Some things are inevitable: death, taxes, reboots, and musical adaptations. This blog has thoroughly discussed the “dark and gritty reboot,” but what about the inevitable musical adaptation?
Every person, place, or thing ends up on the stage, accompanied by tunes. This includes films, myths, classic novels (Les Miserables; The Phantom of the Opera) and contemporary novels (American Psycho; Wicked). Then, of course, there is the ever-present “jukebox musical,”including Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and A Night with Janis Joplin and Motown: The Musical and the Tupac musical Holler if Ya Hear Me and so on.
Some, like The Lion King, make sense. Others, like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Rocky the Musical, do not.
The question is not whether a wildly popular Kanye West musical will happen, but what it will be. I assume it will begin on Broadway and then go national, touring ceaselessly. Everyone will discuss it. Everyone will see it. It will saturate the media and pop culture, like Rent and Hamilton and Book of Mormon before it.
And so, I have asked an assortment of people to tell me what they think it will be, with a simple prompt:
What will, or should, the inevitable Kanye West musical be?
Here are some of the answers:
“Kanye v. Kanye v. Kanye” by Nick Renckens, @nrencks
The Kanye musical will most likely be billed as a biographical piece, with musical numbers bridging the gaps between Kanye’s most significant life events. Unlike other biographical works, however, this musical will only cover the Future of Kanye (played by Kanye), from his inauguration to the US Presidency in 2021 (VP: God, played by Kanye) all the way to the end of human existence when Kanye is the last remaining human on Earth (or Mars, or wherever Kanye decides people will live in the future).
The loosely-coherent plot will consist of a classic three-way conflict: Kanye vs. Kanye vs. Kanye, as Kanye struggles to balance the Power of Kanye with the Responsibility of Kanye, coping with becoming the only person alive who can grasp the Genius of Kanye.
Kanye will perform frequent 25-minute soliloquies over the four-and-a-hour, intermission-less runtime, explaining to the audience what is going on in the plot and why it speaks to his true genius. Throughout the narrative, Kanye overcomes many obstacles and makes great sacrifices in pursuit of immortality, only to realize in the end he’s been truly physically immortal all along: a profound lesson about the Greatness of Kanye that will leave the audience in a state of permanent, everlasting awe.
The final act will consist of Kanye individually handing out copies of a review he wrote for his own musical to every single member of the audience. It is the greatest musical of all time.
“Aladdin 2020” by Cian Chase, @IceColdMinneap
I’m thinking a modern adaptation of Aladdin, where Kim is Jasmine and Jay-Z is the Genie.
Jafar will be represented by several people:
- Kanye’s teachers and professors, who don’t believe in him.
- The haters who say he can’t rap
- Wiz Khalifa
- President Donald Trump
Kanye, of course, is Aladdin.
“Like the movie Jack” by Anonymous
It should be like the Robin Williams movie Jack, except Kanye-themed.
Kanye is in school and then he starts getting older and older, but instead of getting older he keeps getting more insane. (You don’t need to give me credit… in fact, I give my suggestion anonymously.)
“I hate him” by Nick Grady, NickGrady.com
Oh God. I have no clue what my answer would be. I hate him.
“World Wide Apocalypse” by Tom Ward, @motdraw1, contributor for Forbes
I would love to see Kanye in a musical about a world wide apocalypse and how he saves the world by his sheer awesomeness. It could be pretty funny.
If I had to guess what he’d actually do, I think he would play it straight like Jay-Z did with his Fela show. Kanye’s super into fashion, so maybe a show about Chanel, or Halston. Something like that.
“Kanye Haunts” by Johnny Schaeffer
Kanye dies, returns in ghost form going around saving hip-hop, lamenting that no one understood his genius in life.
“President West” by Anonymous Andy
Hmmm. Maybe about the presidency years? I’d imagine it would be non-biographical, or at least not based on his life so far.
I have no idea.
“Kanye & Myth” by Seth Rogers, @Seth_Rog
I think it would have to be a mix between Rock of Ages grandiosity and that hilarious, super-failed live Spider-Man on Broadway fiasco, where they kept mangling all the main cast by chucking them into walls on wires and such.
All the major operatic themes of yore would predominate in the final product.
Some kind of Diluvian Myth: either by tsunami from an earthquake, or by wildfire.
Edenic Myth: the hills above Hollywood as the place for man’s salvation and rebirth.
Primordial Couple Myth: Kanye and Kim are the last remaining humans after the flood or the fire. They repopulate the earth with a perfect, modern, multi-racial, media-savvy, commercial race of new Americans.
“Which story to tell?” by Mike Cavalier, The Junior Varsity, @mikecavalier
The question facing the writers of the inevitable Kanye West songbook musical is not “where is the story?” but rather “which story to tell?”
West’s body of work already suggests a number of strong themes—like the thrills and high cost of celebrity (in songs like “Good Life,” “Welcome to Heartbreak” or “Runaway”), blackness in America (“Crack Music,” “Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves”), or ‘Ye’s ever-shifting feelings toward various women (“Flashing Lights,” “Blame Game,” “Bound 2,” take your pick). There are climaxes and obvious points of pathos, too: surviving the car accident in “Through the Wire,” or the death of Donda West in “Coldest Winter.”
I’d be interested to see how a stage adaptation might deploy and reshape his smaller tracks—not the obvious showstoppers like “Power” or “All of the Lights,” or crowd pleasers like “Gold Digger” and “Stronger,” but B-sides like “Real Friends,” which is mere filler in the broader bricolage of Life of Pablo but could be useful in setting the terms of the play’s perspective on friendship and loyalty (pair it, for example, as a refrain to a song like “Big Brother”). Or what about the oddities like “Street Lights” from 808s, which seemed tinny and strange in 2008, yet might breathe new life as a protagonist’s introspective monologue?
Could a Kanye musical reframe these “lesser works” in new ways, revealing depths or layers not readily apparent on first listen?
For my money, the best and most resonant themes Kanye has to offer come from his songs about family. “Family Business” comes to mind, with its sprawling intimate, multi-generational portrait of a tight-knit clan at a holiday gathering—and, of course, “Only One,” the most poignant song of his career.
The show would need to close with “Only One,” his 2014 collaboration with Paul McCartney. The song imagines Kanye’s grandmother looking down at him from heaven, speaking words so loving and understanding that she absolves him of all sin:
You’ll be the man you always knew you could be…
No, you’re not perfect. But you’re not your mistakes.
What do you think, whether Kanye fan or Kanye hater?
There is no right answer. Not yet, at least. And this is not the entire catalogue of responses I’ve received to this prompt. Expect another installment soon.
Or do you have the answer? Contribute yours by leaving it below in the comments, on the Facebook page, or by emailing WhatWouldBaleDo@gmail.com.