What Does a Musical Theater Adapter Do?
Musical theater adapters take existing materials—like a beloved album, a popular TV show, a graphic novel, or even a famous piece of poetry—and create from them wholly new works of musical theater. These multitalented creators are capable of performing the role of composer
, or librettist
depending on the needs of the adaptation: writing an original stage script around an existing album, for example, or creating entirely new songs and lyrics to match the story and characters of a book or other nonmusical source. They also work with the original material, rearranging, rewriting, and recontextualizing it to improve the flow and cohesiveness of the musical.
This is a booming field; new musical adaptations actually outnumber new original musicals and many are highly successful.
As arrangers, musical theater adapters are musical tailors, capable of refashioning a three-minute piano tune into an eight-minute production number, retrofitting a collection of Jazz Age standards to suit a show’s story points, or expanding a song by four bars in the third verse because the character singing it needs more time to cross the stage.
In addition to composing original songs and arranging existing ones, their work frequently involves interpolation—that is, adding new music based on existing phrases and themes in order to create an affecting fusion of sound and story. Musical theater adapters work closely with composers, directors, music directors, choreographers
, and librettists, and frequently partner or work in teams with other adapters.