If you have not heard about Hamilton yet, I do not believe you. The show is a work of true passion from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and starred in In The Heights, as he does in Hamilton. After seeing the show Monday, I believe Hamilton has the potential to change the future of the type of musicals we see on Broadway. Why? It could very easily inspire a new wave of successful, original musicals.
Sidebar: “Original” is subjective. Almost all musicals are not completely “original”. Fun Home, Hamilton, Wicked, Oklahoma!, Seussical, The King and I? All were adapted or based off of books, yet are considered “original” musicals. However, shows like Legally Blonde, Rocky, American Idiot, Tommy, and the upcoming School of Rock, are not. Of note, the scheduled American Psycho only credits the book as source material and not the film, which is also the case with 42nd Street, The Bridges of Madison County, La Cage aux Folles, and others. For the sake of my sanity, I will use “original” in this post as I see fit. Feel free to change my mind on a show in the comments.
Hamilton is a smash hit, which is no surprise to those who have seen it. The cast is beyond talented, the show pulses with energy from the orchestra and choreography, the scenic and costume designs are inventive and evocative, the lighting is simply outstanding, and the show tells a damn good story. Did I mention the show has no Hollywood star playing the lead role? (Okay, Jonathan Groff and Lin-Manuel Miranda are not unknowns, but this is very different from casting Fran Drescher, Matthew Broderick, or Wendy Williams.) Above all, Hamilton is, in every aspect of the word, original. Surprise! It is still a success.
So will we see a decline in musical adaptations of movies now that three original musicals (Hamilton, Fun Home, and Something Rotten!) have proven successful? That, I believe will be determined by the response to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock.
Sidebar: Honestly, that still makes me scratch my head a bit. The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Cats, and… School of Rock? One of these things is not like the other.
If the show does well, we will most likely see more than a few movies as musicals in the coming years (aside from those already in development, like Waitress). If the show flops, or simply does not garner a positive response, we might see a slow decline. This could be a great opportunity for these “original” musicals to get some attention, like Dear Evan Hansen.
Sidebar: I personally find it disappointing when people “wish” or “hope” for a show to close. When a show closes, a lot of talented people are put out of work, and I would not want to wish that on anyone. However, when a show closes, it allows for other shows to have their shot at succeeding on Broadway. Would I be sad if, say, Wicked or Chicago closed? Maybe for a moment, but that means another show will eventually take their place. All part of playing the game.
Do I dislike these adaptations? Not if they’re good. Shrek, Legally Blonde, and the Disney musicals have a lot to offer, especially when they are available for amateur licensing to schools. Without these adaptations, we may never have gotten 42nd Street, Billy Elliot, The Bridges of Madison County, Dogfight, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, Nine, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, etc. Do I think it is important to support original musicals without star power or name recognition? Absolutely. Last year, 47% of the season’s musicals were either adaptations of films, and/or used pre-existing music for their scores.
Only time will tell what the next best thing on Broadway will be. Keep an eye out for shows trying to imitate Hamilton or Fun Home, and watch closely to see what announces its closing in the coming months. We could easily become witness to the next evolution of the musical.