I've always rejected the notion that musicals are somehow "dumb versions of plays". I've heard this more than once. But what many people might not know, is that their favorite musicals were actually based on plays.
For instance, "Oklahoma!" was based on a play titled "Green Grow the Lilacs". "Cabaret" is actually based on the play "I Am a Camera".
So I started to wonder what more recent plays could become incredible musical adaptations. Here are some of them, along with composers who might be perfect for the job.
Hand to God by Robert Askins
Basic Synopsis: The good children of Cypress, Texas are taught to obey the Bible in order to evade Satan’s hand. But when students at the Christian Puppet Ministry put those teachings into practice, one devout young man’s puppet takes on a shocking personality that no one could have expected. In this hilarious and lightning-paced comedy, a foul-mouthed sock puppet named Tyrone soon teaches those around him that the urges that can drive a person to give in to their darkest desires fit like a glove.
Composers: Juliana Nash & Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad)
With a plot like this, this piece should have a haunting, edgy, indie-rock type of sound with of course some Gospel sprinkled in. Nash & Jordan have a knack for making the simple sound powerful and poignant which would work perfectly for this.
Enchanted April by Matthew Barber
Basic Synopsis: When two frustrated London housewives decide to rent a villa in Italy for a holiday away from their bleak marriages, they recruit two very different English women to share the cost and the experience. There, among the wisteria blossoms and Mediterranean sunshine, all four bloom again—rediscovering themselves in ways that they—and we—could never have expected.
Composer: Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza)
Ever since 2004, we've been waiting for Guettel's follow up to The Light in the Piazza. And while Enchanted April also takes place in Italy, a sweeping, period, classical sounding score would be a perfect match for it and there are very few composers today, who could do that better than Guettel.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Basic Synopsis: Angels in America is really two full-length plays. Part I: Millennium Approaches won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This play explores "the state of the nation"--the sexual, racial, religious, political and social issues confronting the country during the Reagan years, as the AIDS epidemic spreads.
Composers: Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then)
Just the thought of this gave me chills. I'm also technically cheating because something like this was already attempted, sort of. Angels in America – The Opera made its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, France, on November 23, 2004. The opera was based on both parts of the Angels in America fantasia, however, the script was re-worked and condensed to fit both parts into a two and half hour show.
A piece like this needs a writing team that knows how to enhance power and nuance through music and Kitt & Yorkey would be the perfect fit. As evidenced by their work on Next to Normal and If/Then, they could give Kushner's text exactly the right tone, irony, and melody.
Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff
Basic Synopsis: After three years in the Peace Corps, James, a young speech therapist, joins the faculty of a school for the deaf, where he is to teach lip-reading. He meets Sarah, a school dropout, totally deaf from birth, and estranged both from the world of hearing and from those who would compromise to enter that world. Fluent in sign language, James tries, with little success, to help Sarah, but gradually the two fall in love and marry. At first their relationship is a happy and glowing one, as the gulf of silence between them seems to be bridged by their desire to understand each other's needs and feelings, but discord soon develops as Sarah becomes militant for the rights of the deaf and rejects any hint that she is being patronized and pitied.
Composer: Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change, Violet, Fun Home)
I don't know what it is but this idea sounds amazing. I don't think there is a better composer today that can put the female mind to music better than Jeanine Tesori. Given the breathtaking work that Michael Arden and Deaf West Theatre did with Spring Awakening, I can only imagine how beautiful a piece like this could look like.
War Horse by Nick Stafford
Basic Synopsis: War Horse centers on the relationship between Albert, a teenager growing up on a farm in Devon, England, just before World War I, and his beloved half-thoroughbred horse, Joey. Albert’s family is poor, and his father raises cash by selling Joey to the cavalry as the war begins in 1914. Too young to enlist, Albert craves news of his horse, which was shipped to the battlefield in France. Three years later, Albert runs away to join the army, determined to find Joey and bring him home. Meanwhile, this smart and brave horse is pulled into service on both sides of the conflict before being left on his own in no-man’s-land, surrounded by trenches and barbed wire.
Composer: Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years)
A project like this would be interesting because Adam Sutton and Jason Tams already created some gorgeous music and songs for the original stage play. But add in Brown's signature style, this piece could be something special.