My essay in the July issue of Commentary is about what I have dubbed the “commodity musical,” a phenomenon of which I take a very dark view:
Ten new musicals opened on Broadway in the 2013–14 season. Four of them—Aladdin, Big Fish, Bullets Over Broadway, and Rocky—were directly adapted from familiar American movies and shared their titles. Two others, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and The Bridges of Madison County, were based on novels that had already inspired a pair of well-known films. And two of the four medium-sized musicals that opened off Broadway, Far from Heaven and Little Miss Sunshine, were also based on movies of the same name.
This was no anomaly. Of the 12 shows to be nominated for best-musical Tony Awards in 2011, 2012, and 2013, six were adapted from movies whose titles they shared. With few exceptions, they closely resembled the films after which they were named, most of which were either box-office hits or less popular films such as A Christmas Story and Newsies that had acquired followings after they were shown on TV or released on home video.
The most distinctive feature of these musicals is that they usually treat their source material not as a springboard for fresh, creative endeavor but as an exploitable economic commodity that can be “repurposed” for further profit. A few years ago, I started using the phrase “commodity musical” to describe them. The genre has established itself as the most significant development in the Broadway musical form since Stephen Sondheim started writing his own scores. What is it that makes these shows so popular—and what effect is their popularity having on the American musical?…
Read the whole thing here.