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First Hollywood, Now Theater Land Is Recycling the Stories of Our Teenage Years

It looks like we're about to get musical remakes of Mean Girls, Clueless, and The OC. It's a lazy, cynical cash-grab, but we're just as much to blame as those behind the shows.
July 2, 2015, 12:05pm

'Legally Blonde: The Musical.' Photo by Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

In an age where cinema is dominated by comic book and video game movie franchises, it's being generous to suggest that new ideas might be running a little thin on the ground in Tinseltown. Those in charge of the piggy bank are growing less and less likely to take a risk on a film that hasn't already been tried and tested to Break the Box Office, with studios instead resurrecting old winners or just continuing to exhaust the Marvel treasure chest.

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Lately, it's become apparent that theater land is also cashing in on our seemingly insatiable appetite for remakes. But where cinema is largely concerned with rebooting tired superhero stories, theater producers are championing something far more frightening: the musical adaptation. Because if there's one way to make a throwback film that little bit more twee, it's by making the characters sing some shitty songs.

It's a sorry trend that's gathering pace. After it was revealed a couple of years ago that Tina Fey's hit 2004 movie Mean Girls was going to be made into a musical (not forgetting that Legally Blonde: The Musical has been in theaters since 2007), rumors of remakes have been coming in thick and fast. Last week, Clueless creator Amy Heckerling revealed that she has written a "jukebox musical" of her iconic 90s movie, which will feature existing pop songs rather than its own bespoke soundtrack. Thank god for small mercies. And following on from the recent musical adaptation of Cruel Intentions, the show's producers have announced that they will be giving The OC the same treatment.

That's right: the mid-2000s teen drama starring Mischa Barton as wretched little posh girl Marissa, and some guy who was clearly too old to be in high school as ex-con Ryan, is going to be made into a stage play. With songs! Word is it's going to be a parody version—because if you can't do something well, just slather it in irony—so hopefully there'll be a few laughs to be had, considering the original was lacking a bit on the gag front, what with Marissa dying in a car crash and the show's matriarch Kirsten Cohen's (inexplicably fast) descent into alcoholism. Not to mention the recurring themes of betrayal and abandonment. But, frankly, it doesn't matter what the material is like: the very mention of the title will ensure bums on seats, so obsessed are we with popular culture from our pre-internet days.

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As with any news relating to the bygone era of the late 20th century, the internet has gobbled up the information and regurgitated it faster than a molten-hot Pop Tart. "Get Excited," reads a headline on the Huffington Post, "The OC Is Becoming a Musical." Being told how to feel by the internet is more than a little bit irritating, but, the thing is, people probably are excited. The program was shit, but nobody cares. It's a chance to relive a moment in life that was largely stress-free. That's why the news that The Crystal Maze is coming back—in the most budget format imaginable—was shared by everyone you knew over the age of 25 on Facebook. No one is bothered that this is another cynical attempt to make some money off a few late 20-somethings unable to leave the programs they watched as teenagers behind.

Because it's not the 13-year-olds of today that these musicals or films or revived TV shows are being made for, but the teenagers of 20 years ago. The fact that Katy Perry—who is 30—is reportedly interested in playing the young Cher in the new production of Clueless pretty much says it all. And while we might try to call out writers and producers for being lazy, harangue them for their lack of imagination and chastise them for selling us the same crap, barely repackaged, over and over, if we're truthful with ourselves, we know that we are equally at fault. Our own lack of imagination and refusal to toss out that proverbial comfort blanket, lest we are made to confront the fact we're no longer a care-free teen, is the real problem here.

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Take the internet's ongoing obsession with Disney princesses. No matter how many times an artist re-imagines Snow White as a size 14 (because that's what a real woman looks like, OK?), or a writer pens an essay on how ahead of the feminist curve Pocahontas was, there's no escaping the fact that we're still using the cartoon characters from our childhoods to express ourselves. It's just that this time around we're trying to make vaguely political points about body image rather than donning a polyester dress from the Disney Store and pretending that we're a princess. And the Disney obsession isn't going to be eased with the current onslaught of live-action remakes destined for our screens over the next few years.

Of course, the crippling state of nostalgia that we find ourselves in today is not new, nor is it confined to popular culture. Take the much maligned cereal cafe on London's Brick Lane, which consistently has lines snaking round the corner with people desperate for a bowl of Lucky Charms and one more taste of a Saturday morning being nine-years-old again. And let's not forget those office workers who swapped the break room for a ball pond, taking to Twitter to share a photo of their japes with perhaps the bleakest caption ever written: "The past is the future."

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