'Finding Neverland' treads an increasingly common screen-to-stage path

'Finding Neverland' treads an increasingly common screen-to-stage path
Matthew Morrison, left, and Kelsey Grammer in "Finding Neverland." (Carol Rosegg)

Anointed with a fresh sprinkling of pixie dust, the Harvey Weinstein-produced musical "Finding Neverland" bowed on Broadway this week after spending nearly five years — and about $20 million — in the making.

Based on the 2004 film starring Johnny Depp as playwright J.M. Barrie, who created the play "Peter Pan" in the early 1900s, "Neverland" (this one stars Matthew Morrison in the Barrie role) arrives as the latest example of a recent boom in screen-to-stage adaptations.

The show, which has thus far earned middling reviews but proved a strong crowd-pleaser, is a spin of sorts on Hollywood's own current obsession with remakes, reboots and adaptations. Broadway has a long tradition of revivals, the closest analogue to a Hollywood remake. These screen-to-stage adaptations, though, are a trickier beast--they're based on branded material but they are, at heart, original productions, often with a very different feel (and given that many are musicals, coming in a very different format) than their source material.

Of course, just as in the movie business, mining recognizable names is no guarantee of box-office success. Here's a look at some recent hits and misses.



The most recent show from Disney Theatrical Productions followed in the footsteps of "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" and "Tarzan" adaptations, to name a few. Based on the 1992 animated film about a street urchin who discovers a genie and uses his wishes to woo a princess, "Aladdin" premiered in Seattle in 2011 and played in various regional and international productions before landing on Broadway a little over a year ago.

Directed by "The Book of Mormon" veteran Casey Nicholaw, the Broadway production received generally warm reviews and earned five Tony Award nominations, winning one (for actor in a featured role). If it's not yet clear that it will be a "Lion King"-sized hit, it's still more than holding its own: To date the show has grossed about $81 million on Broadway.


Yes, that Rocky. The indomitable boxing champ played by Sylvester Stallone in 1976's Oscar winner for best picture made the leap from the ring to the proscenium in a high-profile musical featuring 20 original songs.

Though lauded by critics, particularly for its technical innovations, the show wasn't exactly the box-office knockout that Stallone and his fellow producers were hoping for. Starring Andy Karl in the title role, "Rocky" failed to gain much Tony traction and, playing the large-scale Winter Garden Theatre, closed after five months and just $19 million. The "Rocky" musical did, however, see bigger success in Germany, where it originally debuted.

"Big Fish"

Based on the 2003 Tim Burton fantasy starring Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup, "Big Fish" assembled an A-list Broadway team — including actor Norbert Leo Butz and director-choreographer Susan Stroman — in hopes of making a splash as the first big musical of the 2013 Broadway season.

Instead, the production quickly washed ashore. Reviews were tepid, and ticket sales fell steadily after the show opened. The Broadway show lasted just three months (98 regular performances), and its box-office haul came up short of the reported price tag of $14 million.


Irish filmmaker John Carney's microbudgeted musical film about a down-on-his-luck Dublin busker finding his muse in a young Czech pianist became an art house hit and had a fleeting moment of fame when its song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar in 2008.

That would have made it an unlikely candidate for the stage. But after a short run at downtown's New York Theatre Workship in late 2011, the show made a quick Broadway transfer and began conducting some serious music on stage. With a set decked out to look like a bar and a cast that doubled as its own orchestra--not to mention a strong set of folk-emo numbers--the show went on to storm the Tonys that season, winning eight prizes.

Those wins soon helped boost sales. The production closed its Broadway run in January with $110 million, easily outstripping the film's worldwide gross of about $21 million.

"Bullets Over Broadway"

A stage adaptation might have seemed logical given the name, but it still took 20 years for Woody Allen's 1994 big-screen comedy to arrive at its titular destination. With a book by Allen himself and a score of jazz and popular standards from the 1920s, "Bullets" hewed closely to the movie's story of an idealistic New York playwright who sells out to the mob to get his latest show produced.

Pegged as a surefire critical and commercial hit by many theater industry watchers, "Bullets" soon went in a different direction. Reviews from several high-profile outlets— including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times — were weak, and the show was shut out of the main Tony nominations. "Bullets" ran for about five months on Broadway, ending its run early last August with about $18 million.

Such failures, though, have left theater producers unbowed: Many more such adaptations are in the works, with "Doctor Zhivago" set to open and possibly even a "Waitress" show headed to Broadway.

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