Today: February 28, 2024

From Stage to Silver Screen

Over the past century hundreds of plays and musicals have been adapted for television and cinema audiences. Restless, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Mia Wasikowska, hits cinemas nationwide this Friday and is an example of a film which was intended for the theatre.

Over the past century hundreds of plays and musicals have been adapted for television and cinema audiences. Restless, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Mia Wasikowska, hits cinemas nationwide this Friday and is an example of a film which was intended for the theatre.

It was originally written as a play by Jason Lew while he was studying at New York University alongside co-producer Bryce Dallas Howard. After reading the original script it was Howard who convinced Lew to re-write the play for the big screen. With this in mind we decided to take a look at other famous adaptations that have made it from the stage to cinema. Here are five of the most famous plays and musicals adapted for picture house audiences.

Restless Trailer


Chicago was originally a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins in 1926, based on two women who were tried and acquitted for two separate murders in 1924. This play inspired the musical, Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, which opened on Broadway in 1975. The show received mixed reviews, with some claiming there was too much cynicism. However, the 1975 musical ran for 936 performances before closing. In 1996 the musical was rewritten and was revived on Broadway under the new title Chicago: The Musical. This time the musical was highly praised and opened in London less than a year later. Its popularity on the stage soon saw a film adaptation directed by Rob Marshall in 2002, titled Chicago, and starring Hollywood heavy weights Catherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere. The film highlights aspects from both musicals (1975 and 1996); however, it does not contain as many musical numbers as either of the original stage shows.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

In 1970 Christopher Bond wrote a play called Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, based on horror stories originating from the Victorian era. Later, in 1979, Stephen Sondheim teamed up with Hugh Wheeler to create a musical of the same name. The musical opened that same year at the Uris Theatre on Broadway and ran for a total of 557 performances. The musical was re-revived in 1989, and the show soon spread across the Atlantic to feature at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1993. This musical was so successful that director Tim Burton snapped it up for a film adaptation in 2007. Starring Burton favourites Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp it received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award.

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire was written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 and opened on Broadway in December the same year. The play was such a hit that it was made into a movie only four years later in 1951. Interestingly, all of the lead actors from the play starred in the movie, except for Jessica Tandy. Director, Elia Kazan, also directed both the Broadway production and the film adaptation. The movie, starring Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh, closely resembles the play, except for one major change: the character Allan Grey committed suicide after having a homosexual affair in the play, but in the movie, due to Hays Code restrictions, Allan Grey was claimed to have committed suicide on account of his “general weakness”.


Written by English playwright Patrick Marber in 1997, the stage version of Closer premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London the same year. The play was a great success and in 2004 the film version was born. The film adaptation, directed by Mike Nichols, is very similar to the play as Marber himself also wrote the screenplay for the film. The film version pulled in actors at the top of their game, such as Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts. Interestingly, Marber did not specify the background music that should accompany the play. However, classical music has been the most popular choice.

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera was first published in a French newspaper, Le Gaulois, in segments from the 23rd of September 1909 to the 8th of January 1910. It was written by the popular French writer Gaston Leroux, and was originally entitled Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. These newspaper clippings have been adapted into films and musicals over 20 times, with the most unusual version being the silent adaptation which was released in 1925, starring Lon Chaney as the Phantom. The most famous musical was clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which first opened in London in 1986 and then in Broadway two years later. The Phantom of the Opera remains the most successful musical of all time, and it is still performed in the West End and on Broadway today. There was a film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage show released in 2004, however, the film received poor reviews.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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