True Blood to ‘come back from the dead’

Screen to stage adaptions are nothing new in the world of theatre. The Bodyguard, Disney’s The Lion King, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, War Horse and Once The Musical are all examples of current West End productions which originated on the big screen, and there are many more which preceded them and certainly more to follow. These types of stage adaptions tend to be inspired by film, but talk of a new stage adaption is making the rounds now, and instead of looking to the big screen, it is TV which has planted this new seed of inspiration.

Nathan Barr, who composes the music for American television series True Blood, revealed recently that he pitched the idea of a musical adaption of the vampire franchise to HBO (the cable network which True Blood is broadcasted on) and the show’s creator/producer, Alan Ball. The project is still in the very early stages at the moment, with Barr keen to point out that there are no guarantees that the musical will make it to Broadway. Speaking to reporters on the red carpet of the Season 7 premiere in Hollywood on 17th June 2014, he said of the musical: “I have the rights. HBO doesn’t have to like it, but hopefully they will and they’ll give us the shot to make it and bring it to Broadway.”

The plan is to workshop the musical and present it in one year’s time, which allows ample time to decide just what direction the production will take – which is the big question, it seems. The TV series of True Blood is based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, although a lot of creative licence is taken in terms of following the book’s storylines. Regardless of which form fans prefer out of the original novels or small screen adaption, there can be no argument that, with 13 novels and 7 seasons of the TV show, there is a lot of material to work with in terms of creating a stage version.

The challenge for us is the minute I thought about ‘True Blood: The Musical,’ I myself could kind of groan,” Barr confessed. “I can see the bad version of that. It’s really a matter of finding a way of sort of reinventing it.

A wide assortment of supernatural beings have made cameos throughout the duration of the show, including werewolves, witches, shape-shifters and fairies, not to mention the regular human characters and, of course, Sookie’s various love interests. So how are they going to do it? Well, Barr has said that he intends to return to the roots of the show and focus the musical on the relationship between Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress from the small Southern town of Bon Temps, and Bill Compton, the vampire who returns to his home town as part of his attempts to ‘mainstream’ (co-exist peacefully with humans) and becomes romantically involved with Sookie. What characters and plot threads will also be included in the musical remains to be seen.

Stephen Moyer, who plays Bill in the TV show, also has an involvement in the musical project – but not in the way most people would think. The actor also spoke about the musical at the Season 7 premiere, telling how he had assisted Barr in developing the stage adaption by putting together some music samples with the composer. “I helped Nathan with some of the songs and we presented them to producers,” he confirmed, going on to say that what Barr was doing with the musical was “really interesting.” He quashed any hopes that fans may have in regards to whether he and his co-star and wife, Anna Paquin (Sookie) would have an interest in reprising his TV role on the stage though.

At this early stage no names have been attached to the musical yet, so fans can only speculate if any of the screen cast will appear in the stage version. Actress Rutina Wesley though, who plays troubled Tara Thornton in the show, did recently say in an online interview that she loves musical theatre and would be “down for the True Blood musical, definitely.”

Adaptions of television shows aren’t a common occurrence on the stage. One can certainly see why the practice of turning a popular story from the screen into a theatre production has its perks, as an original show can then benefit from the existing fan following and the familiarity that draws people in. This works fine with films, which typically have one central story and a running time which fits in well with that of a theatrical productions, but TV series carry the added challenge of multiple story threads in which a wide range of characters feature and, as with True Blood, several seasons to work with. This necessitates cutting many, many hours of material down to just a couple, which can seem a daunting task.

I would say that the trick is to treat the stage version as something completely separate from the show, starting from scratch and finding a way to present what people think they know about the show and its characters in a new and novel way. Street of Dreams, the musical based on long-running soap Coronation Street, took the approach of making the characters people have known and loved the central point of the productions and travelled through 50 years of storylines by means of song and dance, accompanying clips and the narration of Paul O’Grady. The manner in which Barr seems to be tackling this is to identify the aspects which lie at the core of True Blood and focus on those, rather than trying to squeeze everything into a 2 ½ hour musical. Granted not everyone will be happy with that as each individual has their own parts of the show which they prefer over others, but honestly, when has any musical gained the love of every single person who’s seen it?

A musical version of a television series has so many more obstacles in its way than it does of a film or book, but that’s not to say that it can’t be done – and done well. The Coronation Street musical didn’t have the best of luck, but perhaps Barr’s efforts with the True Blood musical will result in a hit show which rivals any film-adapted musical out there. At this point, no-one knows what will become of it. Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels have sold over more than 29 million copies and been released in over thirty languages, while the subsequent television series is one of the most watched shows on HBO and has won numerous awards over the years. It has already proven to be highly successful in the fields of literature and TV, but can it continue that success into the theatre? Only time will tell, but life after death is a huge part of True Blood, and with the book series at an end and the TV show entering its final season, perhaps it will live on through the form of musical theatre.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 24th June 2014