From ‘The Lion King’ to ‘Kinky Boots,’ Movies That Became Tony-Winning Musicals


Recently, it was announced that
Damien Chazelle
‘s 2016 film
La La Land is set to open on Broadway with a stage adaptation
, with composer
Justin Hurwitz,
and lyricists
Benj Pasek
and
Justin Paul
returning to the project. While we wait for more news, it is natural for one to think about the onslaught of musicals based on movies that have gained popularity in the past couple of years.

Mean Girls: The Musical

has its own film adaptation in production,
Heathers
and
Beetlejuice
have a sustained internet following with their musicals, and new releases like
Almost Famous
and
Some Like It Hot
are opening in time to qualify for awards season.As much as this seems like a new thing, film has served as an inspiration for musical theater for decades. In fact, in its 75-year history, there have been 41 nominations and 15 winners for Best Musical at the Tony Awards, for musicals based on movies. Let’s take a look at 13 of the films that went on to win the big one at the Tony Awards,
and their transitions from screen to stage.
For the sake of brevity, we couldn’t fit them all, so special shoutout to
Smiles of a Summer Night
and
Thoroughly Modern Millie
.
RELATED: ‘Mean Girls the Musical’: Cast, Plot, Where It Will Stream, and Everything We Know so Far


All About Eve

All About Eve is a legend of golden age Cinema, taking home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1950 with stand-out performances by Bette Davis, George Sanders, and Anne Baxter. Joseph L. Mankiewicz takes us into the sordid and scandalous world of Broadway, where an aging starlet takes an ingénue under her wing, only to find that the young woman may be plotting her downfall for her own benefit. Fast-forward to 1970, with the team of Betty Comden, Lee Adams, Adolph Green, and Charles Strouse creating Applause. The studio didn’t give them the rights to the film script or its title, but what the writers could get was the rights to the original short story by Mary Orr, before 20th Century Fox eventually caved and reversed its decision, giving them a little more to work with. Applause starred the legendary Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing, who won the Tony for Best Leading Actress In A Musical, as the show itself won Best Musical.

Crumpa VIDEO OF THE DAY

Eight and a half movie
Image Via Columbia Pictures

Federico Fellini’s is one of the most well-known pieces of both metafiction and Italian cinema, all about the difficulties of the creative process and the endless quest for authenticity in your work. It’s also quite ahead of its time in its deconstruction of the womanizing artist archetype, with the main character, Guido, constantly being called out by the women in his life for his incredibly unsympathetic behavior.

Stories of artists work gangbusters on the stage, and was something writer Maury Yeston, with revisions from the late Arthur Kopit, wanted to capture withas his vessel, calling the project Nine. With Raul Julia – yes, Gomez Addams – as Guido, our creatively blocked director, it focuses on his relationships with women, and how his inner turmoil and past affect them, and how that has been motivating his issues at work. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 1982.

Passion of Love

Passion of Love movie 1981
Image Via Putnam Square Films

After A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim was once again inspired by a little-known foreign film, this time the 1981 Italian film Passion of Love, (Passione d’Amore). A love triangle between a strapping cavalry captain, Giorgio, his married lover, Clara, and the deeply troubled yet sensitive waif, Tosca. This film is a dark and obsessive romance that throws your sympathies back and forth between the characters and dives into both the beauty and the terror of love.

Sondheim adapted this tawdry love affair into a one-act musical in 1994, titling it simply Passion. When watching the film, the epiphany came to him to reverse the perspective of the romance itself, making it less of a one-sided obsession and more of an emotionally devastating affair, according to his book Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics. This story of fatal attraction, while admired by critics didn’t get such a warm reception from the public, the character of Tosca receiving the brunt of that upset. Despite this, it won Tonys in 1994 for Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book of a Musical.

Sunset Boulevard

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard surrounded by onlookers
Image via Paramount Pictures

I barely need to explain Sunset Boulevard, the 1950 classic of noir cinema, an early artistic indictment of the vicious Hollywood system and the home of one of film’s most iconic tragic villains, Norma Desmond. Billy Wilder really knew what he was doing with this film, with most of it being a rather accurate portrayal of the brutality of the studio system, including many real-life cameos and on-location shooting.

Troubled artists and twisted, obsessive love triangles both work on the stage, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, as he’d done so before, decided to combine the two. There were a lot of potential composers for the Sunset Boulevard musical, someone had been wanting to develop it since 1956, including Norma Desmond herself, Gloria Swanson. Lloyd Webber was the one who took it all the way with Glenn Close in the lead role, among some controversy, a ludicrously high budget, and a harder lean into the romance rather than the cynicism. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 1995 and was the only musical even nominated for Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. 1995 was an infamously weak year for musical theater, but not for Norma Desmond.

The Lion King

The Lion King

Another film that needs no introduction, The Lion King, even though it was made in 1994, remains to this day one of Disney’s greatest spectacles. The Pan-African lovechild of Bambi and Hamlet, home to some of the greatest sequences ever animated and the catchiest tunes in Disney’s repertoire, and despite the number of cast members who had, or soon would have, theater pedigree, it was the last show anyone would expect to be successful on stage.

No one thought this was going to work, even with the visionary Julie Taymor’s involvement, they thought it would be like Beauty and the Beast before it: A theme park show with a bigger budget. Minds immediately changed, and its competitors in awards season that year became very nervous when it was shown to its first audience in Minneapolis. The show opened on Broadway on November 1997 and is still running 25 years later. It won the Tony the next year.

The Producers

the producers
via Embassy Pictures

One of Mel Brooks‘ best-known works is 1967’s The Producers. An incredibly and intentionally provocative piece about an accountant, a failing theatrical producer, and their scheme to make the worst stage production of all time so they can swindle money out of the patrons. In its time, it certainly received a mixed reception for apparently making light of rather recent tragedies. Today, despite being very made in the 1960s, it is heralded as a comedy classic today.

David Geffen, one of the founders of Dreamworks SKG, was the one to convince Brooks to bring The Producers to the stage, and as a love letter and parody of Broadway, the material was perfect for adaptation. So, along with director and choreographer Susan Strohman, they made an uproariously funny musical by modernizing the content and expanding the characters, which turned into a less successful film adaptation in 2005. It not only won the Tony Awards in 2001 but its greatness lead it to sweep trophies more than any other musical to date, winning a total of 12 awards that night.

Hairspray

 Hairspray 1988
Image via New Line Cinema

John Waters is one of the most well-known cult directors of all time, with his films such as Pink Flamingos being infamous for their provocative nature, so it makes sense that one of his more conventional films became his biggest mainstream success. 1988’s Hairspray is a raunchy teen comedy set in the swingin’ sixties, about not only the fight for integration between the races but about a plus-size girl who is finally given her moment to shine.

To make a good musical adaptation goes far beyond tacking the words « The Musical » to a well-liked, established piece of media. You need a property that really lends itself to the stage, and Hairspray, a teen story about identity and triumphing over bigotry, was a match so successful that it has been adapted twice. Once into a successful 2007 film, and again into a generally favorable live TV event in 2016. In the 2003 awards season, Hairspray won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Image via EMI Films

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, what a ridiculous, endlessly stupid little classic. Created by Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and the legendary Monty Python crew, it follows the misadventures of King Arthur and his knights of the round table in their quest for the fabled Holy Grail, while facing absurd and hilarious trials. It is widely regarded as one of the best British comedy films of all time, and it’s easy to see why.

The film took one potshot at the 1967 film Camelot, the other musical based on these classic tales but Spamalot, created by Python Eric Idle, is a full irreverent parody of the Arthurian Legends. Blending jokes together, expanding The Lady of the Lake, the only primary female character, and breaking the fourth wall wide open. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005.

Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot Jamie Bell

Despite the plot about a young boy finding his passion in ballet dancing, the 2000 film Billy Elliot has a fair amount of grit to it. Tinted with the ravages of Thatcher’s Britain and the miners’ strikes of 1984-85, it’s still an immensely uplifting story about subverting gender roles, empowering the working class, and triumphing through adversity, which made this film beloved enough to warrant an adaptation for the stage.

This musical was written by original screenwriter Lee Hall, with music by Elton John, and was a massive success both in the United Kingdom and the United States, enjoying two years of success on the West End, and even touring Australia, before reaching Broadway. The Thatcher-era dramedy really lent itself to the world of theater, and the consistent tours and successful live taping is a tribute to that. Billy Elliot: The Musical won every award under the sun, from the Olivier to the Helpmann awards, and 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Once

once-glen-hansard-marketa-irglova
Image via Buena Vista International

Once is a humble little movie, an Irish musical drama with a budget of only €112,000 following the almost-romance between a guitarist and a pianist in Dublin. It’s a bittersweet close call between two kindred souls who meet for an all too brief period before separating into their own lives. Along with a touching plot, it has some pretty sweet tunes under its belt, one of which, « Falling Slowly, » won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The transition from screen to stage with relatively smooth and incredibly successful. Despite the inevitable excess of Broadway, Once: The Musical still manages to maintain its rough-around-the-edges charm with a confined set and an on-stage orchestra. While the film was a modest success, the musical exploded, touring several countries, and of course, racking up the gold. It won a Grammy as well as 8 Tony Awards.

Kinky Boots

Chiwetel Ejiofor in Kinky Boots
Image Via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Kinky Boots is a Golden Globe-nominated movie that follows the true story of a struggling shoemaker who finds his salvation for both the business and the town in the drag scene. In this film about struggling to live up to parental expectations, and communities coming together, Tony Award-winning actor and writer Harvey Fierstein and musician Cyndi Lauper found their muse.

There are a few very recognizable names in the original Broadway cast of Kinky Boots, including the legendary Billy Porter of Pose, and Annaleigh Ashford who’s setting up to play Miss Lovett in the revival of Sweeney Todd. While it entered the 2012-2013 theater season as the underdog to the more critically well-received Matilda The Musical, the crowds seemed to love it for its catchy music and uplifting message. It won the Tony for Best Musical against Matilda, and Bring It On: The Musical.

The Band’s Visit

The Band's Visit movie
Image Via Sony Pictures Classics

The 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit is a film with a very simple setup that allows for a lot of great exploration of the characters and the world the writers have created. Due to a simple mix-up, an eight-piece Egyptian orchestra has found themselves in a nowhere town in Israel, rather than the city where they’re due to perform.

It was a long few years before another film-adapted musical won the gold in the Tonys, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, for legal reasons, is based on the book. The next to take home the trophy was the musical adaptation of this movie, written by Itamar Moses and David Yazbeck. This musical gives one such a sense of home and longing for companionship in its gorgeous score, and let it be no secret that this is this writer’s favorite of this list. The Band’s Visit won in a year of all screen adaptations, the other musicals in the running being Mean Girls: The Musical, Frozen, and Spongebob Squarepants.

Moulin Rouge!

Christian and Satine singing while lights shine in the backround in Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! A film that needs no introduction, was made in 2001 by icon of maximalist cinema Baz Luhrmann and starred Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. It’s a stylistic, high-octane, and deeply romantic musical that blends the loose storyline of La Traviata, the aesthetic of La Boheme, and a lot of great pop songs.

Luhrmann had ambitions to bring his work to the stage all the way back in 2002. The production started being workshopped in 2017 before its Broadway debut in 2019. The way they adapted this story was rather fascinating, they couldn’t get the rights to all the songs used in the movie, so new ones were created which gave the creators the ability to update the soundtrack to our time, and told the story as if it was the Moulin Rouge’s own production of the tragic tale. The musical’s success was unfortunately stunted by COVID-19, but once the pandemic settled down, Moulin Rouge! exploded, touring in several countries, and the pandemic didn’t stop them from winning the Tony for Best Musical.

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