Musicals in Film – Stage vs Screen


Broadway musicals being adapted into film isn’t a new trend, but it’s still exciting to see stage productions make it to the big screen. Although, do they lose anything during the transition? As much as I love watching a new adaption, does the stage show have a unique sense of charm that doesn’t translate into film? Or is the film superior because of the sets and camera tricks?

The truth is, I’m not sure. I love both, but there is an evident difference between the two complete with their own pros and cons.

I’ve gotten the chance to see Wicked in Chicago and there is something to be said about watching a live performance. It’s a true experience, but I felt I could still capture some of that essence through watching the stage productions of Jekyll and Hyde, Phantom of the Opera, and Into the Woods on the internet. I’m someone who likes hearing the audience react to the actors. I also love the sets some of these crews can create on a stage. When I saw Wicked, they had an enormous dragon head over the stage that would move and open its jaw. It was actually unsettling while sitting there because I thought it would break free and run around the theater, but I still enjoyed it.

The stage has a sense of reality grounded into it that won’t appear in a film. The costumes are more realistic because nothing is CGI. There are no camera tricks for stunts because each segment is happening live. The stage is a vulnerable element – it’s the actors, their props, and the audience. There are no cameras to hide them or to cut away if they make a mistake. There are no edits or second tries. It’s essentially a relationship between the viewers and the actor. That’s an atmosphere that is difficult to replicate and the essence of that bareness can still be reached for at home viewer watching on Netflix.

Film, on the other hand, can show close ups and create more intricate sets. The viewers can see the opera house, they can see skid row, they can travel with these characters to different locations all within a few shots. And while there are rotating stages, it’s a much different experience to walk down a real street with a character as opposed to a street that is framed by a stage and curtains.

In addition, a film can switch scenes in a matter of seconds while a stage production will need more time to alternate the backdrop. This moves up the pace which is needed for viewers who don’t want to sit through a temporary black out. Also, as I said, the viewers get close ups. It’s sometimes hard to see the facial expressions of actors on stage even in a recorded performance. With film, the audience can see every reaction and every emotion. Sometimes this is vital to how a viewer will receive the story.

Although, sometimes the film will cut songs or the music may not as well done. In film, the actor’s first priority is acting. On stage, the actor’s priority will be singing well. Not to say the quality drops in one medium though. One aspect is simply more prominent.This trend is more noticeable when I’m listening to the soundtracks side by side without the rest of the show. If I want something that sounds cleaner in the background, I’ll listen to the stage cast. If I want the added emotion I’ll listen to the movie cast.

The best example I can give is to listen to the Les Miserable film’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and then listen to the original London Cast’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” The London cast is absolutely beautiful, but there is a lack of emotion. In the film’s version, you can hear the tears in her throat. She raises her voice at one part to scold instead of to sing and the overall product is chilling. Both versions are well done, but which one you choose depends on what you personally prefer.

All of that being said, which is a better medium? I say both. I believe they both have something unique to offer and I feel it’s important for a viewer to experience both. When I saw the Les Mis film, I hated Javert. I thought his character was poorly built and poorly executed. I then saw a local production of the same show and fell in love with the character. There’s always something to gain from each experience whether it’s shedding light on a character or getting that added emotion. Maybe it could even be discovering a song that was cut or added. Both matter and have their own charm.

It’s great that musicals have been getting adapted into film. Sometimes the movie will get the show more recognition. Someone may fall in love with musical theater after being exposed to the film version. Perhaps this peson would never discover this story if it wasn’t presented as something they were used to. Hopefully more stage productions can be filmed for those that aren’t able to make it to a live showing and hopefully the films will bring in a new audience.

In the end, both mediums are different angles on the same story which I find intriguing and truly amazing.


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