If a TV show, comic book, video game or movie becomes popular enough, then it will likely see adaptations into other forms of media. Characters like Spider-Man, Mario and the Doctor have all managed to transcend their origins and spread into multimedia franchises.
There have been occasions where an iconic character or franchise has made its way onto the stage. This can be a regular play, musical, or ice skating show. All of these were chosen for their name value alone, regardless of whether they fit the format. Series like Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil have no place in the theatre, yet they still made it there. We are here today to look at the times that a nerdy franchise managed to make its way onto the stage… whether it made sense or not. From the Spider-Man show that cost too much money, to the Dark Knight’s trip to England.
Here are 15 Geeky Franchises That Had Live Stage Shows!
Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable characters in all fiction. He has starred in some of the most successful movie franchises of all time, as well as numerous animated shows and video games. It isn’t such a crazy idea for a musical to be based around him. All you would need is an acrobatic stunt double, whose identity can be hidden with the costume.
When Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was being developed, it had one major problem. Actually, it had 75 million problems and they all had George Washington’s face printed on them. Usually, a stage show shouldn’t be costly to put on, at least compared to a TV show or movie. Due to the creators wanting to include lots of elaborate stunts in Turn Off the Dark, as well as hiring Bono and the Edge from U2 to write the music, the costs quickly soared.
The show was plagued with technical issues, injured stuntmen, and a scathing parody on Sesame Street. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark cost around $75 million to produce, which it did not make back (despite running on Broadway for three years).
14. Resident Evil
In 2015, Capcom decided to create an official Resident Evil stage play. It’s called BIOHAZARD THE STAGE (Biohazard is the Japanese name for the Resident Evil series), and it is still running as of 2017.
The play is set in Australia, with the Japanese cast playing American & Australian characters. The story is set between Resident Evil 5 & 6 and follows a biochemical attack on the University where Rebecca Chambers is currently teaching. Chris Redfield is sent in with a team of soldiers to try and rescue the survivors, as they battle through hordes of zombies and monsters.
It’s a shame that we have yet to see a Resident Evil stage play in the West. The games have enough famous mistranslated & bad lines that they could make a Rocky Horror style show, where fans interact with the actions on stage. When Barry says “That was too close, you were almost a Jill sandwich“, the audience could throw red herbs and ink ribbons onto the stage.
The Super Mario Bros. movie was so terrible that it made Nintendo a lot more cautious about using their first party characters outside of video games. As the movie was not released until 1993, there were a few screen adaptations of Mario that left something to be desired. These were mainly cartoons of dubious quality (which are still well-remembered by some fans).
Mario Ice Capades is one of the bad adaptations of the franchise. It was a Super Mario themed ice skating show, that loosely followed the story of the first game. While no full copies of the show are known to exist, there is one brief clip that has made its way onto YouTube. A young Jason Bateman has to teach Alyssa Milano how video games work, which leads into a segment from the Ice Capades show.
Bowser is now a fat dude with green face paint (which doesn’t even cover his whole face). He rides around on a mobile fortress, with his small force of monsters at his side. They are defeated by a terrifying looking Mario and Luigi, who are brought there by a more promiscuous version of Princess Peach.
12. Evil Dead
The Internet is filled with fans who love to create art that is inspired by their favourite series. There have been a few rare occurrences where the work of fans is so good that it becomes official. An example of this can be seen with Team Fortress and Counter-Strike. They started out as fan made mods before their makers were hired by Valve and officially incorporated into Half Life.
This was the fate of Evil Dead: The Musical. What started out as a project by a musical theatre class, ended up gaining nationwide attention. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell gave the show their stamp of approval, along with their support. Evil Dead: The Musical has since been performed all across the world and currently holds a residency in Las Vegas.
Evil Dead: The Musical is a comedy show, that combines elements of each film in the trilogy into its story. It’s more of a parody of the films (and horror tropes in general) than a straight up adaptation of Evil Dead.
11. Phoenix Wright
While Resident Evil might seem like an unusual choice for a stage play, it is still one of Capcom’s biggest franchises. For some reason, they also chose to adapt the Phoenix Wright games into a musical. Even though the Phoenix Wright games aren’t huge sellers, they are easier to adapt that Capcom’s other big franchises. The games follow crimes that a set in the real world, which makes them a lot easier to adapt into a play (instead of their other big franchises, like Street Fighter or Monster Hunter).
Gyakuten Saiban: The Truth Reborn was performed by a theatre company known as Takarazuka Revue. This is a troupe composed entirely of female actors. This means that Phoenix Wright is played by the gorgeous Tomu Ranju, with Miles Edgeworth played by the equally beautiful Hikaru Nanaho. Despite being a Japanese production, the show used the English names for the characters (Phoenix Wright is known as Ryūichi Naruhodō in Japan). The show was such a success that it spawned two sequels, one of which starred Edgeworth as the main character.
Naruto is one of the best selling manga titles in the world (behind only Dragon Ball, Golgo 13 and One Piece). It also has one of the biggest fanbases of any manga/anime series outside of Japan (one that easily rivals those of Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon). As Japan has an enduring love of musical theatre, it was only a matter of time until Naruto hit the stage.
Live Spectacle Naruto is a stage play that combines elements from all of the story arcs that happened in the manga before the time skip. The show uses plot elements from the Land of Waves arc (with Haku and Zabuza appearing), the Chunin Exam, and the Sasuke Retrieval arc.
After a successful run throughout 2016, the show is due to return in 2017, with new elements from the manga added into the story (like the arrival of Akatsuki and the Root organisation). A recording of the show has since been released on DVD.
There are several kids shows that have had stage plays. Cartoons like Rugrats, My Little Pony and Phineas and Ferb have all had live shows. So why did we choose Doug? Well, you would have to be a real nerd to like Doug. It was the most boring show in existence, especially when compared to other Nickelodeon cartoons of the day.
Doug Live! was a musical stage show that ran at Disney MGM Studios (now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios). They used a guy in a dog suit to play Porkchop (which makes any scene where he is hanging out with Doug in his bedroom look like that one infamous moment from The Shining). Doug Live! used actors in makeup rather than the mascot costumes used in some shows (like the terrifying Rugrats and My Little Pony ones). This actually looks ok for the most part (except for Patti Mayonnaise’s wig), as they only needed to paint Skeeter blue and glue three fish sticks onto Roger’s head.
8. Death Note
Despite only having a brief run in Shonen Jump magazine, Death Note became a massively popular manga series. The show followed a teenage prodigy, named Light, who finds a book with “Death Note” written on the cover. He discovers that if you write a person’s name within the book, then they would die a short time later. Light decides to use this book to bring justice to the world and begins killing criminals and dictators across the globe. The world’s greatest detective, known only by the codename of “L” is put on the case of discovering why all of these people are dying. The concept is simple and has been adapted many times in Japan. For some reason, we are only now getting a version of Death Note in the West (which is being produced by Netflix).
Due to the relatively simple concept and real-world setting, Death Note was adapted into a musical. Death Note: The Musical was written by an American composer, named Frank Wildhorn. This is despite the fact that the show is performed in Japanese. The musical follows a compressed version of the entire manga’s story.
All of the manga/anime entries on this list had stage shows that were made in Japan and only ran within countries in Asia. The big exception to this is the Pokémon musical, as it was created entirely for English speaking audiences.
Pokémon Live! used the Pokémon anime (rather than the video games) as the basis for its story. It follows Ash, Misty and Brock, as they go to the Viridian City Gym in order to challenge its mysterious leader for a Gym badge. What they don’t realise is that the leader is Giovanni, who also happens to be the boss of Team Rocket. He is inviting people to his Gym so he can test his manmade Pokémon, MechaMew2, in battle.
The songs used in Pokémon Live! all came from the anime and Pokémon music CDs. The show ran from 2000 to 2001 in America, with planned international dates being cancelled. Pokémon Live! was considered a lost treasure among the fanbase for many years, as no official recording was released. In 2012, the Production Stage Manager of the tour uploaded the whole show onto YouTube. Now fans across the world can enjoy Pokémon Live!.
6. Dragon Ball Z & GT
With the popularity of Dragon Ball Z in Japan, it should come as no surprise that it received two different stage shows. This is despite the fact that the anime would be very hard to emulate in a live action format.
The first of these shows was Dragon Ball GT, which ran in 1997. The second was Dragon Ball Kai: Super Battle Show, which started in 2010. Both shows made the unusual choice of using terrifying mascot costumes, instead of actors in makeup/big spiky wigs. The shows featured limited martial arts action, due to the fact that the actors could probably barely see out from beneath their horrible doll-eyed heads. The Kai show is a little better in this regard, as the costumes aren’t as cumbersome. They still look slow and uncoordinated, however, especially compared to other shows on this list.
Dragon Ball GT used story elements of different GT arcs, as well as including new elements (like Frieza’s new gimp suit form). Dragon Ball Kai: Super Battle Show was an adaptation of the first Broly movie.
5. Mortal Kombat
Yes, the video game series where people rip each other spines out received a stage play.
Mortal Kombat: Live Tour was a martial arts/dancing themed stage show, that tried to adapt the acrobatic fighting of the video game, without including any of the ultra violence. The show supposedly mixed dancing and techno music in with the fighting, which makes Mortal Kombat: Live Tour sound more like a particularly violent rave than a stage play.
While no recordings of the show are known to exist, the cast did appear on KTLA 5 News to promote the tour. The fighting & weapon usage appears to be more similar to dancing than stuntwork, which makes sense from a production standpoint at least. The saddest part of the clip is seeing an actor trying to portray Shang Tsung as if he really is taking time out from ruling the Outworld in order to put on a show. He also had to downplay the fact that the tour is based on an incredibly violent video game. According to Shang Tsung, Mortal Kombat: Live Tour is about the martial arts aspect of the games (which is totally why most kids played it, not the whole ripping out hearts thing).
4. Marvel Comics
Much like the Amazing Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man can’t be trusted to carry a solo franchise anymore. With Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark being one of the biggest bombs in Broadway history, he needed to go team up with The Avengers in order to win the fans back.
Marvel Universe Live! features a cast of different Marvel characters teaming up in a huge crossover. The show has a heavy emphasis on stunt work and the use of vehicles (like motorbikes and ATVs). The story follows that of the first Avengers movie, with Loki stealing the Cosmic Cube and a team forming to stop his invasion of Earth. As it is a stage show, the usual rules of character ownership don’t apply. This means that Spider-Man and Wolverine can appear without the threat of lawsuits. The funny thing is, they still downplay Wolverine’s involvement with the event, to the point where he is relegated to a “…and the rest” when the trailer names the characters. Marvel are going to keep crapping on the X-Men till they get those film rights back.
3. One Piece
One Piece is the biggest selling manga series in the world. Its global sales are on the same level as those of Batman and Superman, despite the fact that One Piece only started in 1997. One Piece has yet to break the West in the same way as its contemporaries have (like Naruto or Dragon Ball Z), but the series is a big deal in Japan. As such, there have been numerous One Piece stage shows and musicals over the years.
While most anime/manga stage shows have simply adapted established storylines from the source material, One Piece is so big, it can afford to be experimental without fear of losing its audience. This can be seen with a recent One Piece show that was done entirely in a Kabuki style.
The most recent One Piece shows have been happening at the Tokyo Tower. This show follows a unique story, where Trafalgar Law seems to have betrayed Luffy and his crew to the Marines.
2. Harry Potter
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ended with an epilogue that followed Harry as he took his youngest son to Platform 9 3/4, for his first year at Hogwarts. This ending led many fans to speculate about a possible Harry Potter sequel, that starred one of his children (most likely Albus, whom we saw in the epilogue). Fans got their wish in 2016 when a stage play sequel to the book series was first performed. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child followed Albus Potter on his tumultuous first few years at Hogwarts.
When the book containing the Cursed Child‘s script was released, it received a lot of criticism from fans. The story was accused of being “fanfiction quality”, with characters and scenarios that feel out of place. Those who have seen the show live tell a different tale. They have defended the story as being crafted for a live show, rather than a book. The problem is, only a very small percentage of Harry Potter fans will ever get to see the live show. Even if the show is filmed (or if a Cursed Child movie was made), then the effect of the live performance will still be lost.
All of the other shows on this list debuted in either America or Japan. Batman Live is the only one which started out as a UK production, before moving on to international success.
Batman Live took two years to develop, with a budget of around £7.5 million (which is still only a small amount compared to the money spent on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, even taking the dollar/pound divide into account). The story focuses on how Batman first met Robin and how their team was formed. The two must battle all of the famous Batman villains, who have been freed from Arkham Asylum as part of one of the Joker’s plans. While the show lacked the huge action set pieces of Marvel Universe Live!, it had a focus on stage magic and circus-style performances in order to impress the audience.
After a successful run in the UK, Batman Live toured in America, before finishing its run in 2012.