Pink Floyd’s music has always been theatrical and operatic, but now former frontman Roger Waters is taking those aspects one step further: Floyd’s 1979 double album The Wall is being made into a Broadway musical. And it’s not alone. We Will Rock You, which features twenty Queen songs, opened in Las Vegas on September 8th, and musicals based on the songs of John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Frankie Valli and the Beach Boys are all in the works.
“These songs are simply the new standards,” says Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax, which is co-producing both The Wall (expected in late 2005) and the Elvis musical All Shook Up (slated for March). “The Broadway audience has been graying for many years,” says New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood. “This is a way of appealing to the baby-boomer generation, who don’t really go to traditional musicals anymore.”
We Will Rock You, about a rebel trying to bring creativity to an Orwellian world, opened in Las Vegas after a successful continuing run in London. “All of our songs speak about human emotions and human fears and human aspirations,” Queen guitarist Brian May says. “It’s uncanny how much the songs tell the story that needs to be told.”
Broadway insiders point to the runaway success of the Abba musical Mamma Mia! as the inspiration for the current crop of rock-based shows. It debuted in London in the spring of 1999 and now includes fifteen productions in thirteen countries. “When one of these things hits big on Broadway, then you have roadshows and multiple-venue opportunities,” says former Sony Music head and Wall co-producer Tommy Mottola. “For some of these bands, it really can be the jackpot at the end of the rainbow.”
Of course, artists don’t always have control of their music. Good Vibrations, for example, uses the Beach Boys’ biggest hits, owned by Universal Music Group, to tell a tale of four teens’ last fling before adulthood, via a road trip to Southern California. The show opens at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway in January, but sources close to the band say that members might not be at the opening party.
Much like attaching a star actor or actress, boasting a hit-song catalog gives would-be producers one more reason to believe in a show’s prospects. But it doesn’t guarantee success. In London, Our House, based on the ska band Madness’ catalog, closed after less than a year (it opened in October 2002), and Tonight’s the Night, featuring the hits of Rod Stewart, opened in November 2003 and will close in October.
Still, producers are betting that fans will want to hear their favorite songs performed live, especially when catching a concert is no longer an option: Lennon is tentatively scheduled to open on Broadway next summer, and Don Scardino, the writer, director and co-producer, has worked with Yoko Ono and combed historical archives to present Lennon in his own words, creating ten vignettes, each detailing a different point in the singer’s life. Toward the end of the play, the narrative moves to the Double Fantasy period. “It’s all this amazing music he never got to play live,” says Scardino of Lennon’s last recording. “The play becomes a concert we never got to hear.”
Coming to the Great White Way:
The Ticket: The Wall, Pink Floyd, expected late 2005 on Broadway.
The Plot: The story mirrors the Wall movie — a dark, semiautobiographical tale about a rocker named Pink Floyd. “I’m superexcited,” says co-producer Harvey Weinstein. “Roger Waters has been talking about adding humor and new songs.”
The Ticket: We Will Rock You, Queen, currently playing Las Vegas’ Paris hotel.
The Plot: A futuristic planet lacks musical instruments; rebels must save the day. “It was conceived three years ago, in response to boy bands and reality TV,” says Queen guitarist Brian May. “We thought it wouldn’t be relevant for long, but it seems to be getting more relevant.”
The Ticket: Lennon, opening in April at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, then on Broadway.
The Plot: Ten actors each play John Lennon at various stages in his life. “Lennon wasn’t just the art-college student or the Liverpool tough or the famous Beatle,” says director Don Scardino. “He went through all these phases and embraced each of them wholeheartedly.”
The Ticket: Good Vibrations, the Beach Boys, opening in January on Broadway.
The Plot: Four small-town teenagers travel to Southern California, having adventures along the way. “It’s perfect for the Beach Boys,” says musical supervisor David Holcenberg. “Their songs all deal with themes of youth and growing up.”
The Ticket: All Shook Up, Elvis Presley, opening in March on Broadway.
The Plot: The story of a guitarist who comes to a middle-American town in 1955 to help everyone discover “the magic of romance and the power of rock & roll.”