Students critique Broadway productions to movie adaptations

Movies adapted from Broadway musicals may make the story more accessible but can lose the “magic” of a live production. Photo courtesy of Stage Chat.

MADELEINE HALL | STAFF REPORTER | mghall1@butler.edu 

There is no denying that Broadway is not the most accessible to everyone. Expensive ticket prices, traveling to cities that are having shows and a global pandemic all make it difficult for productions to be seen by anybody. One way of making these shows more accessible has been movie adaptations of said productions. However, these films can leave out vital plot points and compromise the authentic theatre experience

Recently, there have been several musical to movie adaptations. Released in the summer of 2021, “In The Heights” hit theatres with glowing reviews which was a stark contrast to “Cats” and the backlash it received in 2019. The movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen” is coming out Sept. 24, and another “West Side Story” movie adaptation is set to be released at the end of the year.

Lauren Moreland, a junior criminology and psychology major, shared that movie adaptations of Broadway shows are a great way to provide accessibility but only if they are done properly.

“Specifically with musicals on the stage, you expect people to break out into song or big dance numbers any minute,” Moreland said. “I think the shows that are picked to adapt to film need to be ones that you can pull off in a film adaptation while keeping the story intact.”

Jana Dinkeloo, a sophomore vocal performance major also discussed the difference between how theatre productions look vastly different when presented as a movie. Both Dinkeloo and Moreland agreed that movie acting can cause these dance numbers to feel out of place.

“Musical theatre acting and movie acting are two very different styles of acting,” Dinkeloo said. “Movies tend to have a more subtle acting style, and so when you take a show like ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ where Ben Platt is crying and being very dramatic on stage and translate it into a movie – it takes away the emotion the audience feels.”

Dear Evan Hansen” is a 2015 Broadway musical that tells the story of a high school student with a social anxiety disorder who creates a fabricated relationship with a deceased student in order to become closer to the grieving family. As he is drawn deeper and deeper into the lie, he finally feels seen but is forced with the decision of continuing to revel in his newfound popularity or coming clean and losing everything he has ever wanted. 

Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award winner Ben Platt reprises his role as Evan Hansen in the film, and it s directed by acclaimed filmmaker Stephen Chbosky, who directed popular films such as “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” and “Wonder.” Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won a Tony for their work on the stage version of “Dear Evan Hansen” and are also well known for their musical movies “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” 

Cody Estep, a sophomore arts administration major, noted that the movie adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” changed the story by leaving out vital songs important to Evan Hansen’s character development.

“They cut the songs that villainized him so they’re almost trying to glorify this story where Evan does a really sh*tty thing, and so that bothers me because they’re almost changing the original content,” Estep said.

Moreland said taking away these songs perpetuated the idea that mental health was the excuse for the main character’s harmful behavior.

“It’s concerning when you’re bringing something to a larger audience, and then you’re taking everything away that lets you know everything the main character is doing isn’t okay,” Moreland said. “Then there’s this whole audience who may have not seen the full production on Broadway who thinks that the producers or writers of the story believe this is acceptable.”

These students were not alone in their criticisms of the new movie. After “Dear Evan Hansen” had its global premiere on Sept. 9, negative reviews came streaming in. From using mental illness as a plot device to disappointment regarding casting, it is clear that so far the movie has not been well received. 

Estep added that different expectations are put into place for viewers when they watch these adaptations from home on the screen.

“In movies, they force perspective so you have to watch the way that the camera’s facing, and one of my favorite parts of live theatre is watching the wings and watching people come in and watching the tech change and the lights change,” Estep said. “I think it’s much more interesting to get the whole picture because the magic of it is seeing all the individual ensemble members do their own characters.” 

This “magic” does not always completely translate simply because many of the tech aspects of theatre are not shown in a film. Some students such as Dinkeloo believe that there is a better way to get the entire production of a musical adapted into a movie.

“I think people often use the ‘trying to make Broadway more accessible’ excuse when they’re adapting a musical into a movie, but what honestly would be more accessible and would be better for people is a proshot,” Dinkeloo said. 

A professionally shot film or “proshot” is when a stage production is filmed live on stage. These recordings typically take place during a live show, with actors in full costume capturing scenes with various angles. Several musicals have taken this approach to reach wider audiences including “Hamilton” and “Newsies” which are streaming on Disney+, “Shrek The Musical,” available on Netflix and “Come From Away available on Apple TV+. 

Broadway movie adaptations change the medium the stories are presented through, causing plot points and the “magic” of live theatre to be lost along the way. While this is not true for every movie adaptation, it remains a constant issue.

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