The Silver Screen Meets The Great White Way

From Mean Girls to Waitress, there’s a symbiotic relationship between film and musical theater.

This article originally appeared in Den of Geek’s New York Comic Con magazine…

The Lion King musical has made more than $8 billion dollars for The House of Mouse in its 21-year run on Broadway. While most film-to-stage productions will never see this kind of success, over the past two decades, movie studios have become increasingly invested in developing stage productions based on their already-existing catalogues of cinematic content.

“People often incorrectly assume that movies have more potential to make money than live stage productions,” says Marisa Sechrest, who works as Paramount Pictures’ live stage representative. “While the revenue from a movie is generally more of a bell curve, a successful live show can run for decades with multiple productions running simultaneously in different markets worldwide.”

This is where someone like Sechrest comes in, identifying and evaluating content that might make a successful stage show from Paramount’s catalogue of over 7,000 titles.

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“Studios realize that there is huge opportunity and upside to giving some of their best-loved franchises and even lesser-known titles a new life on the stage,” Sechrest says. For context, Disney founded its live stage production arm in 1999, with Universal and Warner Bros. both following suit in 2003. The kinds of stories that have become hits since the formation of divisions like these have varied in genre, tone, and execution—from 2001’s hit The Producers to the more recent stage version of Disney’s Newsies. What they do have in common is the emotional connection they have made with audiences.

“Generally, it’s important that the story has a certain level of emotional and dramatic depth that gives the characters a reason to sing,” Sechrest says of the movies that make the best stage musicals. “For instance, in a film, a director can use a close-up to really depict a highly emotional moment. On the live stage, a song is essentially that ‘close-up’ that gives the audience a deeper look into what the character is feeling.”

“Broadway is a risky business,” Sechrest continues, noting that only about 20 percent of productions turn a profit. Because of this, it’s also important to think about whether a film-to-stage adaptation will appeal to the business’ core demographic, which is approximately two-thirds female with an average age in the early 40s. “Female-driven stories that have universal themes of acceptance, anti-bullying, and empowerment—like Waitress and Mean Girls—tend to perform well on Broadway,” she says; she also helped develop both movies for the stage.

While 40-something women may be Broadway’s biggest ticket buyers, the industry seems poised to bring in new audiences—or at least attempt to—with movie-to-stage adaptations like this fall’s King Kong musical, which features a book from Harry Potter and The Cursed Child writer Jack Thorne.

“I think audiences are hungry for different styles of shows that expand beyond traditional drama,” Sechrest says.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.

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