Monopoly the Musical Passes Go
Board games, the future of musical theatre?
As Producers have spent the past decade raiding the 90s film canon in the search of the next profitable stage musical, it was only a matter of time until attentions were turned towards a more two dimensional stimulus for the next blockbuster hit. In a week when SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical has had its out of town try-out in Chicago ahead of a Broadway opening, news broke that toy manufacturer Hasbro has turned its attention to live entertainment, and top of the list, Monopoly: The Musical.
If you're anything like me your memories of Monopoly will be tinged by family-feuds at holidays, games always begun with great enthusiasm, yet never once seen to completion. The property game, where the aim is to astutely buy real estate and utilities whilst avoiding going to jail, teaches capitalism and ruthlessness in equal measures. Whilst it certainly passes the time between courses of turkey and the Queen's Speech, whether it's inherently entertaining is yet to be seen.
Hasbro will join forces with Araca, whose Broadway producing credits include Urinetown, A View from the Bridge and Disgraced, as well as co-producing hits such as Wicked. The companies have previously joined forces through merchandising divisions, but this creative collaboration will see both franchises building "immersive experiences", according to Simon Waters, Hasbro’s general manager, who said "to bring our properties to life onstage is just the next level of immersion."
As the news broke yesterday on Variety, theatre message boards and Twitter exploded with thoughts and feelings with many refusing to believe that in a post-Hamilton world the future of Broadway musicals was in the hands of a board game. With no creative team yet attached to the project, no one yet has an idea about what exactly could be created, and according to Matthew Rego of the Araca Group, few artistic decisions have yet been made. Speaking to Variety he confirmed that “It’s not going to be a musical about people sitting around playing Monopoly,” but instead would explore the 'world' that the board game has created. “What turns us on is creating something that explores the world of Monopoly, kind of like the Lego movies have done with Legos.”
The fact that the musical seems to be born from commercial convenience rather than any artistic creation is deeply unsettling. Whilst musical theatre has suffered periods of commercial instability, recent hits and the global success of Hamilton have raised attention of the profitability of the genre once again, and it is not surprising that the 1% wants in on this apparent gold mine. Producing a musical will always be a dice roll, with around 80% of new shows failing to ever make back their initial investments. What Hamilton has reminded people is that when you strike gold the commercial potential is vast – and it's no surprise that people from all walks of life are chasing a piece of that pie.
Monopoly the Musical has a long way to go if it's to become the next Hamilton. Whilst the peak of the iceberg may be the most visible, the vast underneath details the work, dedication, creativity and genius that is required to make a hit show, and often amongst the hype, this is forgotten.
There was a similar collective groan when Walt Disney announced its theatrical intentions back in the 1990s, as similarly to Hasbro, the company realised the goldmine it was potentially sat upon. Many within the industry openly worried about letting the family friendly corporation onto the Great White Way, with many predicting the 'destruction' of the musical as an art form. After opening with Beauty and the Beast, the company followed up with The Lion King, which is currently the most successful piece of entertainment of all time and continues to play to packed houses around the world. With Aladdin recently opening in London and Frozen waiting in the wings to open on Broadway, the company show no signs of slowing down, and have managed to successfully blend their theatrical division with its pre-existing material. Even the most cynical were impressed by Julie Taymor's work on The Lion King, and Disney musicals have plugged a vital gap and need in the live theatre market, bringing their unique touch of professionalism and magic to commercial theatre.
The key difference between Hasbro and Walt Disney Theatricals however is that whilst the latter is sat on a number of theatrically rich properties, and will no doubt continue to produce films ripe for the stage, board games and games in general are not necessarily stage ready. It's hard to imagine what a musical version of Monopoly could be like – but maybe that will prove to be an advantage, and given the right creative team could result in an exciting new trend of musicals.
Based on my own experience with the board game which more often than not descends into an Albee-esque domestic drama, perhaps Hasbro would be better off looking at a gripping family breakdown to which I'm sure many can relate. For now, we can only wonder whether board games are the future of musical theatre, or will ultimately leave audiences exactly that - bored.