Letting it Go? How Hollywood has Changed Broadway

Jordan Nickels

As one season ends, another one begins. The Tony Awards always drive buzz for next season’s upcoming shows. These announcements seem like movie trailers, Hollywood blockbusters even, as we are seeing more musicals based on many famous titles from American pop culture.

Spongebob Squarepants, Frozen, and Mean Girls are all making their Broadway debuts next year, along with bio-musicals from Cher and Jimmy Buffett. However, along with these announcements comes the debate, is Hollywood taking over Broadway?

Recognizable titles and familiar music bring in bigger audiences, especially people who you wouldn’t normally see at the theater, pressuring other lesser known musicals. With movies and jukebox musicals setting the bar high for incoming Broadway shows, many wonder where it leaves original work? I have heard the argument: “Why is everything an adaptation?” Well, when you think about it, aren’t most musicals adaptations?

Two of history’s most celebrated musicals, Show Boat and Oklahoma, were based on Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel Show Boat and Lynn Riggs' 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs respectively. My Fair Lady is based off the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Even The Sound of Music was based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. So, Show Boat and Spongebob, while over eighty years apart, were both based off of stories already made famous in pop culture during their respective eras.

When it comes to original content on Broadway, maybe the “Hollywood invasion” isn’t an issue. It’s the source material that has changed. Writers and producers are pulling more musicals from movies and television, more recognizable to the modern audience.

This season has been more diverse; musicals coming from the novel War and Peace, movie Groundhog Day, and more specific stories involving 9/11 and writer Benji Pasek’s high school experiences. However, all these creative teams have had great success and fluidity in the creation of these musicals.

While both seasons differ in their approaches to storytelling, neither are incorrect. Maybe we should focus more on the creative process, and less stigma on the source material itself.

While many were early critics of the Spongebob musical, including myself, the results became a hyper-realistic, pop-punk world that meshed well with the wackiness and humor of the cartoon. The creative team took an unusual approach to the score, giving several mainstream artists different sections of the script, to write songs as they relate to the scenes individually This gave Spongebob a unique score backed by artists of varying genres; including Cyndi Lauper, Yolanda Adams, and the late David Bowie.

We have seen Broadway change alongside American pop culture. We must accept that Hollywood is here to stay. But instead of being apprehensive, we can embrace change by continuing to hold these Hollywood musicals up to the artistic standards that Broadway prides itself in. Theatre evolves and we have to attempt to follow suit, but done in a way that our artistic integrity stays intact.


Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg hailing from Terre Haute, Indiana. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com Instagram: @jnickels