I’m sure it’s hilariously funny, but when I saw a commercial for a musical play about Disney Princesses named Disenchanted, I just shook my head. A few minutes later, I saw an ad for Kong: Skull Island, and my disenchantment was even deeper as I awaited 50 Shades Darker, Lego Batman, or Logan.
But it’s probably just my fault for being a writer and a teacher of writing. For caring if what is written is original. I don’t doubt Logan is good, and I will see it at some point, and Disenchanted more than likely is a decent musical. It’s not the writers’ fault, either, since they’d stop making horrible horror films about teenage vampirewolfsuperheroes if we stopped watching them. Even Shakespeare realized the power of rehashing, so I get it. It’s easy for a writer to use characters that are already known. You don’t have to create anything new; you simply play off the characters that others took the time to create.
Because I figured I had to play into the desire to only watch what we know, I even changed the title for my own musical play. It was supposed to be Boston Store--The Musical. I knew Boston Store might not appreciate the efforts of a former employee, so I decided to change it. Then I watched Philadelphia Story for the 15th time and decided the title should be Philadelphia Store--The Musical. Sure, it has some similarities to the classic play, namely a main character in a love quadrangle. The play I wrote might have more similarities to Desk Set with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, but it’s still very much my own.
Still, no one knows these characters, so they’d have to actually decide to read the play to figure out the reason to care. It’s got a sleazy store manager who likes the pretty girls, a Malapropistic Mormon, a Ukrainian mail-order bride who wants out of the deal, and plenty of characters for a high school play. It sports a song about Charles Barkley and another one about Lutheran girls (sung to "California Girls"). Most of the songs, however, are pretty original, even if a couple use tunes that already exist (parody). One of these is the Sweaters song, which starts out a bit like "Letters" from David Letterman.
Even with clever songs and characters based on standard characters, it’s not a totally familiar story, so that’s a problem for people who want to see another version of Grease or Footloose or Carrie: The Musical. In my local off-off-Broadway world, we get such features as Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and Wizard of Oz. I could also go see MoTown - The Musical or Carole King - The Musical about old singers. Or Chicago - The Musical, which isn’t about the band Chicago, but was written in 1973.
Why isn’t anyone looking for something new? I know, there's a risk. A risk no one will like it. But did anyone like a musical version of a Stephen King movie about a girl with really bad PMS and the ability to burn buildings to the ground? I hope not.