As a source of theatrical inspiration, movies have been given lots of attention in the last decade. But films aren’t Hollywood’s only inspirational force; as creative types expand the search for source material, television has gained momentum in recent years.
Compelling for its universality and dependability as a reference point, TV also presents special challenges when transferred from screen to stage: Do you adapt a specific episode, reflect the entire series, or instead invent totally new content based on the characters and general story arcs? Here we investigate how 14 plays and musicals based on television shows made it to the stage.
Gilligan’s Island, The Theatre in Old Town San Diego, 1994
To adapt his cherished 1960s TV series, Sherwood Schwartz enlisted the help of his own children, Lloyd Schwartz and Hope Juber, on what was to become, according to Sherwood himself, the first original musical based on a television series < http://articles.latimes.com/1994-05-30/entertainment/ca-63965_1_san-diego>. The tropical-set show later toured nationally in 2009, at which point there was even talk of a Broadway run. Inspired by the travails of the shipwrecked islanders, Gilligan’s onstage adventures involve familiar plotlines: seeking lost treasure and even warding off an alien, all while singing and telling jokes.
Happy Days, Falcon Theatre, 2006
With later productions at Goodspeed (2007) and Paper Mill Playhouse (2008), Happy Days (the musical) was penned by Garry Marshall, who’d created the original TV series. The stage show borrows its plot from the show’s fourth season, during which the Fonz and friends host a dance-off and wrestling match to save Arnold’s, their beloved diner-hangout, from threat of demolition. Reimagining his own material rather than adapting or lifting someone else’s, Marshall enlisted Paul Williams (music/lyrics) and Randy Skinner (choreography) to flesh out this musical iteration of his beloved series.
A Very Brady Musical, Theatre West, 2008
Based on another Sherwood Schwartz property, A Very Brady Musical is more satirical riff than faithful reproduction. But the musical comedy is not recklessly irreverent: Schwartz’s children Lloyd and Hope again had a hand in adaptation, this time writing the show’s book themselves. Juber also wrote the musical’s songs with her husband, Laurence Juber. Sherwood Schwartz acted as producer and green-lit the project’s campy bent, by which the Brady kids scramble to raise money for marriage counseling for their parents.
The Addams Family, Broadway, 2009
A musical based on a TV series based on a comic strip from the ’60s, The Addams Family avoids episodic reference altogether. Bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice chose, instead, to revolve the show’s plot around Wednesday’s relationship with a “normal” boy from a “normal” family, the Beinekes. Musical and choreographic styling revealed ideas about the different characters—like Gomez’s Flamenco-inspired rhythms or Wednesday’s secret cheerier side in “Pulled.” A heavy-hitting Broadway cast featured Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor, among others.
I Love Lucy, U.S. National Tour, 2011
Billed as a “musical stage event,” I Love Lucy Live On Stage toured nationally from 2011-2014 and stands out in this list because of its structure. For performances, theatregoers were considered the “live studio audience” for the filming of two iconic I Love Lucy episodes, with backstage drama and between-scene ad jingles rounding out the experience. Co-adapted by Rick Sparks and Kim Flagg, the production was as much about the advent of television as it was about Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel (and their notorious antics).
Three’s Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 2012
3C, David Adjmi’s satirical adaptation of the ’70s sitcom Three’s Company, generated both nostalgic laughs and controversy. Issued a cease-and-desist on the play’s opening night, Adjmi had to convince a judge that his parody of the series was “transformative” in its treatment of the show’s characters and plotlines—deconstructing and commenting on their nature—so that use of the material was “fair” and not in violation of copyright. While the sets, costumes, and even scenes directly referenced those from the show, the satirical tone of the production led Adjmi to win his case.
The Beverly Hillbillies, Theatre at the Center, 2014
Debuting outside Chicago with a book by David and Amanda Rogers, The Beverly Hillbillies – The Musical draws less from events from within episodes and more from overall ideas and arcs: the Clampett’s discovery of oil on their property, the family’s subsequent move to California, and a streak of hijinks involving con artists and the kids’ respective adjustments to life in the city.
Hazel, Drury Lane, 2016
A throwback to the ’60s, Hazel, which debuted this past April, is another musical based on a comic strip-turned-TV series. Here, as with The Addams Family, creators borrowed characters, atmosphere, and tone rather than plots from the TV episodes. As a theatrical conceit, book adapter Lissa Levin augmented quirky housemaid Hazel’s series-famous domestic problem-solving with a love story between Hazel, played by Klea Blackhurst, and a TV anchor named Bonkers, to round out a plot that might have otherwise felt episodic.
90210, Theatre 80, 2016
90210! The Musical! is one of a series of parodies imagined up by Bob and Tobly McSmith, who also adapted Full House and Saved by the Bell (Bayside! The Musical!) for the same East Village stage. The McSmiths’ parodies lampoon the characters, story and settings of the ’90s-identified properties they take as subject matter. Audience members are meant to revel is the inherent and layered-on irony of the shows we’re now, collectively, embarrassed we grew up loving so un-ironically.
Cheers, Broadway Playhouse, 2016
Having opened, appropriately, in Boston just this past September, Cheers Live On Stage featured a near-exact replica of the eponymous Massachusetts tavern as its set, with several audience members invited onstage as participatory bar patrons each performance. Bookwriter Erik Forrest Jackson combined and adapted pieces of multiple scripts from the show’s first season, all 22 episodes of which he watched nine times apiece as research. The show features familiar characters and themes from the first season, with the primary focus on the relationship between bar owner Sam and aspiring poet Diane.
The Golden Girls, DR2 Theatre, 2016
That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody is like other satires of yesteryear’s TV hits except that, well, this time, there are puppets! Cobbling together moments from various episodes that reflect the characters’ respective fixations—Blache and sex, Rose and St. Olaf, Dorothy and ex-husband Stan—this ‘puppet parody,’ created by Jonathan Rockefeller, is a particularly whimsical tribute to both the camp (Dorothy is voiced by a male actor) and charm of another past hit that has resurfaced in its popularity among theatre-going adults.
The SpongeBob Musical, Broadway, Spring 2017
A less literal appropriation than anticipated, SpongeBob employs the cartoon’s primary characters in a way that prioritizes personalities over their true-to-Nickelodeon appearances. Directed by Tina Landau with a book by Kyle Jarrow, the musical involves a wholly original plot separate from the show’s episodes, incorporating music and lyrics by a diverse host of contemporary songwriters and artists, including those who’ve already crossed over to theatre, like Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper, and newbies like Lady Antebellum. The star-studded Chicago cast featured Broadway vets Gavin Lee and Lilli Cooper, as well as newcomer Ethan Slater in the title role.
Family Ties, Human Race Theatre, 2017
Set to premiere this June, Family Ties on Stage revisits old narratives, riffing on the series’ premise of two former hippies raising their kids with green values. A hometown reunion among Alex, Mallory, and Jennifer at their parents’ Columbus home leads to reminiscing and recreating iconic moments and plotlines from the show’s seven seasons. Daniel Goldstein has adapted the series, which ran from 1982-1989.
The Honeymooners, Upcoming
Having undergone various high-profile readings and workshops in the past couple years, The Honeymooners musical adaptation has generated buzz with life on Broadway is anticipated, despite a pair of canceled regional tryouts. Directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, the show is still in development, but is reported to involve the series principal characters, Ralph and Ed, hilariously dream-chasing in a way that doesn’t duplicate but does echo the greater motifs on the iconic CBS series. The cast of April lab presentations included Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy as Trixie Norton, Tony nominee Hank Azaria as Ed Norton, Tony winner Michael McGrath as Ralph Kramden, and Leslie Kritzer as Alice Kramden.