To Screen or Not To Screen

By Izhaan Ahmed

2021 has had a good number of planned and released movie adaptations for Broadway musicals. This newfound prevalence of musical film adaptations provokes controversy over whether the theater experience or the movie medium is superior.

Artwork by Debarati Chowdhury

Popular musicals transform into a new life with their movie adaptations.

“I think they’re both distinct mediums that will inevitably present the same material differently. If people expect one version to be exactly like the other, they’ll be sorely disappointed. Treating every project as an individual piece of media is the only way to appreciate anything coming after an original, in my opinion. All that being said, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ [the movie adaptation] isn’t really redeemable as an adaptation of a musical or as a movie in itself, mostly because it neglects a lot of the characters’ facets and feels very incomplete. The movie seems to revolve around Evan, while somehow never actually holding him accountable for the morally grey things he does, at least not in the same way the musical does, and cuts out many of the songs that develop the other characters,” said junior Ishita Bansal.

The new movie adaptation for “Dear Evan Hansen” has been declared by fans and critics alike to have had a miscast lead role. Despite other highly acclaimed actors contributing greatly to the quality of the movie, it received mixed reviews in great part due to a 28-year old Ben Platt playing the role of a teenager. The debut of the movie underperformed in the box office by over $1 million.

“I haven’t necessarily watched it, but I have heard very good things about it and how its soundtrack stayed true to the musical. The musical itself was very moving and heart touching, although it’s a little absurd that Ben Platt is playing Evan, a teenage boy, even though the actor is now well into his thirties,” said junior Ashwathi Chemban.

A film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” was released earlier this year. The original musical was performed on Broadway in 2009 and was Miranda’s breakout moment in the musical industry. It was arguably more important in its ability to represent the Latin-American community on the stage, comparative to “RENT’s” depiction of the struggles in the LGBT community on Broadway in 1996, a time when discrimination against the community went almost wholly neglected. Despite its abysmal box office performance, the musical received rave reviews from critics, praising the movie for its uber realistic cinematography on the streets of Washington Heights, as well as its exemplary depictions of the script’s themes of resilience and ambition.

“West Side Story” is a classic, first appearing on Broadway in 1957, and depicting a variation of "Romeo and Juliet" that involves a rivalry between two street gangs. Much like “In The Heights,” the musical partially helped to cultivate much needed representation for Hispanic community into the Broadway theater. The musical also quickly birthed its own adaptation just four years later in 1961. A second film adaptation, directed by Steven Spielberg, was planned for release last year, but delayed to the point that it still has yet to be released. Despite this, the movie is anticipated to be subject to critical acclaim. The original lyricist for the musical, a now 91-year old Stephen Sondheim, had access to an early version of the movie and had expressed the belief that the new adaptation is superior to the version cultivated 60 years ago.

Whether these musical movie adaptations are worth producing or not, viewers and students of NHP are interested to see more of what directors decide to do with more popular musicals.