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King is the crowning achievement (pun intended) of this process. The Lion King is still
Sixth Row on the Aisle
the same story, with much of the same music and spoken lines, but add to the equation
the brilliant design of Julie Taymour and you have created a marvelous spectacle with
Theatre Criticism and Commentary
strong artistic integrity. What a good bet for investors! Unfortunately, it isn’t a science,

and some of Disney’s endeavors have not done as well (ahem, Tarzan). This model of
Elizabeth Bojsza
adaptation is also being used by DreamWorks with their recent addition of Shrek: The
Musical to Broadway, and by the producers of Monty Python’s Spamalot, based on their
hilarious movie, “Monty Python And The Holy Grail”.
From the Page to the Stage
The Impulse to Adapt
and the Stage to the Stage:
But it isn’t all about the money. There is an impulse within all of us to tell, and
re-tell, stories. Joseph Campbell’s book on comparative mythology, A Hero with a
Examining Adaptations in Theatre Thousand Faces, reminds us of the universal power of stories to resonate across time
By Elizabeth Bojsza and cultures. (Frank Herbert’s Dune, the movie “The Matrix”, and the New Testament
all have the same basic plot line). West Side Story is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet,
A quick quiz for you: Which of the following plays/musicals are adaptations? which didn’t just spring from Shakespeare’s imagination. On the contrary, he was also
a. My Fair Lady a good one for adapting stories (and arguably telling them better). And so we go on,
b. Kiss Me, Kate telling and retelling the same archetypal stories.
c. West Side Story This impulse to retell stories and adapt them comes from a desire to connect to
d. Rent them. I have been thinking about this a lot in my work as a dramaturg with America-
e. Cats In-Play, a group under the leadership of Lynn Thomson which creates a conversation
between a group of playwrights and a significant work of Early-American Drama. In
Answer: All of the above! In fact, a significant percentage of the musicals on the adaptations in development, the playwrights are guided through creative response to
Broadway are adaptations, meaning they were molded from some other antecedent the original work, first by deconstructing the original text through an exercise in paring
form. (Another large portion is comprised of revivals, but that may be the focus of down the original script, and then in building their own work on top of the exposed
another article). Once one recognizes this trend towards adaptation, it begs the ques- skeleton of the plot. It is fascinating to look at works of art, and theatre in particular,
tion: Why? not just as isolated incidents of creativity, but as a conversation that spans time and
space. Art is a conversation—with the world, with each other, and with other works of
A Matter of Degree
art. Next time you see a play, I encourage you to try on this perspective and consider
All of my examples from the quiz above changed titles and became so suc-
the place of the work of art in this conversation—you never know what connections you
cessful in their own right that many forget their origins. My Fair Lady is based on
could make!
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Kiss Me Kate and West Side Story are adapta-

tions of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, respectively.
[Elizabeth Bojsza is a dramaturg, director, and teacher. She has worked professionally
Rent was inspired by the opera La Boheme, and Cats began as a delightful book of
in New York City, Long Island, and in community-based theatre. Elizabeth currently
poetry by T.S. Eliot. Some adaptations come from other plays, some come from
teaches theatre at Stony Brook University, where she earned her MFA in dramaturgy in
other genres.
2004, and is the Literary Associate for Young Playwrights Inc., a theatre company dedi-
From a certain perspective, ALL theatrical performances that have existing
cated to fostering the development of playwrights 18 years of age and younger. www.
scripts are adaptations—in the same way that every building is an adaptation of the
youngplaywrights.org.]
blueprint. There is always some measure of interpretation which leads to a choice
that may or may not be in line with the writer’s intention. For example, the recently
revived Mabou Mines production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House used actors of
great height differential in their production: all of the men were played by little
people, and all of the women by actresses at least six feet tall. The set was scaled to
S
a
ve
O
n
the little people—the result being a strong visual representation of Nora confined and
stifled by her husband’s home. I am positive that this Alice-in-Wonderland-esque
A
ir
C
on
di
tio
ni
ng
design never entered Ibsen’s wildest dreams, and yet serves to illuminate the themes
evident in the work.
Be
at
th
e S
um
me
r R
us
h
Musical adaptations that began as straight plays include one of my all time
favorites, The Adding Machine, which was originally a work of expressionist drama Bedroom
by Elmer Rice penned in 1923 and adapted by Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith.
When these adaptations work well, the music serves to illuminate and strengthen the
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themes in the work. The world of The Adding Machine is one in which people are
devalued and numbers venerated, so the musical opens with a hymn-like song that
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celebrates quantifying the world. Adaptations can also arise out of a perspective
shift on a familiar story. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead SPECIALTY SOLAR
provides insight into the journey of these two minor characters from Hamlet, and the
New Lighting
enormously successful Wicked is based on a book which is itself an adaptation of
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“The Wizard of Oz” story. Yet another type of adaptation takes its antecedent mate-
rial from historical events, interviews, or other “documentary” material. Golda’s
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Balcony, originally produced by Manhattan Ensemble Theatre (a company exclu-
sively dedicated to producing adaptations), was based on the life of Israeli Prime
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Part of the reason behind why adaptations are so prevalent on Broadway has
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to do with the investment involved. Producers are really gamblers—they have to
decide which production to bet their money on. The familiarity of a story helps in Pool Heating
that sell because you have much less explaining to do in your advertising (When we
Call Tim McCarthy at
wrote the press release for the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet at Stony
Brook University, we didn’t need to include a plot summary—there was already
name recognition)! Additionally, if a story is popular and already works well, one
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doesn’t have to bother with giving much attention to that aspect of production, so
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other things can be made the focus.
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It is worth mentioning a “little” company called Disney Theatrical at this point.
Disney hires excellent artists to work within what I have heard described as “the con-
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tent box” of Disney material. Disney has created a subsidiary to adapt their already
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commercially successful movies into commercially successful musicals. The Lion
31
Improper Northshoerian April 20029 29 4/2/2009 10:25:48 AM
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