The Most Unlikely Film-to-Musical Adaptations


We’ve always known Patrick Bateman was into Journey, but over the weekend we learned that the banker turned serial killer will be the protagonist of an American Psycho musical based on the the hit novel and its movie adaptation. It’s not exactly an obvious choice for the Broadway (or in this case, West End) treatment: will Bateman belt out a power ballad on the trials of scoring an 8:00 dinner reservation? Isn’t Sweeney Todd the end-all, be-all of dramatically scored murder sprees? Still, there have been stranger movies to be retrofitted for the stage, including a rumored transformation of Mean Girls. Here are the most head-scratching screen-to-stage adaptations of beloved movies, from A Clockwork Orange to Silence of the Lambs.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

One can’t talk about bizarre adaptation choices without bringing up the months-long debacle that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The premise sounds insane enough, pairing aging Irish rock legends Bono and The Edge with an iconic American superhero, but the execution pushed Turn Off the Dark into the realm of the surreal. Legendary director Julie Taymor quit before previews even began, rehearsals and performances were haunted by a string of stunt-related injuries, and broke records for being both the most expensive Broadway show in history and the most previewed, with 184 advance performances. Based largely on the plot of the first two Sam Raimi-directed Spiderman movies, it seems like Turn Off the Dark was just too ambitious of an adaptation to work.

Silence! The Musical

Unlike American Psycho, the creators of Silence! The Musical wisely opted to take a satirical approach to their adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs. Years before Kickstarter, six songs co-written by brothers Jon and Al Kaplan went viral enough to prompt a full-length musical parody that debuted at New York’s Fringe Festival in 2005. It was weird, it was risky, and it totally worked: the production, which features numbers such as “Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket” and “Are You About a Size 14?,” has racked up awards and enjoyed performances from London to Los Angeles as recently as last year. Looks like the tale of Clarice and Hannibal is compelling in any genre.

Grey Gardens

It’s not that Big Edie and Little Edie don’t seem like characters straight out of fiction in the first place — it’s just that if adapting one form of scripted drama into another is difficult, turning a documentary into a musical must have been damn near impossible. While the second half of the 2006 Off-Broadway show is a fairly straightforward take on the famous Albert and David Maysles film, showing the mother and daughter living in squalor at a decayed East Hampton estate, the first half is an original, completely speculative look at what their lives might have been like before they became shut-ins. Winning a whopping ten Tony awards in 2007, both the new plot and the new musical numbers were welcome addition to the sad, fascinating story of Jackie O’s two mysterious cousins.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The musical version of the film that made Audrey Hepburn an icon had everything going for it: a book by Edward Albee, a score by Bob Merrill, and none other than Mary Tyler Moore in the starring role. There’s even a famous musical number in the source material. But even “Moon River” wasn’t enough to make the 1966 stage musical happen. After a measly four preview performances, David Merrick not only shut the production down, but announced its failure publicly in the form of a New York Times ad informing audiences that the failed musical would have made for “an excruciatingly boring evening.” The world may never know what Holly and Fred’s romance would look like when set to song, but considering how odd a musical Breakfast at Tiffany’s sounds in the first place, that’s probably for the best.

A Clockwork Orange

Believe it or not, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess actually wanted his masterwork to be set to song. The writer wrote the book for a musical adaptation before he died in 1993, making its 50th anniversary stage debut in London a relatively simple affair. Despite the author’s posthumous endorsement, however, a musical version of A Clockwork Orange made little sense to most audiences: Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the dystopian novel, which contained graphic depictions of violence, rape, and psychological trauma, was controversial enough; a family-friendly genre like musical theater hardly seemed like the right place for a twisted morality tale about “ultra-violent” teenagers. Still, the production went off without a hitch, proving that 21st-century audiences may have more of a stomach for violence than Kubrick’s detractors.

Evil Dead: The Musical

Like the creators of Silence! The Musical, comedy writer George Reinblatt opted to take the comedic approach to adapting the horror trilogy that launched director Sam Raimi’s career. Debuted in Toronto in 2003, Reinblatt’s stage adaptation spins the story of five college students cooped up with a demon in the woods into a campy spoof of horror tropes. Apparently Reinblatt was onto something, since Joss Whedon did something similar with last year’s Cabin in the Woods, albeit without classic numbers like “What the Fuck Was That?” Best of all, the musical was composed and staged with Raimi’s complete approval. It’s too bad it’s the terrifying original and not the musical that got a cinematic remake this year; we’d love to see what Reinblatt would do with a bigger budget.


On the one hand, a silent film sounds like as difficult a source text for a musical as it’s going to get. On the other, total silence is the sonic equivalent of a blank canvas — perfect for working in epic ballads! Film 101 staple Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s Weimar-era science fiction dystopia, debuted at London’s Piccadilly Theater in 1989. Most of the characters’ names were anglicized, and the ending was completely altered, but the Metropolis musical largely does a good job of preserving the spirit of its source text, especially considering the radical change of medium. A tragic story about the exploitation of workers at the hands of greedy industrialists, Metropolis also resonates with post-2008 audiences, making its continued success (a Seattle production took place as recently as 2010) little surprise.

Reefer Madness

The humor in a 1930s-era propaganda film that aims to convince parents that weed will turn their children into delinquent sex-monsters seems to speak for itself, but Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney spun the self-important flick into a full-length musical comedy. Filled with murder, prostitution, addiction, and the gradual corruption of innocent young teenagers, Reefer Madness (the musical) tells a grossly overblown story of the downsides of marijuana that takes aim at the idyll of mid-century America and its irrational phobia of a substance that basically makes you sleep and eat a lot. Watch out for cameos by Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty herself.