From Hollywood to Broadway: Why a stage adaptation of “La La Land” Just won’t work.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

By Roma Welsh, Beacon Correspondent

“La La Land” is officially coming to Broadway—a decision that inevitably reflects another shallow cash grab musical by production giants and offers little depth past an audience member’s simple joy at seeing something they recognize in a new format.

The existence of a “La La Land” musical contradicts the entire reason the movie, which is already a musical, exists. 

Upon the musical’s release in 2016, I, along with every other theater kid who had a crush on Ryan Gosling, was entranced by the film’s magical world: a dreamy and glamorous homage to the fifties era of big budget, dance heavy, Hollywood movie musicals. The tantalizing city of Los Angeles was adorned with a majestic, purple sky, and accompanied by the hypnotic melodies of Hollywood which poured out from the film’s score.

Director Damien Chazelle—whose notable works include “Whiplash,” and most recently, “Babylon”—once again drew on his expert command of music and cinematography, creating a modern classic: a complex love letter to music, art, and the entertainment industry. 

However, Chazelle’s opus is a story that is dependent on the screen that will not translate impressively to the stage; the movie’s tone is achieved through the medium of film. Shoehorning “La La Land’s” story, one that is distinctly film, into a stage adaptation will produce a lackluster attempt at capturing the magic of the original film. 

“La La Land” is built through fast paced, sweeping shots that capture the pulsating, creative world Mia and Sebastian—and the audience—fall so deeply in love with. Remove the cameras and force this energy to exist with stage blocking alone, and the audience is left with a much flatter depiction of creative energy, an energy that is essential to the atmosphere of “La La Land”’s setting. 

Not only will a stage adaptation disrupt the tone of “La La Land”’s story, but the film’s most iconic set pieces and sequences would also never work on-stage. 

What would “Another Day of Sun,” an intricately choreographed and perfectly executed six-minute-long musical number consisting of over a hundred extras tap-dancing on a highway, look like on a stage? It would be fun to watch the number performed with Broadway talent, sure, but “Another Day of Sun” is impressive because it’s on film. 

The sheer scale of “La La Land”’s technical feats adds to its status as an awe-inspiring masterpiece. The production value and ambition of producing a movie musical is what is so groundbreaking about the film’s musical sequences, not the singing and dancing in and of itself. 

Remove the highway, the scale, the cinematography—remove all the ways “La La Land” differentiates itself from being a carbon copy of the musical precedent—and all that’s left is a pile of derivative remains.

The inherent limitations tied to the medium of live storytelling remove so much of what elevates “La La Land,” and what makes it such an exciting watch. 

Lacking any real artistic benefit that would be achieved through a Broadway adaptation, “La La Land”’s move to the stage is indicative of the entertainment industry’s compulsion to produce rather than create any genuine pursuits. 

“La La Land”’s core thematic battle is that of reality versus fantasy. By contrasting the two worlds of fantasy and reality, the film comments on the danger of ingenuine artistry. This counterpoint would be unobtainable on a Broadway stage, proving how a stage adaptation of this story is not only unachievable, but is also an affront to the point of the original film. 

The film’s aesthetics invite the audience into “La La Land,” a realm of fantasy where the glamor of a forgotten era of Hollywood is synonymous with the buzzing ambition of young, hopeful artists. Audiences were enchanted by the same beautiful world of music and entertainment that captivated the film’s protagonists, Mia and Sebastian. Both the audience and the protagonists were left lost and aching, equally impacted by the soul crushing blow that “La La Land” delivers in its final act.

This third and final act of the film is indicative of disillusionment. Studio executives don’t always have an artist’s best intentions in mind, love is not always enough, relationships don’t always pan out, and Mia and Sebastian don’t get their “happily ever after.” The world of passion and romance we were promised is a false one. 

This final act is something that literally does not exist in the Broadway musical structure. Having to butcher and restructure “La La Land”’s thematic framing to even begin to make it work on stage reveals the production team’s limited understanding of the film’s larger points and purpose.

A stage adaptation would also inherently butcher a key component of thematic contrast between the extravagant musical sequences seen in a song like “Someone in the Crowd” and the quiet, imperfect singing heard in “City of Stars.” 

The impressive vocals of the show’s larger ensemble numbers could be easily replicated on stage, but these numbers are not representative of “La La Land”’s themes. Replacing the imperfect singing of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone with a collection of bland, nasally, bright, and technically perfect modern day musical theater voices—an inevitability considering the production could not have non-Broadway-level singers sing on a Broadway stage—would only reaffirm the musical adaptation’s ignorance of “La La Land”’s larger themes. 

Mia and Sebastian’s humanity and vulnerability symbolize the true soul of the artist. Their imperfections are what lies underneath the shiny veneer of Hollywood showmanship. This contrast is essential to removing the mask of shallow perfection the entertainment industry is reliant on preserving. 

A Broadway adaptation would leave the mask on, presenting a fun and shiny regurgitation of a groundbreaking story that could never be achieved through the medium of stage. 

If you are a fan of “La La Land,” you are not just a fan of Ryan Gosling or beautiful singing. You are a fan of a story that reinvigorates the power of the individual artist and begs you to believe in it as well. The film is a reminder to continue believing in the artist’s soul. It is a testament to creativity and to “The Fools Who Dream”—the fools who need to keep dreaming and demand more from the industries around them.