With the recent disaster that was the release of Tom Hooper’s, Cats, it’s important to remember that Cats is only one movie in a long history of musicals being translated from the stage to the screen. Often a story is told on stage, in the theater, because it’s the type of story that makes more sense there. Sometimes directors and movie producers forget that and think they can translate the success of a show on The Great White Way to movie theaters across the country.
Sometimes they can but, almost just as often, sometimes they can’t. The Sound of Music worked wonders on-screen but Rock of Ages, not so much. Here are just a few examples of the best translations from Broadway to the silver screen, and a few examples of the worst.
10 Best: The Sound of Music – 84%
The Julie Andrews musical epic was released in 1965 and has been a classic ever since. It was the highest-grossing movie of that year and eventually of all time (a record it held for five years afterward).
Based on the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway production of the same name, The Sound of Music has continued to enchant audiences at sing-alongs and in homes around the world. Once available as a two cassette VHS the length of the film never put off fans or viewers.
9 Worst: A Chorus Line – 40%
The 1985 film version of the 1975 hit Broadway musical, A Chorus Line was unable to translate the magic of the original to the screen for viewing audiences. It shouldn’t be surprising since the entire story is, in fact, set on a theater stage.
Part of the magic of the Broadway show was the realistic feeling of auditioning it was able to portray for its audience. That was always going to be impossible on camera and not enough changes were made to mold the story into something that worked on the big screen.
8 Best: Little Shop Of Horrors – 90%
The musical was technically Off-Broadway and it was technically based on a film, but that original Little Shop of Horrors film was not a musical.
So, this 1986 film was based on the 1982 stage musical of the same name. Starring the likes of Rick Moranis and Steve Martin the cast was certainly in place to make the movie a hit, and it certainly was. The movie went on to be nominated for two academy awards, including Best Visual Effects.
7 Worst: Nine – 39%
Nine should have been a hit. The film, based on the 1982 Broadway musical, was released in 2009 with a star-studded cast that included: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, and Dame Judi Dench.
The film was directed by Rob Marshall (who also has a hit on this list with his film version of Chicago). But this outing for the director fell flat and didn’t impress critics or audiences.
6 Best: Funny Girl – 93%
Funny Girl opened on Broadway in 1964 and in movie theaters across the country in 1968. Part of its success? Producers kept Broadway star, Barbara Streisand, in the lead role she had originated on the stage.
While Streisand did not win the Tony Award for her role on stage she did win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work as Fanny Brice on screen. The film is now part of the National Film Registry.
5 Worst: Phantom of the Opera – 33%
The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came to the New York stage in 1988 and has not been absent since. That’s quite a legacy to uphold when translating the theater to the cinema.
In 2005 Joel Schumacher decided to take the chance and, despite a talented cast that included Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson was not able to translate The Phantom’s same magic. Watching a chandelier fall will also be more dazzling and heart-stopping in live theater it seems.
4 Best: West Side Story – 93%
West Side Story, an updated retelling of Romeo and Juliet premiered on the Broadway stage in 1957. It made its way to the big screen four years late in 1961. It was a hit from the very start.
Natalie Wood and Rita Monro as Maria and Anita respectively stood out amongst a superbly talented cast who were ready to sing and dance across movie screens. The film has been a musical favorite since its release and it’s very brave of Steven Spielberg to be attempting a remake this coming year.
3 Worst: Cats – 20%
Cats the musical hit Broadway in 1982 after an incredibly successful run in London. Like Phantom of the Opera Andrew Lloyd Webber was in charge of the musical’s now-classic score. But, like the Phantom of the Opera this musical also lacked the magic to make it work on the film the same way it had on stage.
From the criticism of the cat/human hybrid characters to the problematic plot there was very little (aside from the epic cast list) to encourage viewers to take in and enjoy the monstrous translation of this once popular work.
2 Best: My Fair Lady – 95%
The Audrey Hepburn 1964 film, based on the 1956 Broadway show was a hit from the start. It won Best Musical at the Tonys and went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards as well. Audrey Hepburn, however, was only cast as Eliza Doolittle for the film version, alongside Rex Harrison.
The original Eliza, Julie Andrews, was not asked to star. This gave Andrews the chance to work on Mary Poppins and claim the Academy Award for Best Actress instead of Hepburn. Hepburn does not actually sing in the hit film. Instead, her singing is dubbed by Marni Nixon.
1 Worst: The King and I (1999) – 13%
Yes, there is a musical movie with worse reviews than Cats. While the 1956 live-action film is still very well-loved, it was considered a good idea back in 1999 to translate the musical from the stage into a cartoon.
While the cartoon does include the classic songs from the original Broadway show, it also includes a monkey sidekick. Not every cartoon is Aladdin and not every cartoon character needs a monkey sidekick. The King and I certainly did not.