Real stories on Broadway – six Broadway musicals based on real-life stories
Broadway, like any other art form, can draw inspiration from everything – literature, music, ancient and Renaissance drama. There’s a huge two-way road between the stage and the big screen. But, there’s no bigger pool of inspiration than the real world and the stories that have actually happened. As much as enjoyable a fictional story can be, it will always lack that special vibe that real events have. It’s like horror movies – no one bats an eye for any scary story, but if you label it “based on real events” than you can expect a wholly different reception, be it by the public, and critics.
Here are six musicals from BroadwayPass’s catalog that are actually real stories that have made their way to the big Broadway stage.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece is based on Alexander Hamilton’s biography by Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755, or 1757 – July 12, 1804) is a real-life figure, a Senior Officer in the US Army, Founding Father and first Secretary of Treasury. And he’s on the $10 bill. The other characters make no exception – Aaron Burr (vice-president), George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (first, second and third US Presidents), Marquis de Lafayette, and the vicious King George III. The list goes on.
Some historians find “Hamilton” controversial for reasons such as wrong interpretation of the zeitgeist of that time or considering it just a product of the current trend of revisiting American history, thus putting in the “Founders Chic” genre. They relate it to the current political situation in the United States. Another thing is slavery – was Alexander Hamilton pro- or anti-slavery orientated. And how much was he against it. And I’ll won’t be commenting the statements that the Founding Fathers were not people of color.
As a person that’s not an expert in US history I can say only one thing – there were no rap battles during the Cabinet meetings. But that would have been so very cool.
“Come from Away” is Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s way to pay tribute to the people of Gander, Newfoundland, and to commemorate the fallen during the events of 9/11.
It all begins on an ordinary day in Gander – everyone is minding their own business, and Claude the Mayor is dealing with school bus drivers that are on strike. Then out of the sky (literally) 38 planes land on the local airport. All this is a part of the operation “Yellow Ribbon”. Now, Gander fields a large airport that is capable of accommodating those 38 planes. However, the very town of Gander is not particularly large – around 9 000 inhabitants. So it was quite difficult to house the 7 000 of those “that come from away”.
“Come from Away” is dedicated to the real stories of the real people. Like Claude Elliott, the real Mayor of Gander, who managed the entire organization of accommodating, feeding and comforting all the strangers. Or Captain Beverley Bass – a historical figure. She is the first female pilot to be made a captain by American Airlines. She is the only character in the play that has a solo act (all of the others are performed by the ensemble). The Kevins have a very cool story. They are a couple, heading for home in Texas, but diverted to Gander. They were deeply touched by the kindness of both locals and passengers alike. So, each year, on September 11th Kevin T gives his employees (he is a CEO of a marketing company) $100 to do a good deed to a stranger. Then there was a romance. A Londoner – Nick, and a lady from Dallas – Diane, fell in love amidst of the crisis. That’s what all call fate. There are other stories – like one of Beulah and Hannah – both mothers of firefighters, sharing their concerns, or notable characters like Bonnie Harris or Oz Fudge.
“Diana” just premiered on March 2nd in the Longacre Theatre.
We are all familiar with the story of the rebellious princess Diana (lovingly called Lady D). From her times as a young, yet ambitious girl to a Royal celebrity.
“Diana” takes pride in its realism, especially when it comes to the characters – the dutiful Prince of Wales and Queen (but not to Diana). On the other hand, Lady D is presented as someone who knows how to turn things in her favor, thus drawing constant media attention.
“Diana” is promising to be one of the biggest hits on Broadway in 2020 mostly because of Diana’s undying popularity, but partly because of the recent events concerning the British Royal family, especially her sons.
Fun fact: the musical “Tina” is the second one dedicated to the life of the great Tina Turner. The first one is the 2012th play “Soul Sister”.
The show opened on Broadway in 2019. It closely follows the life of Anna Mae Bullock (yeah, that’s Tina Turner’s real name) from her humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, her relocation to St Louis up to her huge concert in Brazil, and world stardom.
Her love life is the main arc of the story. From her relationship with Ike Turner, professional and personal, his vicious temper and his infidelities. Meanwhile, she is pregnant with Raymond’s child. Erwin Bach also appears.
Her career is also depicted. All the time, since her beginnings as a chorus girl back in Tennessee, her first stage appearances as Tina Turner along with Ike. Then the bad times in Las Vegas, and up to global stardom.
This is the life story of “The Four Seasons” – an American pop and rock band that gained international success in the 60s and the 70s. They are a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Their songs include evergreens like “Who Loves You”, “Rag Doll”, “Can’t take my eyes off you”, “Walk Like a Man” and many more.
The play is divided into four parts – one for each season and each band member (Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Frankie Valli).
“Spring” is narrated by Tommy DeVito and tells the story of how the band got formed, their early struggles with finding their right name, and sound. Fun fact: Bob Gaudio was introduced to the band by Joe Pesci.
Gauido narrates “Summer”. The band gets a contract with producer Bob Crewe, but sing mostly back-up. Crewe helps them out by giving them the name “The Four Seasons” and writes them “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”, that turn out to be their first hits. We see how success affects them in person – Bob’s first love, Frankie’s failed marriage with Mary, as well as the introduction of “The Angels”. They also have chart success and do a lot of touring.
“Fall” is narrated by Nick Massi. He tells the audience of the hard times. The band is approached by a loan shark, that wants to get the back his money from the band. The band, along with the shark and Gyp DeCarlo, a mob boss, close to The Four Seasons, agree that the band will pay and the mob will keep an eye on Tommy in Las Vegas. At the end of the part, Nick decides to leave the band.
“Winter” is the final part of the play, and it is narrated by Frankie Castelluccio. He and Bob try to find new additions to the band in order to stay a quartet. Then Bob steps back so Frankie can take the lead as he considered him better. Frankie gains even more success on the stage with the songs “C’mon Marianne”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “Working My Way Back to You”. Then he and Bob manage to pay off Tommy’s debts.
There are some amazing shows on Broadway that take place in a distant, unreal land (like Oz). However, seeing a story dedicated to a real person, a person that you had the chance to see or know their story (like The Four Seasons, Tina or Diana), or a recent event that changed the lives of millions (like the 9/11 attacks), or even a historical figure that you’ve seen on the $10 bill will always carry a different vibe. Like the mentioned horror movies “based on true events”. The emotional charge is totally different. And Broadway is no stranger to them. Honorable mentions (that are not currently playing on Broadway, but still appear regularly there and all over the world) include “Evita”, “Ain’t too proud”, “Assassins”, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”, “Hope! – Das Obama Musical”. “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Kinky Boots”, “Mack and Mabel”, and so on.
You can find more on our true stories here:
“Tina” and “Jersey Boys” are coming soon.