Musicals aren’t just for theater nerds. With the recent remake of Sparkle, the upcoming premiere of Glee’s fourth season, and the badass ladies of Pitch Perfect gearing up to bring competitive a capella to the big screen in October, musicals have become a permanent fixture in today’s pop zeitgeist. Whether they’ve crossed over from the stage to film, TV or the world at large, we’re naming our five favorite pop musical success stories.
5. High School Musical
The Emmy-nominated made-for-TV-but-then-went-to-film Disney trilogy was a pop culture force to be reckoned with from the time its first installment aired in 2006. A modern take on Romeo & Juliet, High School Musical‘s soundtrack was the best-selling album in the US that year, with its highest-charting single “Breaking Free” rising to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The film’s DVD release set a record of 1.2 million units sold in its first six days. This success spawned a concert tour, which starred most of the cast minus male lead Zac Efron; a series of video games; a book series; a reality competition, High School Musical: Get in the Picture; and a tour … on ice.
4. Spring Awakening
Before Lea Michele ruled the roost on Glee, she belted out Duncan Sheik-penned pop rock ballads as Wendla in Spring Awakening. With book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the Tony Award-winning play is a reimagining of a late-nineteenth century German play that was banned for its depiction of sex, rape, abortion, homosexuality and suicide. The Broadway success of the 2006 reboot prompted several other productions worldwide and talk of a film adaptation — perhaps starring Lea Michele. The star told Entertainment Weekly in February: “Spring Awakening is so special to me, as is the character Wendla. We have discussed this as a possibility, and we’ll see what happens.”
3. American Idiot
No one saw coming Green Day‘s announcement that they would be turning their Grammy Award-winning album American Idiot into a stage adaptation. And even after the play conquered Broadway, the Tony Awards, the Billboard Cast Albums chart, and prompted a national tour, we still don’t really believe it was a thing that actually happened. Fun fact: AFI frontman Davey Havok, Melissa Etheridge and Billie Joe Armstrong himself all did short acting stints as St. Jimmy before the show closed in 2011, just shy of 500 performances.
Put Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson on screen together, and magic will happen. Such was the case in the 2006 remake of the Broadway musical, Dreamgirls. Not only was the cast full of stars including Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover, the film nabbed Beyonce an Oscar nod for Best Actress and JHud an actual statue for Best Supporting Actress. The film went on to also win three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, and pulled in $154 million at the box office worldwide. It’s soundtrack — home to Jennifer Hudson’s hair-blown-back performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” — moved more than 1.2 million units, topping the Billboard 200 in 2007.
Where High School Musical modernized Shakespeare, RENT gave Puccini’s opera La Boheme a ’90s makeover. Having won a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tonys, including for Best Musical in 1996, RENT became Broadway’s ninth-longest-running show after 12 years at Nederlander Theater, upward of 5,000 performances and over $280 million grossed. Set in Manhattan’s Alphabet City between 1989 and 1990, the pop rock musical followed the struggles of six young people attempting to navigate sex, drugs, relationships and paying the rent. Its best known song, “Seasons Of Love”, became an unofficial anthem for AIDS awareness, following one of the play’s major plot lines. Despite a tepidly received big screen adaptation, directed by Chris Columbus, in 2005 RENT lives on in countless productions across the globe and has been translated into 24 languages.
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