From The Great Gatsby to The Wild Party: When Musicals Share the Same Source Material | Playbill

Special Features From The Great Gatsby to The Wild Party: When Musicals Share the Same Source Material

Did you know there are multiple Phantom of the Opera musicals? It's more common than you think for musicals to share the same subject matter.

Sometimes a story is just too irresistible to not adapt it into a musical. Whether it is because the characters feel uniquely moving or the core of the story feels like it could seamlessly lend to song and dance, something sparks creators into using an existing story as their source material for crafting a musical that feels brand new. But what happens when another creator has the same idea?

From some creators unknowingly developing musicals based on the same story—sometimes at the exact same time—to artists being so inspired by a story that they want to make their own musical adaptation (regardless if another already exist), rival adaptations of Broadway musicals are less of an anomaly than you might think. In fact, there are far too many to mention in a single article. 

Below are 10 examples of rivaling musicals that have kept the musical theatre game interesting.

Brian d'Arcy James and Julia Murney in The Wild Party / Toni Collette and Yancey Arias in The Wild Party

The Wild Party: Lippa vs. LaChiusa

Composers Andrew Lippa and Michael John LaChiusa were simultaneously developing musicals based on the same story in the mid '90s—but neither of them knew it at the time. Lippa and LaChiusa’s musical adaptations of The Wild Party were based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, which had made a resurgence in the public eye when it was reissued as a new edition illustrated by Art Spiegelman in 1994.

The Wild Party was public domain at that point so it was unnecessary for either composer to negotiate for rights and thus discover that they had the same idea. It was not until both shows were announced for the 1999–2000 New York theatre season that people started putting two and two together. Talk about a stir!

LaChiusa’s musical starred renowned actors Toni Colette, Mandy Pantinkin, and Eartha Kitt. Lippa’s musical had Taye Diggs, Julia Murney, Brian D’Arcy James, and Idina Menzel. Unfortunately, neither productions piqued the interest of theatregoers. In the end, LaChiusa’s musical made it to Broadway, but quickly closed after 68 performances. Lippa’s musical played 54 performances Off-Broadway before it folded.

Regardless, both versions of The Wild Party continue to live on through their respective cast recordings, as well as in numerous regional and collegiate theatre productions. But most interestingly, the battle of The Wild Partys serves as a compelling case study of just how different artists can tell dissimilar versions of the same story.

Lippa mixed modern and period-era styles of music in his musical, while LaChiusa’s music is a more cohesive pastiche of the 1920s. LaChiusa’s The Wild Party is largely ensemble focused, giving more meat to March’s vast array of minor characters in the story, whilst Lippa narrows in on the intimate interactions among the four central characters in his version. Many consider LaChiusa’s musical adaptation to be more artfully intelligent and avant-garde. Others find Lippa’s The Wild Party more accessible with its adversely melodic tone and classically emotional dramatic structure. Nearly 25 years later, theatre fans continue to debate which version of The Wild Party is superior. 

And next year, you can decide for yourself which version of the show is your favorite when New York City Center Encores! brings back LaChiusa’s The Wild Party (they had previously produced Lippa's version in 2015). 

Company of The Wizard of Oz Marc Brenner

Musical Adaptations of The Wizard of Oz

Some of the most notable musicals in theatre history are adapted from L. Frank Baum’s famous 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The most well-known adaptations are the MGM’s 1939 musical film The Wizard of Oz, the long-running hit Wicked, and the AfrofuturistThe Wiz. But we won't be talking about those (we already did here). Instead, we're exploring the numerous other musical versions of Dorothy's journey in Oz. 

Contrary to popular belief, the famous MGM film starring Judy Garland was not the first musical adaptation of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In fact, Baum himself was involved in the making of his story’s first musical adaptation, which hit the main stage just two years after his novel was released to the public. The 1902 Wizard of Oz was a musical extravaganza about Dorothy and her journey to the magical land of Oz, but it bears almost no comparison to the 1939 film version. The Cowardly Lion is a minor role in the story, and the Wicked Witch of the West is only mentioned, never seen. Even Dorothy’s little dog, Toto, was originally a cow named Imogene.

Following The Wizard of Oz’s successful opening in 1902 at Chicago Grand Opera House, the production went on to tour the Midwest before eventually making its way to Broadway, where it ran for 171 performances. Though it has been largely forgotten since it stopped touring in 1911, it paved the way for many yellow brick roads to follow.

Other notable adaptations that marry Baum’s novel and the famous 1939 musical film are the 1942 The Wizard of Oz commissioned by The MUNY theatre, and the 1987 version by the same name produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Both musicals use the songs from the MGM film—though the MUNY version is more faithful to the narrative and characters of Baum’s novel, whereas the structure of the RSC version more closely follows the film.

The 2011 version of The Wizard of Oz—which also contains the songs and story of the film, but features additional original music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice—took Dorothy’s iconic line “There’s no place like home” to the next level. Before premiering in the West End, audiences were able to get a sneak peek into the casting of ALW’s The Wizard of Oz on TV from the comfort of their own homes via a BBC talent competition show called Over the Rainbow. Who knew that dozens of gingham-dressed Dorothys competing to wear the sparkling ruby slippers could make such good reality TV?

Gatsby: An American Myth / Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby vs. Gatsby: An American Myth

Hey, old sport. Have you noticed how many musical adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby have been appearing on the scene as of late? We certainly have! Since The Great Gatsby officially entered the public domain in 2021, artists have had total creative freedom to conceptualize their own versions of this classic Jazz Age story.

There had been play adaptations of Gatsby before, including the 1926 Broadway play (which ran for four months). The most ambitious staging has been Elevator Repair Service’s 6.5 hour-long-show Gatz—a word-for-word staging of Fitzgerald’s entire novel—which has been in performance since 2005 (and will return Off-Broadway to the Public Theater this fall).

But 2023–24 season gave birth to two Gatsby musicals. The first is The Great Gatsby—with music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, and a book by Kait Kerrigan—which received its world premiere at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse last fall. The show transferred to Broadway in the spring, starring Jeremy Jordan, Eva Noblezada, and Noah J. Ricketts. The score blends period jazz and contemporary pop music, pulling some of the most famous phrases from the novel for its lyrics in songs like “My Green Light” and “Beautiful Little Fool.” With its big company dance numbers, flashy costumes, illustrious set projections, and life-size 1920s-style cars, the The Great Gatsby has been marketed to audiences as a love story and a spectacle for the eyes.

At the same time, another adaptation—Gatsby: An American Myth—has been in the works. It features music by Thomas Bartlett and Florence + The Machine’s Florence Welch, a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok, choreography by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh, and direction by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin. Since Gatsby: An American Myth only recently began its world premiere at Massachusetts’ American Repertory Theatre, with Broadway in its sights, not much is known about the new musical yet. But in an interview with the Boston Globe, Chavkin promised that the new musical will focus less on razzle dazzle: "Everyone has this idea that the novel is about the decadence and debauchery of the 1920s. But, no, the novel is critiquing that. Fitzgerald himself always felt out of place, like he was the poor kid at Princeton and an outsider to the American Dream. The novel is about both the beauty—and the pain—of that aspiration.”

Cinderella vs Cinderella 

Fairy tales are common sources for musical inspiration, and Cinderella in particular is a popular blueprint. One of the oldest musically-inspired adaptations of the classic tale is Jules Massenet’s 1899 French opera Cendrillon. Although it is not a musical, Massenet’s opera is worth being mentioned because it was likely one of the first versions of Cinderella to hit the New York stage. After its New York City debut with a touring opera company in 1912, musical adaptations of Cinderella exploded onto the scene in the years that followed.

The next stage version of Cinderella was not really even about Cinderella. It was a 1928 musical called Mr. Cinders that inverted the original fairy tale by reversing the gender roles. In the flapper era centered Mr. Cinders—with music by Vivian Ellis and Richard Myers, and a libretto by Clifford Grey and Greatrex Newman—the title character is a poor working-class man, while Prince Charming is swapped for a wealthy heiress. All this is to show just how early on artists took creative liberties in adapting this famous story.

Disney’s 1950 animated film Cinderella is likely the most far-reaching musical adaptation, with beloved songs like “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo." Though Disney's Cinderella has not been adapted for the stage, yet.

The first major Broadway composers to touch Cinderella was Rodgers and Hammerstein, who wrote a 1957 TV movie starring Julie Andrews. R&H's Cinderella has had two film remakes—one in 1965 featuring Lesley Ann Warren and Ginger Rogers, and another in 1997 starring Brandy Norwood, Whitney Houston, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Victor Garber. The show finally made it to Broadway in 2013, playing 810 performances at the Broadway Theatre, starring Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana, and Victoria Clark.

Other musical adaptations of Cinderella include the 1964 Off-Broadway show Cindy, the 2004 Anne Hathaway-led musical film Ella Enchanted, the 2021 pop musical film Cinderella starring Camila Cabello, and Broadway’s most recent adaptation—Bad Cinderella composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

There are some less-direct musical adaptations of Cinderella. Stephen Sondheim features Cinderella in Into the Woods. Cinderella is also featured in the ensemble of princesses in the 2022 Britney Spears musical Once Upon A One More Time

Angelo Del Vecchio in Notre Dame de Paris / Michael Arden in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Vs. Notre-Dame de Paris

In 2014, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical—which blends the 1996 Disney animated film of the same name and Victor Hugo’s original 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris—premiered at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse. The musical had actually premiered in 1999 in Berlin, originally produced in German under the translated name Der Glöckner von Notre Dame—where it ran for three yearsDespite its success in Germany, the stage musical was essentially put to bed until its 2014 English-language version made a comeback in the U.S.

The 2014 version featured Tony winner Michael Arden as Quasimodo, Ciara Renée as Esmeralda, and Patrick Page as Claude Frollo, as well as a revised book by Peter Parnell. Menken and Schwartz’s spectacular score keeps the choral-influenced music of the Disney film, but repurposes it to match the darker color and tone of Hugo’s novel. The production’s initial success allowed it to transfer to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse the following year. But, unfortunately, that is as close to Broadway the production got. Nonetheless, The Hunchback of Notre Dame has gained mass popularity, having had many significant regional and international production runs since then.

But, there is a musical adaptation of Hugo’s story—a French musical called Notre-Dame de Paris—that emerged in Europe just ahead of the Menken-Schwartz musical. Notre-Dame de Paris, composed by Riccardo Cocciante with lyrics by Luc Plamondon, is a fully sung-through musical with a storyline and characters that more directly align with Hugo’s novel.

Since its debut in Paris in 1998, the musical has become one of the most internationally successful musicals of all time. Over the past 25 years, the show has played professionally in France, Canada, China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Lebanon, Turkey, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It has been translated into eight different languages, and has produced 15 cast recordings–not including instrumental albums, singles, and video recordings. If you're keen to experience a musical version of Hunchback, you're in luck, a full pro-shot of Notre-Dame de Paris can be found on Youtube.

The Phantom of the Opera Vs. Phantom

With a story about a beautiful soprano who becomes captivated by a mysterious, masked musician, it is no wonder that French author Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera has become the source material for countless dramatic adaptations, including numerous films. Perhaps the most famous adaptation is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera. Originally opening in London’s West End before becoming a Broadway mainstay at the Majestic Theatre from 1988 until 2023, the show remains Broadway’s longest-running musical at 13,997 performances. It still runs in the West End to this date, a testament to the longevity of the music of the night (and it's even inspired a sequel musical called Love Never Dies).

Though Lloyd Webber's Phantom is well-known in popular culture, the truest of theatre fans are also aware of  Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s musical Phantom, which came out around the same time as Lloyd Webber. 

Even before either production hit the main stage, the American duo were at a bit of a disadvantage compared to Lloyd Webber from the get-go. While the creators were developing their respective versions of Leroux’s story, the novel was public domain in Europe but still under copyright in the United States. British producer Ken Hill was also reviving his 1976 musical adaptation Phantom of the Opera in England in 1984, which presented another hurdle. Still, Yeston and Kopit did not consider it much of a threat, since their musical was aimed for Broadway. Alas, it was never to be. 

The real nail in the coffin was when Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera became an overnight sensation in London in 1986. After Lloyd Webber announced his musical’s transfer to Broadway, Yeston and Kopit’s Broadway investors backed out. The pair reluctantly shelved their musical and, for a period of time, went their separate ways.

When Yeston saw Lloyd Webber’s musical on the Main Stem, he discovered that their respective adaptations of Leroux’s novel were fundamentally different. Yeston and Kopit's Phantom suited the style of the 1890s period in which the novel is set, with a score that is more operetta-like in style compared to Lloyd Webber’s classical-contemporary fusion rock opera. It also dives deeper into exploring the Phantom’s past and his relationship with head of the Opera House Gérard Carière. Phantom does not feature the character of Raoul at all, whereas Raoul and the love triangle between him, Christine and the Phantom is a major plot point in Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

So, Yeston and Kopit reunited to finish the work they had started and were able to recoup the funds they needed to produce their adaptation. Phantom had its world premiere in 1991 at Houston, Texas’ Theatre Under the Stars. Although it has largely been overshadowed by Lloyd Webber’s smash-hit, Yeston-Kopit's musical has received over 1,000 productions worldwide showing that there's plenty of love for Phantoms for both musicals.

Titanic: The Musical and Titaníque

Titanic Vs. Titaníque

Another musical composed by Maury Yeston, with a book by Peter Stone, is the 1997 musical Titanic—which will be revived next month as the final production of New York City Center’s 2024 Encores! Series. Based on the historical sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the content and characters of Titanic the musical have no connection to James Cameron’s Oscar-winning motion picture (which coincidentally came out the same year as the musical).

The original Broadway production of Titanic—featuring a cast of renowned theatrical talent, including Michael Cerveris, Victoria Clark, Danny Burstein, and Brian D’Arcy James—played the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for 804 performances and won 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. But that was only the tip of the iceberg for Yeston’s musical, which went on to tour the U.S. and the U.K., in addition to being presented in multiple regional and professional international productions.

The 2017 musical Titanique: Une Parodie Musicale, on the other hand, steered its ship in a totally different direction. Featuring the hits of Céline Dion, who famously sings “My Heart Will Go On” as the theme in the film Titanic, this jukebox musical parody is an adaptation of Cameron’s film…with a twist. With a book written by Tye Blue, Marla Mindelle, and Constantine Rousouli, Titaníque tells the (hilariously) tragic love story of Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, through the eyes of Dion who absurdly was on the ship of dreams. The show originally premiered in Los Angeles in 2017, and eventually set sail across the country to make its New York City debut Off-Broadway in 2022 where it won the 2023 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, among others.

Currently playing the Daryl Roth Theatre, Titaníque offers an experience full of comical-ized Titanic film references, pop culture gags, dance-your-socks-off performances, and good-time fun. And with future professional productions of the musical scheduled to open in Canada and London’s West End later this year, Titaníque is not planning on anchoring any time soon.

Glenn Close and Michael Xavier

Sunset Boulevard: Andrew Lloyd Webber Vs. Gloria Swanson

When one hears of dueling Sunset Boulevard, fans think of when Patti LuPone and Glenn Close both played Norma Desmond at the same time in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical—which opened in the West End in 1993 and then on Broadway in 1994. But actually, there is another version of Sunset Boulevard that predated Lloyd Webber's.

Based on the 1950 Billy Wilder-directed film of the same title about an aging movie star trying to make a comeback, a musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard was in the works long before the idea ever crossed Lloyd Webber’s mind. One by Norma Desmond herself!

From around 1952 to 1956, Gloria Swanson—who played Norma Desmond in the original 1950 film—was in collaboration with actor Richard Stapley (or Richard Wyler by stage name) and singer-pianist Dickson Hughes to adapt the film into a musical. Their version, titled Starring Norma Desmond, then Boulevard!, ended on a much lighter note than both Wilder’s film and Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation. Spoiler alert: Everyone survives and they all live happily ever after! But the fate of the musical itself did not have such a happy ending.

Initially, Paramount Pictures had given Swanson verbal permission to adapt the film into a musical, but there had been no formal legal agreement in place. In 1957, Paramount demanded that Swanson cease working on the musical, believing that the show would cheapen the film in the eyes of the public. So, Swanson’s version sadly never came to fruition on stage. However, a recording of the musical’s entire score sung by Swanson was released in 2008 on an album called Boulevard!, allowing the musical to live on for the ears of those who choose to listen.

As for Lloyd Webber's version, it enjoyed 369 performances on Broadway (starring Glenn Close) and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard has been revived and toured across the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as internationally, countless times. There are now three major revival productions of the musical: a 2024 Olivier-winning production in London; a Sarah Brightman-led production in Melbourne, Australia; and a New York revival starring Nicole Scherzinger beginning this fall. This show has seen so much stage time since its debut, it is almost “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”

Ben Crawford, Emma Pfaeffle, Kathy Fitzgerald, F. Michael Haynie, Alan H. Green, Christian Borle, Trista Dollison, John Rubinstein, Ryan Foust, Jackie Hoffman, and Michael Wartella Joan Marcus

Willy Wonka Vs. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been adapted many times over. From the original 1971 musical film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, to the 2005 Johnny Depp-led Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to the recent 2023 prequel film Wonka starring Timothée Chalamet, the world has been made well aware of the singing candy man in the top hat and purple velvet coat. But the story about young Charlie Bucket and his golden ticket adventure inside the chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka also inspired some prominent stage musicals.

After the release of the 1971 film, music collaborators Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and book writer Timothy Allen McDonald received permission from the Dahl estate to produce a theatrical musical, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. Simply referred to as Willy Wonka, it featured the songs from the film (like “Pure Imagination”) and original songs. Created with students and amateur performers in mind, Willy Wonka has never gone to Broadway but it is a staple in community theatres.

The 2013 musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, however, was created with the Great White Way in mind. With music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and a book by David Greig, the more recent musical is a modernized adaptation of Dahl’s original story, yet holds true to the dark (chocolate) undertones of Dahl’s novel. Directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes, the production premiered in the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane and was immediately a hit, running for over three years.

In 2017, a reworked version headed by Christian Borle transferred to Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was less successful in New York, playing just nine months. But the show has toured the United States and globally after, which is still pretty sweet!

Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee in Some Like It Hot Marc J. Franklin

Some Like It Hot Vs. Sugar

Tony winner Christian Borle was in another rivaling musical after Broadway’s Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. But in this show, instead of chocolate, he fell in love with a woman named Sugar.

The 2022 Broadway musical comedy Some Like It Hot—also with music and lyrics by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory creatives Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, as well as a book by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin—starred Christian Borle, Adrianna Hicks, and J. Harrison Ghee (who became one of the first openly non-binary actors to be nominated and win a Tony Award).

Based on the 1959 film by the same name, Some Like It Hot the musical is about two musicians who witness a mob hit while playing at a Prohibition-era speakeasy in Chicago, and disguise themselves as women to escape the city. 

Few people who saw the recent Some Like It Hot would have seen an earlier musical adaptation of the same film. The 1972 musical Sugar—featuring music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and a book by Peter Stone—essentially tells the same story. The original Broadway production starred Elaine Joyce, Robert Morse, and Tony Roberts, and played for over a year at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre. Sugar went on to have two national tours, a West End revival, and international productions in Europe, South America, and Mexico. 

Now that Some Like It Hot has closed on Broadway and is available for licensing, it remains to be seen which musical comedy in this showdown will rein supreme.

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