Mel Brooks was persuaded by producer David Geffen to revisit his classic comedy film about a scheme to produce a guaranteed Broadway flop, and bring the concept to Broadway as a musical. Although there were some changes in characterization and other plot details, the stage version remained fairly faithful to the film. The main difference was in tone, with the musical remaining largely upbeat, in comparison to the dark comedy of the film.
The original Broadway production was a smash success, running for six years (2001-2007) and 2,500 performances. Co-stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick helped elevate the show to record single-day grosses that reached as high as $3.5 million. The show would also set a new bar at the Tony Awards, winning 12 awards. This broke a 37-year old record for most Tony wins that had been held by “Hello, Dolly!” (10 wins).
Fiddler on the Roof
Originally opening in 1964, “Fiddler” became the first Broadway musical to surpass 3,000 performances, eventually closing in 1972 with 3,242 performances. It held the record for longest running musical for nearly ten years, eventually surpassed by “Grease”. The original West End production was also successful, running for over 2,000 performances.
In addition to a Tony Award for Best Musical, the show won eight of the nine other awards it was nominated for, including Zero Mostel’s win as Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. The show has remained popular ever since, receiving numerous Broadway and West End revivals.
The 1971 film version was also quite successful, and is notable for following the stage version’s plot and dialogue very closely. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Song Score Adaptation. This was the first Oscar win for John Williams, who has since become one of the most popular and successful film composers of all time.
Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil
This musical about a doomed romance between an American GI and Vietnamese bar girl is actually an adaptation of Puccini’s popular opera, “Madame Butterfly”. Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil updated the concept, relocating the main setting from 1900s Japan to 1970s Vietnam.
Both major productions were massive successes. The original West End production ran for just over ten years (1989-1999) and 4,264 performances, later embarking on a tour of major British theatres for over two years. The Broadway version, which included key members from the West End production, also enjoyed a decade of success (1991-2001) and 4,092 performances.
This extremely popular twist on L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, and the classic film adaptation “The Wizard of Oz”, endeavored to present a look a good, evil, and the motivations that prompt actions previously thought to be understood by audiences. Stephen Schwartz led the effort to create the musical, based on the premise of the 1995 novel of the same name. After tweaks and rewrites following a tryout in San Francisco, the production premiered on Broadway in 2003.
With an original cast that included Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Joel Grey, the show proved to be a massive success with audiences, in spite of a divided critical response. The original production is still active, with over 4,400 performances to date. The show recently celebrated its tenth anniversary during the 2014 Tony Awards. The enduring popularity of this show has led to numerous other productions, including two concurrent American tours (both still active), a hit West End version, and foreign language adaptations across the globe.
The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Webber’s blockbuster musical debuted on Broadway in January, 1988, about 15 months after its West End premiere. Both productions are still running today, each amassing over 10,000 performances. All together, the various versions of “Phantom” have brought in over $5 billion. This easily makes it the highest grossing entertainment event of all time, outpacing top-grossing films such as “Gone With the Wind”, “Avatar”, and “Star Wars”.
Webber had been looking to write for a romantic story for some time, and he found his inspiration after revisiting the original novel of “Phantom”, which had been out of print for many years. Although his score largely stayed within the structures of a musical, he did include fragments of operatic passages for the ‘show within the show’.
Webber has been criticized for allegedly plagiarizing music in composing “Phantom”. This included a lawsuit by the heirs of Puccini (settled out of court). Also, the signature descending/ascending progression of the title tune is alleged to have come from a recurring bass guitar riff in the Pink Floyd song “Echoes”, from 1971. Former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters has declined to pursue legal action (citing that “Life’s too long to bother…”), but did refer to Webber in his 1992 song “It’s a Miracle”.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera approach to the traditional passion play began its life as a recorded album, released in 1970, featuring Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan in the role of Jesus. Following the success of this album and a series of concert performances, the concept received a Broadway production in 1971, running for about 18 months and 711 performances. This production received a mixed response, including harsh criticism from Lloyd Webber.
The show elicited controversy, unsurprisingly, for content and depictions that were deemed blasphemous and sacrilegious in some circles. Tim Rice said at the time, “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” This, along with a characterization of Judas that was considered too sympathetic, contributed to the show being banned in several countries.
A West End production began in 1972, and this proved far more popular and successful than the Broadway version, running for eight years. This made it the longest-running West End musical at the time, a record that has since been surpassed by fourteen other productions. A film version was produced in 1973, directed by Norman Jewison in similar on-location fashion to his earlier production of “Fiddler on the Roof”. The film enjoyed modest success and positive reception and has remained popular in the decades since its release.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Several attempts to create a musical based on the classic 1950 film have occurred over the years. Stephen Sondheim worked on his own version in the early 1960s. Sondheim encountered the film’s director, Billy Wilder, who believed that it would only work as a true opera. Sondheim immediately ceased his effort. Webber was first interested in the 1970s, after he first saw the film. He did no other work, however, until 1990. The show went through numerous revisions as it developed, but eventually was fairly well received by critics and audiences.
Aspects of Love
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Charles Hart
This adaptation of a 1955 novella of the same name explored a variety of romantic entanglements, as well as the love shared between children and their parents, over a period of seventeen years (the ‘aspects’ of love). Lloyd Webber and Rice were initially asked to write songs for a planned film adaptation, but the film never came to fruition. Instead, after setting the material aside for several years, they expanded the work into a stage adaptation.
The initial West End production debuted in 1989, running for 1,325 performances. Former James Bond actor Roger Moore was set to star in the show, but pulled out two weeks before the premiere, later admitting an inability to handle the demands of the singing. A Broadway version arrived a year later, however this proved to be a failure, closing after just 377 performances. It lost its entire $8 million investment, earned nearly unanimous negative reviews, and became, at the time, “the greatest flop in Broadway history.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Like “Jesus Christ Superstar”, this Lloyd Webber/Rice collaboration, chronicling the life of Argentinian politician Eva Perón, began its life as a rock opera album in 1976. Lloyd Webber composed in a variety of styles, including traditional European orchestrations, Latin rhythms, rock music, and ballads.
The success of this record led to the first West End production in 1978, which would run for nearly eight years and 3,176 performances. The original Broadway production opened in 1979, running for nearly four years and 1,567 performances. At the 1980 Tony Awards, it earned the distinction of becoming the first British musical to win for Best Musical. Many touring and localized versions followed, in addition to the popular 1996 film adaptation, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.