There seems to be have been some fortunate synchronicity for singer and actresses Idina Menzel surrounding the time her new musical “If/Then” debuted on Broadway. Right before this original musical opened, John Travolta managed to mangle her name live on the Oscars and made her become the most talked about person on social media. While that hilarious name of “Adele Dazeem” became ubiquitous, it became one of the best marketing tools in allowing the world to finally notice Menzel’s gargantuan talent.
Well, you can’t necessarily give the above all credit for helping the box office of “If/Then”, though it probably helped at least in part. The buzz was already building about an original musical finally opening on Broadway after years of mostly musical adaptations taken from movies (and a few books). With Menzel at the helm, most people likely suspected it was going to be something outstanding, especially with her already being known for singing “Let it Go” in Disney’s “Frozen.”
Now that “If/Then” is a hit and expected to have a long run (as of this writing), it puts a new question on the table of whether original musicals can finally make a comeback on the Broadway stage. Despite Broadway having numerous massive hits, some critics have noted how corporate Broadway has become in the last 20 years. You can also call that the euphemism for “playing it safe” to adapt material people already know to assure box office. In that regard, Broadway has turned into mainstream Hollywood, and the irony grows with A-list Hollywood taking over Broadway with guest-starring turns.
Similar to Hollywood, though, you’ll occasionally have an independent wonder squeak through the assembly line that becomes a phenomenon. Several indie films this last year funded by outside sources captured mainstream Hollywood’s attention. And that may mean more original product perhaps being funded again by mainstream studios.
Now we have to sit and wait whether producers on Broadway see it from the same perspective, unless what’s deemed “original” becomes mired in legalize.
What Exactly is “Original” Today?
When you consider that most of the iconic Broadway musicals of all time were actually based on real stories or loose adaptations of books, an actual original musical may not exist. Some might even argue that “If/Then” is really the movie “Sliders” (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) with different characters. While it’s still open for debate based on some differing plot points, most adaptations have so much new creative input that they can almost be deemed original on their own. The same goes for revivals that get complete makeovers to a point where the whole philosophy behind the musicals is altered.
No matter the outlook on what’s deemed original, there’s likely been a bottleneck of original plots taken to stage producers on Broadway. If there’s a black list of musicals on Broadway as there is with Hollywood screenplays, there must be a pile of gems there that go to the ceiling. It only seems like a logical step for Broadway to tap this black list before they develop a stronger stigma of being too safe with countless movie adaptations.
It also opens it up to people like you who may have an original musical you’ve been contemplating, yet gave up thinking original musicals don’t go over well. The even better news is that “If/Then” opened up the floodgates for thoughtful musicals with intellectual themes. We’re now moving back to Rogers & Hammerstein mode where they took on some of the most pressing issues of all time amid the most tuneful scores ever written.
This may be the new intoxicating mix Broadway needs now to set themselves back to an era when people wanted to be surprised rather than settle with the overly familiar. Plus, when you have a talent of Idina Menzel’s range, you bring back the era of when composers and writers had a supremely talented muse they could use to make an original idea jump off the page.