Why, yes! They are all movies and a TV show that came out at least within the last 20 years that have gained quite the followings.
They're also all up for the Tony Award for Best Musical this year! I'm not kidding!
Let's talk about the Tony Awards! Particularly this observation (and my observations of people's reactions to these musicals).
When I first saw these nominations, my first thought was, "That's it? Surely you jest. Is there really no other new musical right now?"
But no. These are the ONLY nominees for Best Musical. Basically, there's nothing new here. They are just staged musical versions of movies. I thought at least The Band's Visit was an original idea, but nope! I was notified that this too is a pre-existed piece.
This is somewhat equivalent to the consistent popularity of books becoming movies. Now movies are becoming staged musicals.
Most specifically, in this case, nostalgic movies.
This isn't an entirely new thing, but looking back, I think this might be the first time EVERY nominee for the Best Musical Award is based on a film, hence why and how I took notice of it. Plus, these are films that I am very familiar with, so therefore at least nostalgic for me and my generation.
It seems as though Broadway is now using this same formula...
Okay, so let's check out some of the possible debates regarding this:
1) Broadway has officially run out of ideas.
We see this argument everywhere. Anytime Hollywood produces something seemingly dumb, overdone, or most commonly, unnecessary, or remakes something that was once prevalent, it's "Hollywood has officially run out of ideas." Audiences then voice their opinions about wanting to see new stories and leaving the past in the past.
Is Broadway suffering from the same ailment? It sure as heck seems like it, at least this year.
Remember, these aren't in the Best Musical Revival category. These are brand new shows.
I actually have been seeing this argument more than anything. Why do these movies need a staged musical adaptation to begin with? Just leave well enough alone and stop ruining our childhoods, darnit! :P
Though these shows have grown on audiences now, this wasn't always the case from my perspective. The interesting thing is, if banking on nostalgia to sell tickets is what they are going for, it initially wasn't working.
When the conception of these musicals were first announced, people reacted more like "No!" instead of "Yay!" I don't know about you, but I saw more complaints about all three even happening than anything, involving comments asking why these particular films were even chosen. "What's next?? Blah Blah Blah The Musical??"
The funny thing is that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, which is up for Best Play and is of course associated with the nostalgic Harry Potter series, didn't get the same dread or flack from fans. This play excited them and still does. Maybe it's because it's not a musical but rather a successor, so therefore not necessarily "ruining" anything. Maybe it's simply because it is Harry Potter.
Or maybe people just have something against musicals... Are Broadway musical versions just too corny for our precious nostalgic films?
I clearly don't know a great deal about The Band's Visit, so unfortunately I can't speak on that one as much, but let's talk about the other three.
Well, I guess I understand the issue with Frozen. The most recent of the movies, people were constantly getting tired of this film's hype. It's a musical already, but because it's a Disney movie, it already gets points against it for just following the Disney Broadway musical trend. There were objections urging to "let it go" for awhile so we can miss it and give the spot to another deserving, perhaps less prevailing, Disney film, but nope. The Frozen mania is still alive and well.
People's problems with the Spongebob Squarepants musical are similar, not only against the musical itself, but the television show as well. It is currently one of the longest running animated series of all time, so therefore viewers are starting to consider it stale and lacking the flavor it once had. Like with Frozen, for Spongebob Squarepants it's more like, "Why are they doing THIS now??" and "They're really milking this franchise for all it's worth..."
Sometimes these musicals are somewhat at a disadvantage because they aren't creations being first introduced to us but are instead rather reminiscent (and therefore nostalgic) of their source material. Thus, comparisons are inevitable. This feedback was especially frequent with the Spongebob Squarepants musical. I had some of my own same criticisms as others about that one's portrayals without even seeing it, such as the whole "But they don't look like animals! Spongebob doesn't even look like a SPONGE!" protest. But then my friend Abby, who saw it for her birthday, convinced me otherwise while we were chowing down on Applebee's after suffering through a screening of Downsizing (2017).
Spongebob Squarepants still has the same humor, sound effects, and overall tone of the TV show, with the performers impersonating the characters so well that it raises audiences' suspension of disbelief. This, according to Abby, matters much more. It's just a different take on the show.
If you think about it, this is actually surprisingly an ADVANTAGE to the Spongebob Squarepants musical as well. No one would believe that Ethan Slater is playing a sponge unless we already knew the sponge the character was based on. Otherwise, if Slater was developing this character from scratch without any original source material to fall back on, he's just a giggling guy in a yellow t-shirt and we'd ask, "Why are we supposed to believe that he is an underwater sponge?"
The Mean Girls musical receives the least amount of beef I'd say, because Mean Girls is considered a classic, especially for people my age. It resonates so much with my generation but is still so relevant in today's American society as well (There are always catty women in every generation.) with just enough changes to perhaps make it more current. Also, people just love Tina Fey.
Mean Girls can be considered the most "grown up" of the three too, and we have seen this type of show accomplished before, so why not, I guess? The style resembles Broadway's Legally Blonde the Musical, Bring It On the Musical, and especially even the Off-Broadway Heathers the Musical, all of which were pretty successful and nostalgic in their own right. Taylor Louderman (Regina George) and Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian) both have experience with these other musicals (Louderman with Legally Blonde and Bring It On as lead character Campbell Davis and Weed with Heathers as lead Veronica Sawyer), so audiences probably trust them more to do a good job with this one. Also, unlike the others, we haven't really been seeing Mean Girls everywhere throughout the years to the point where now seeing a musical version of it would bother us. This is the only one of the four that never had musical numbers before, so this is a new path for the story altogether.
Producing these shows in innovative ways gives them new structure instead of just copying the original movies. Theater is always going to be a different medium from film anyway. The musicals have the same tones to draw us in but they also offer something fresh.
The only musical that doesn't do this for me much is Frozen. Aside from a few new songs and some diverse casting, it doesn't really seem that much different from the movie. But there is also the criticism that the actresses playing Elsa and Anna, Caissie Levy and Patti Murin, don't look age appropriate for their characters. (Then again, I've seen this complaint for Mean Girls as well...) Otherwise, the approach looks pretty exact, down to the color schemes and costume design.
BUT, why SHOULD everything change just because it's onstage instead of onscreen? There are probably audiences that would prefer not many alterations anyway too so that they can connect the musicals to the films that much easier. I don't mind it. However, I will say that I love Janis's hairstyle in the Mean Girls musical much more than in the film.
Like I said, constant comparisons. But that's not really a bad thing.
However, this all being said, with these shows now moving onto performances and music distributions, more people seem to be jumping on board the nostalgic Broadway musical train. The shows are gauging plenty of approval now, and hey, they're now all up for Tony Awards. Maybe nostalgia does have something to do with it in a positive way.
The only thing is that none of them are really groundbreaking like the past couple of Best Musical Award winners Hamilton (2016) and Dear Evan Hanson (2017), which is seemingly a requirement to obtain this particular achievement. Instead, these are all just feel good, fun musicals that reinvent well known characters and stories. But maybe that's okay. My friends are pleased with them, stating that as long as they are good musicals, they deserve this acknowledgment.
Regardless of this blog post, I'm not complaining myself here. I would love to see all of them. This is just a trend that I felt was worth discussing. I'm excited to even write this because I feel so qualified enough to do so, partially because I am indeed very knowledgeable about the initial films.
By the way, isn't it cool how they are all kinda color coded? Mean Girls, Frozen, Spongebob Squarepants, The Band's Visit.
As for my Tony Award predictions, I think Spongebob Squarepants is actually going to be the one to take the trophy home considering how uniquely they reimagine the cartoon and it has been a family favorite of many for years. Mean Girls is my close second choice, Frozen is "meh" to me in regards to winning everything, and unfortunately, The Band's Visit doesn't stand a chance simply because I never really hear about that one as much, which is interesting because I am now seeing that it is up for 11 nominations as opposed to Frozen's three.
What do you think?
The New York Times Reviews:
'The Band's Visit'
The 2018 Tony Awards airs on Sunday, June 10 at 8/7c EDT on CBS.