Metro Weekly

Turning ‘The Outsiders’ Into a Musical Was a Mistake (Review)

Like a day-old bagel, "The Outsiders" is only a sufficient Broadway musical if you're absolutely starved for options.

The Outsiders - Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made
The Outsiders – Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made

Remember The Outsiders? Most gay men and straight women over forty will. This is partly because Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 movie featured all of the matinee hunks of the eighties: Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, and Patrick Swayze.

Another reason? S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel of the same name has been required reading in high schools around the country since it was released in 1967. Its popularity has soared over the last few years. BBC News has classified it as one of the top 100 most influential novels of all time.

So why shouldn’t it be turned into a musical? Broadway has a full season of literary adaptations currently underway. The creative teams of The Notebook, Water for Elephants, and The Great Gatsby have all drawn inspiration from their best-selling book counterparts, and each have high hopes for Tony nominations. In the case of The Outsiders, however, the new Broadway musical treatment is not the best way to serve the story.

According to a recent New York Times article, “The idea to musicalize The Outsiders came from Coppola’s company, which owns the stage production rights. Fred Roos, one of the movie’s producers, thought its ‘authentic, universal and gritty themes’ would attract theatergoers. [Hinton] was surprised and even a bit skeptical about my chances of getting it on as a Broadway musical,’ he recalled, ‘but she let me run with it.'”

Hinton shouldn’t have. The source material for any would-be musical should naturally and organically sing to the reader. A situation or character’s emotions will be so heightened that the only thing left to do is break out in song. While the story of The Outsiders has a few moments like these, they aren’t enough to merit an entire musical.

Socioeconomics and teen angst are some of the themes Roos references. The coming-of-age tale unites the orphaned Curtis brothers, Ponyboy (Brody Grant), Darrel (Brent Comer), Sodapop (Jason Schmidt) with their friends, Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch), Dallas Winston (Joshua Boone), and Two-Bit (Daryl Tofa). Collectively, they are known as “The Greasers,” scrappy kids, products of working-class backgrounds, who live on the east side in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Across town, they are bullied by the preppy, more affluent “Socials”, or “Socs” for short. Turf and status divide them, and it does the Greasers no help when they put the moves on Cherry Valance (Emma Pittman), a young lady who runs with the Socs. In fact, all hell breaks loose, and the Greasers soon find themselves running from the authorities.

The Outsiders - Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made
The Outsiders – Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made

The opening number makes it painfully obvious that we’re in for a night of cookie-cutter melodrama. “I’ve never been out of Tulsa before / I wonder what it would be like / I’ve never known anybody to leave / Most people get stuck here for life,” Ponyboy, who serves as the narrator, sings. Aside from the poorly written near rhyme and the pithy, overwrought sentiments of a young man yearning to break from his town, the song itself is bland and dull.

It’s a shame, really, because the rest of the score, penned by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine is quite good and one of the better scores to hit Broadway at the moment.

The blend of country, folk, rockabilly, and bluegrass combines components of more traditional Broadway fare. But we’re left wishing for a concert performance of the music rather than having it wrapped in Adam Rapp and Levine’s overlong story that packs plenty of grease but is short on grit and substance. Dally even has a song that acronymizes G-R-E-A-S-E. (There’s an existing Broadway show that covers this. It’s called Grease.)

Herein lies the major problem for The Outsiders. While the book’s poetic references to Robert Frost and Charles Dickens are retained (a noticeable omission is Ponyboy and Johnny’s affinity for Gone With the Wind, because even for a show staged in 2024, that would be taboo), they don’t particularly translate well to the stage book. Nor do these characters have much dimension.

Sure, they have an unflagging devotion to one another, and while there are some homoerotic overtones, the musical is more focused on the relationships straight men have with each another and their willingness to be vulnerable. To that end, it’s a lovely portrait. By now, though, we’ve seen all of these characters on stage and screen and have heard all of the arguments between the bullies and victims. Consequently, they all come across as caricatures rather than young adults facing life’s biggest challenges.

An especially difficult facet to believe is the unfortunate wig Ponyboy is tasked with after cutting his brown hair and dying the rest with hydrogen peroxide. In an attempt to evade police, he asks if he looks like Julie Andrews. Johnny replies, “More like Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry.” Both are wrong. It’s impossible not to conjure an image of Chris Eliot as Roland Schitt — and even harder to take him seriously after this poor directorial choice from Danya Taymor.

The Outsiders - Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made
The Outsiders – Photo: Matt Murphy for Murphy Made

Brothers Rick and Jeff Kuperman give this cast some demanding athletic moves and choreographed fight scenes that are visually stunning, especially during the group rumble. During that second act climax, the scene is complemented only by Brian McDevitt’s lighting which resembles a lightning storm, and Jeremy Chernick and Lilias Meeh’s special effects of a lengthy, rainy downpour over the ensemble.

Like a day-old bagel, The Outsiders is a sufficient show if you’re starved for options. Yet in a Broadway chockablock with a variety of entertainment, one has to wonder who the audience for this material is. At one point, the characters sing of “Great Expectations.” Best to lower yours.

The Outsiders (★★☆☆☆) is playing an open-ended run at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St. in New York City. Tickets are $119 to $299. Visit

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