Musicals: the saviour of cinema?

Film adaptations of musicals can be hit or miss: “To assess Cats as good or bad feels like the entirely wrong axis on which to see it. It is, with all affection, a monstrosity”. The words of Vulture’s film critic Alison Willmore carry a sentiment shared by many when it comes to the film adaption of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s concept musical. Then, on the other hand, you’ve got masterpieces like Hamilton, and while not strictly an adaptation, its translation to screen has been an overwhelming success. When it’s done right, capturing musicals for the big screen can be truly spectacular.

In the light of a seemingly never-ending lockdown, however, the prospect of re-opening long-closed cinemas around the world and being treated to an hour and a half of all-singing, all-dancing joy is so desirable, and if I’m honest, at this point, needed. There’s nothing quite like the power of a quality musical, so the moment cinemas re-open, I’ll be looking for something to fill that musical-shaped hole in my life. As for many other Hamilfans, the news that Hamilton would be hitting Disney+ was a big deal for me – without a second thought, I signed up for a month’s membership of the platform (you bet I made sure I got my £5.99’s worth) and was treated to a 4K rendition of Lin Manuel Miranda’s revisionist rap musical. The screen magnified every reaction, every heartbreak, and every slick dance move in one of the hottest musicals of the century, and did the musical that had ignited many people’s love for musicals justice. Disney paid a whopping $75 million for the film rights to Hamilton, a testament to how seriously studios are taking these box-office hits.

Other streaming services have also cashed in, with Netflix releasing the adaptation of The Prom in December, while Mathilda has now gone from book to film to musical and now to a film based on the musical, enticing fans with casting announcements. So, what makes certain film adaptations of musicals hits, and what should we be looking for in any post-lockdown releases? One thing that’s common between my favourite musicals and films based on musicals is the power of the story. Newbie writers are told that their character must want something, and that their job is to give them a hard time getting there. These musicals do just that. There’s something about unique characters enduring sustained development while defying the odds in a tear-jerking, humorous tale, soundtracked by incredible scores.

After the past year, it’s these stories of hope, humour, and heart that will pull audiences to the cinema once again

That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about the upcoming release of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, based on the West End musical of the same name. Telling the story of aspiring drag queen Jamie New, the show weaves incredibly upbeat dance numbers about self-discovery and celebration with heart-wrenching ballads and a script full of enticing and powerful themes. It’s perfectly suited for the screen, hopefully building on a strong stage run to bring the pertinent story to a new audience. After the past year, it’s these stories of hope, humour, and heart that will pull audiences to the cinema once again. Hitting the cinema in the future is Steven Spielberg’s iteration of West Side Story, as well as Miranda’s musical In The Heights – a vibrant and upbeat celebration of Latin culture in New York. Many will recognise Miranda’s signature style when it graces our screens this summer.

Also currently in development is the film adaptation of Mean Girls: the Musical. Every single song on the cast recording is truly top-notch, so let’s hope that the film does not disappoint. One musical I would love to see on screen is one of my all-time favourites, Hadestown. This hauntingly beautiful retelling of the tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, soundtracked to moody New Orleans jazz, would translate to the screen incredibly well, if its sweep of Tony Awards and universal critical acclaim are anything to go by.

There’s one thing that cinemas and studios should make the most of post-lockdown: professional recordings of musicals. For too long, the only exposure fans have had to their favourite musicals are shaky bootlegs shot from the highest corners of upper circles, cutting out intermittently as the perpetrator dodges ushers’ stares. After visiting full cinemas to watch recordings of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Kinky Boots, it’s a wonder to me that more musicals haven’t followed suit. There’s the argument that it’ll draw funds away from the actual production, but many fans wouldn’t have travelled to the West End or to Broadway, regardless of whether a showing was taking place at their local cinema or not.

A post-lockdown musical may just be the pick-me-up you didn’t know you needed

Tickets to these shows are expensive, and it’s easy to see why – the demand for and quality of these shows are very high. But by creating interest in the show and building buzz, I reckon more people would be inclined to see the stage version if they’d enjoyed the recording in the past.

Regardless of whether you’re a die-hard musical fan or you’ve never seen one in your life, a post-lockdown musical may just be the pick-me-up you didn’t know you needed.

While you wait, though, get stuck into those soundtracks, and let the joyous pop melodies and soaring ballads wash over you as you lose yourself in the marvellous world of musicals.

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