Musical theatre thrives on the creative sparks of others. Not to diminish the many accomplishments of that art form, but in recent years, just about everything has been an adaptation. (Except “The Book of Mormon” – you go Trey Parker and Matt Stone!) Many have been taken from books, but recently, the trend has become to adapt films onto the stage.
One of the greatest advances has been the invention of the “jukebox musical,” where a story forms around immediately recognizable music, whether a fictional tale like “Mamma Mia!” or a biographical one such as “Jersey Boys.” (It also gave us “Rock of Ages,” but we can pretend it didn’t.)
Before you ask, no, “Pirate Radio” is not an adaptation of a Broadway or a West End musical. There’s plenty of music, but the record player does all the singing. However, I felt that while watching Richard Curtis’ film, it was practically BEGGING to be staged as piece of musical theatre. The music is phenomenal, and there’s so much capability for it to define a generation – because it does.
The story of the film isn’t all that interesting: banned from playing rock and roll on normal British airwaves, a group of rebels broadcast it in international waters. The gang is full of eclectic types, ranging from characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy to then unknown Chris O’Dowd (the cop from “Bridesmaids“). There’s little character or story development, and when the boat finds itself in peril, I could have cared less what happened to whom. Not to mention that it feels interminable even at 20 minutes shorter runtime from its British release under the name “The Boat That Rocked.”
But with some slight tweaking of the story – a little bit less of the people on the boat, a little bit more of the people on land, the same amount of the government censors led by an uptight Kenneth Branagh – “Pirate Radio” could actually play quite well on stage given the caliber of music. Think about it … and I’d like to request royalties if it happens because of this review. C /