Blog 30 – Shakespeare and Musicals, really!
400 years already!
This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. WOW…he wrote these amazing plays over 400 years ago! And that’s prompted some random thoughts.
1949, 1972, 1998. What do these years have in common? In those years, the Tony Award for best musical was awarded to musicals in a very special genre. 1949: KISS ME KATE – Cole Porter’s wonderful, playful take on “Taming of the Shrew”. 1972: TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (beat out FOLLIES and GREASE – can you believe it?). And in 1998 LION KING, evoking “Hamlet.” All musicals based on Shakespeare. And perhaps the best known musical based on a Shakespeare play is WEST SIDE STORY. “Romeo and Juliet” was the basis for this incredible show, and IN THE HEIGHTS was influenced by it as well. There are a few more musicals, lesser known musicals – BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, FORBIDDEN LIFE, THE BIG PLANET, PLAY ON, that were also based on Shakespeare’s works. (I am sure there are a few more, so please help by adding the ones I missed below!)
Why aren’t there more, I wondered?
Shakespeare wrote 16 comedies, 11 tragedies and 8 histories. I’m not sure the history plays would make great musicals – too many locations, thick and complex story lines, etc. I don’t think they would translate to the stage….although I might be wrong – think LES MISERABLES. And his tragedies are very well-known and often produced – “Othello”, “King Lear”, “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar.” But with the exception of “Romeo and Juliet,” they haven’t inspired composers for the musical theatre. It is his comedies that seem to spark something that translates to musicals. His comedies tell stories of shipwrecks, fairies, boisterous women, and of course….lovers. All wonderful topics for musicals.
Still, on this 400th anniversary, I can’t escape the question: Why aren’t there more? I would love to see someone take a stab at a musical version of “Richard III.” Anyone brave enough?
And maybe there is a composer out there, right now, tuning up something completely different: the Shakespeare adaptation for our time! I hope so.