The party’s over: On the Town, Bells are Ringing, and the problem of adapting postwar New York

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter engages with the ways in which film and theatre offer different experiences, contrasting the movie version of On the Town (1949), which is usually praised for its location filming but criticized for its treatment of Bernstein’s score, with that of Bells Are Ringing (1960), which is praised for its retention of Judy Holliday from the Broadway production but criticized for not achieving an imaginative cinematic rendering. The chapter looks at adaptation through three different lenses: how representations of the city are adapted from stage to screen, how those films themselves adapt the city, and how the transformation the city was undergoing required the adaptation of those processes of representation. Although location filming provided exciting opportunities for both films, the directors of both movies had to contend with the fact that New York itself was rapidly changing. The chapter reminds us that at a time of New York City’s dramatic transformation, any film or play set there needed to contend with the interrelated questions of how to represent the city and how the experience of the city was changing. Film adaptations of stage musicals used such divergent aesthetic strategies in ways that were thematically productive, as a means of tentatively, fleetingly resolving that problem. The shakiness of their resolutions indicates the genre’s increasingly apparent incompatibility with the new city, a problem more critical for film because of its direct engagement with the city through location shooting, which increased substantially in the 1960s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Musical Theatre Screen Adaptations
EditorsDominic McHugh
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'The party’s over: On the Town, Bells are Ringing, and the problem of adapting postwar New York'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this