Not too hot, not too cold . . . just right?

As Goldilocks says, porridge cannot be too hot, porridge cannot be too cold, it has to be just right. The same goes when some writers are looking for an idea to turn into a musical. The subject matter must not be too hot or too cold or they won’t be able to find an audience.

Gangnam Style

Choosing the right topic for any form of entertainment is difficult, but it is even more difficult when dealing with long-term art forms such as musicals or plays. This is because the subject matter needs to hold its relevance several years in the future when the show finally makes it to the big time.

The content cannot be too hot, or in other words another one of those ’15 minutes of fame’ stars who continually pop up. Imagine, if you will, Psy: The Musical. Yes, Gangnam Style was ridiculously popular. Yes, Psy appeared extremely funny at the time. But would it have had any relevance two years (or more) in the future? No way! I mean he couldn’t even follow up the success of Gangnam Style despite all the free publicity that his latest single received.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, go back and check out yesterday’s post about The Addams Family. Even The Little Mermaid didn’t live up to expectations and hence is trying their hand with another adapted version next season.

On the other hand, the content can’t be too cold or too obscure. If the subject matter of the musical doesn’t even have a small group of dedicated followers, who is going to give the show a go in the out-of-town tryout and who is going to be so brand loyal to the original content that they encourage all their friends to buy tickets?

Taking both of these extremes into account and looking at this year’s season on Broadway and the West End, there is a specific type of content that tends to lend itself to a musical adaptation. Consider the following shows:

  • Once
  • Kinky Boots
  • Newsies (Despite the touch of Disney which makes almost anything successful)
  • Matilda

The original movies of each of these shows (or book in the case of Matilda) were certainly popular with their own little sub-groups or cults, but were never huge market-saturating success stories. As a result, the musical adaptation has built on the dedication of the smaller groups of loyal supporters and given the stories new life in a new medium which appears to have paid off. Especially as these shows have won Tony Awards, Olivier Awards or are nominated (and have pretty confident wins under their sleeves) for these major theatre awards.

So my hint: Start small, but not too small, and ensure that you do justice to the original material. Then you truly deserve your musical smash!

Have you got any other examples? Or do you think there is some other important consideration? Let me know in the comments below.