to film.
8“The Book of Mormon”
There aren’t too many R-Rated movie musicals out there, but “The Book of Mormon” is a perfect addition to the naughty little genre. Delightfully perverse, the hit Broadway show explores the misadventures of two young Mormons on an ill-fated mission trip to Uganda. The side-splitting humor of “The Book of Mormon” has fared well over the years, losing little of its satirical bite.
There’s so much space in the world of movie musicals for a fantastical show like “Pippin,” frankly it’s surprising that there hasn’t already been a film adaptation of the adventures of Charlemagne’s son, Pippin. Not for lack of trying, though: the Weinstein Company put “Pippin” on their production slate before filing for bankruptcy in 2018. But now that the rights have reverted back to Stephen Schwartz, it can be shopped around so another studio can bring it to life.
6“Once On This Island”
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the history of American musical theater is pretty white. That’s one of the reasons why “Once On This Island” is such an engaging piece. It embraces a uniquely Caribbean culture, featuring several Haitian gods and revolving around the romance between a poor island girl and the son of a rich landowner. Onscreen, it’s a great opportunity to highlight talented people of color who are often excluded from the more traditional and very white Rodgers and Hammerstein fare.
5“Dear Evan Hansen”
Musicals set in high school are surprisingly popular in television, but less so in film, aside from Disney Channel Original Movies. But the heightened sense of reality that exists in many musicals is a natural fit for the melodrama of high school. “Dear Evan Hansen” has connected with audience members from all demographics, and there’s every indication that it would achieve similar success as a film. We may not have long to wait, either: Universal has purchased the rights, and are currently circling original star Ben Platt to reprise his star-making role.
4“Next to Normal”
“Next to Normal” is far from a light-hearted musical extravaganza, but the pared-down narrative is an intimate, naturalistic drama that would be unlike anything audiences have seen from a movie musical. It tells the story of a mother with bipolar disorder who hallucinates visions of the teenage version of her long-deceased toddler son. A dark musical is always a welcome change of pace, and it’s hard to ignore how perfect it would be to cast Aaron Tveit, the son in the original Broadway cast, now that he’s effectively aged into the role of the father.
“Spring Awakening” explores the confusion, anger, and melancholy that accompany growing up in an emotionally and sexually repressed environment. It takes place in 1800s Germany, but the themes of teen angst are equally resonant today. When the show began on Broadway it launched the careers of several young actors (“Spring Awakening” essentially served as a farm team for “Glee”), a feat the film adaptation would hope to replicate.
For over a decade now, it’s been clear that “Wicked” would make an amazing movie musical. The production is incredibly cinematic, and stories based on “The Wizard of Oz” are enough of a known entity for audiences that there’s limited risk involved. You’ve also got Lea Michele, heir apparent to the “Wicked” star Idina Menzel herself, with only so many years left where she can realistically play Elphaba on screen. Luckily, fans may not have too long to wait: Stephen Daldry is reported to be developing a film adaptation of “Wicked” for Universal, due to hit theaters in late 2021.
Making a film adaptation of “Hamilton” is essentially a license to print, well, Hamiltons. It’s a guaranteed moneymaker, and we know how much Hollywood loves a sure thing. One of the most popular musicals of all time, “Hamilton” has a built-in audience of millions. But time is, once again, of the essence. They should be working on a film version now, before the show loses any more of its fire.