A number of years ago on The Simpsons, the show featured a parody musical based on Planet of the Apes. (It was awesome.) While that animated parody almost certainly spelled doom for any real attempt to make a musical of that film (or films, if you consider the sequels and the remake), the fact is that science-fiction musicals are not a priori a terrible idea.
Yes, right now Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is flailing all over Broadway, but before that memorable mess there was Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Show (which is better known by the film title, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and the Tony-winning Urinetown. And there was also Young Frankenstein, which, while not a hit the size of of those previous plays, nevertheless had a decent run on Broadway and garnered three Tony nominations. So science-fiction musicals can be done — and can be hits — as long as they’re done right.
With that in mind (and excepting poor Planet of the Apes), here are my suggestions for five science-fiction films that I think could probably make the transition from the silver screen to the floodlit stage.
This hit 1985 film about senior citizens rejuvenated by alien contact is a natural for the stage. First, it’s character driven and tailor-made for hammy older actors. Second, the film itself already features at least one standout musical scene (i.e., Don Ameche break-dancing). Third, its story could be reasonably well contained to a stage: there are no runs down a Death Star trench, as it were. Finally, it’s a bittersweet meditation on life and mortality, which is right in the musical-theater sweet spot.
You don’t want small-scale musical theater? You want it big — really
big? Dune fits the bill here. It’s a galaxy-spanning epic that
involves war, politics, royal intrigue, murder, assassination, a young
man coming of age and avenging his father, and really large worms. This is, in point of fact, the Les Mis of potential science-fiction-film musicals and should be presented in that very same huge, bombastic, overblown fashion. Yes, some time ago I joked about the idea of Muad’Dib: The Musical, starring Hugh Jackman as Paul.
But you know what? It’s really not a horrible idea. Well, that particular title is. But a Dune musical? Done right, it could run for years.
The flip side to the Cocoon musical up above: the story here is about two people fleeing a civilization where
everyone’s young and beautiful and blown up the day they turn 30. Anyone
who’s seen the film remembers it as an example of everything
that was aesthetically horrifying about the seventies, but I think that it would be oddly compelling on the stage, especially if the
music also captured the disco era as well. The only question for the
producers would be how much camp to inject into the endeavor. In this,
they may wish to have the recent musical production of Xanadu as their guide.
Men in Black
Will Smith’s Grammy-winning theme song to the 1997 film shows the way here. Take this buddy comedy, get some topflight puppeteers for the aliens, and load the play from top to bottom with rap, soul, and New Jack Swing. It’s really hard to see how this one could miss. In fact, the only
reason for this not to get made right away is
that Will Smith is holding out until his son Jaden is old
enough to play the Agent J role. Won’t be that long now.
The Truman Show
The idea of cameras following around an
unsuspecting subject 24 hours a day seemed only slightly outlandish in
1998, when the film came out, and seems merely prescient today, just thirteen years later. But the story itself — about a man’s growing awareness that his
world isn’t what he thought it was and his attempts to free himself and
discover the truth — is eminently adaptable to the stage, which, as an artificial world designed
to mimic the real one, adds an
extra layer of meta right there. Lots of opportunities to break the
fourth wall and play with the format.
And if someone does read
this and make these into musicals, remember to send me two tickets
to opening night. Orchestra seating, please. I thank you in advance.