The top 10 musicals based on movies… that aren’t

Earlier today, I received an email from an online PR company promoting ticket exchange website Viagogo. Tying in with the arrival into the West End of Flashdance – the Musical, the website polled its users to find the most popular movie based on a musical. (Polling users to generate PR? Who would go in for such a thing, really?)

Winning the poll was Legally Blonde. That pleases me, if only because I’m seeing it for the first time in a couple of weeks and am really encouraged by all the positive noises from friends who have seen it before, as well as public sentiments such as those expressed in the poll.

However, there were some curious decisions further down the list. Not least because two musicals in the top ten weren’t based on movies at all – quite the reverse: they were stage musicals later adapted for the silver screen. And one entry in the list has never been a movie in the first place, although a related film has used the same source material…

The full top 10, as provided by the PR company, was:

  1. Legally Blonde
  2. Dirty Dancing
  3. Grease
  4. Wicked
  5. Spamalot
  6. The Sound of Music
  7. Billy Elliot
  8. Mary Poppins
  9. Sister Act
  10. The Producers

So, Grease and The Sound of Music are erroneously described as musicals based on movies, when they were stage musicals first – Grease hit the stage in 1971, before becoming a film in 1978, while Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Nuns-and-Nazis romp debuted on Broadway in 1959, with the movie following in 1965.

On top of that, Wicked is based on Gregory Maguire’s book of the same name, which itself draws on the Oz novel series of L Frank Baum. Although it is set contemporaneously with the MGM musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz and the designs for the musical draw on that film’s iconic Technicolor visuals, it’s certainly not an adaptation of the film.

So that’s three out of ten that ought to have been disqualified from this poll. Which means that there are certainly some spaces available for musicals which have been based on films, but the poll has (for reasons unknown) ignored. Even excluding movie musicals which have since been restaged for live performance (e.g., Singin’ in the Rain) there are plenty to choose from.

How about The Lion King? Priscilla, Queen of the DesertSunset Boulevard? ShrekHairspray? Passion? Whistle Down the Wind (twice – once by Russell Labey, before Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman relocated the setting to America). Or my personal favourite, The Little Shop of Horrors – which, like Hairspray and The Producers since, started as a film, got reworked as a stage musical and then made the trip back to Hollywood.

There are plenty more – Wikipedia’s Musicals based on films category cites 103, although some are more debatable than others. And, after Flashdance arrives, the West End will soon also be playing host to the aforementioned Shrek and a new musical based on the Swayze/Moore/Goldberg vehicle Ghost.

While many such musicals are clearly not really all that great or memorable, I can’t help feeling Viagogo could have been a little more realistic – and accurate – in their choices.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.