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Stage to Screen: 5 Broadway Musicals That Deserve Film Adaptations

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

Alright, Hollywood – these shows are ready for their close-up

Many Broadway musicals eventually get the big screen treatment, especially if they are unqualified hits and lend themselves to the atmospheric expansion that is required to make a musical breathe on camera. We continue to hear about forthcoming screen adaptations of Broadway musicals, with film versions of In the Heights and Wicked confirmed to be in the works, and there is always rumor and speculation about others. But which Broadway musicals are deserving of film adaptations, and why? Here are a few that we think would transition well from stage to screen. 

Isaac Powell and Quentin Earl Darrington in ‘Once On This Island’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Isaac Powell and Quentin Earl Darrington in ‘Once On This Island’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Come From Away
9/11 was one of the most daunting events to ever happen to America, with reverberations felt around the world. The films that have been made about this event have focused primarily on the heroes who offered hope. The musical Come From Away does just that, offering the perspective of the small towns of Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador who generously housed, fed and offered their time and compassion to over 7,000 stranded travelers whose planes were rerouted to their small community. Irene Sankoff and David Hein crafted a musical that brims with humanity. It’s a story that film audiences need: a reassurance that there is goodness and kindness to be found in the darkest of times.   

With all the success Disney has had adapting their film musicals for the stage (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen, and Newsies to name a few), it is somewhat surprising that they have yet to reverse the process for their long-running Broadway hit Aida. Rumors have been in place for many years that a film may happen, but it has yet to come to fruition. With an electrified score by Elton John and Tim Rice, an urgent and compelling love story at its center, and the possibility of so many exotic settings along the Nile of Ancient Egypt, Aida has all the ingredients for a movie musical hit.

City of Angels
The 1990 Tony Winner for Best Musical, City of Angels is one of the most sparkling and clever Broadway musicals to never receive a screen adaptation. What is more, the musical is a cunning indictment of the Hollywood process, the soul-crushing experience of a writer of detective novels who becomes disillusioned with Hollywood when he is asked to adapt one of his best-sellers for the big screen. It is essentially two stories, crafted by librettist Larry Gelbart: the writer Stine trying to keep his integrity, marriage and novel intact, and the film itself, about a gumshoe named Stone who is trying to solve a murder in Tinsel Town. The music by Cy Coleman is an atmospheric tribute to the blues and jazz stylings of the era, and the lyrics by David Zippel smack with sparkling wit and knowing slyness. What better way to tell a musical about making movies that with a movie?   

Miss Saigon
The pop opera Miss Saigon, which is readying to embark on a new National Tour of its recent Broadway revival, is a harrowing tale of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Originally transferring to Broadway in 1991 after a hit 1989 opening in London, the musical features a score by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr., and draws its inspiration from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. Telling the love story between an American soldier and a Vietnamese prostitute, kindled on the eve of the fall of Saigon, Miss Saigon screams for a cinematic treatment. Can you imagine the possibilities that film could lend to moments like the helicopter’s arrival, the rush to evacuate the city, and the heartbreaking song “Bui Doi”?

Once On This Island
It will only be a matter of time before we eventually see a film version of Once On This Island. The musical is a mélange of folk storytelling, mythology, fairytale and unrequited love, all delivered in a vibrantly colorful package. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrap the story’s magic in a melodic, character-developing score that pulses with Caribbean flavor and rhythms. The story of a girl on a tropical island who goes in search of love, aided and thwarted by the gods and goddesses of her world, beats with a heart that speaks to all of us. This all adds up to wonderful family entertainment. Perhaps an animated film, in particular, would truly capture Once On This Island’s breathtaking beauty, and deliver a culturally diverse story accessible to all ages.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at

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