Screen to Stage
Following the box office and awards season success of the film adaptation of Les Miserables, (“success”, of course being a relative term depending on who you talk to), the strange and fickle relationship between Tinsel Town and The Great White Way soldiers on with several musical projects currently in the works.
Of course, if you ask us, there really hasn’t been a great transfer from stage to screen since 1978’s Grease which, to it’s credit, was a broad adaptation of the original stage musical. So, what did Grease do right that everyone since seems to do wrong? In one word; casting. Yes, the Grease crew were ALL too old to really be playing high school students and, yes, if it were remade today, (God help us), it would most assuredly look like a 50s version of Glee, (again, God help us), but despite the age quibbles, Director Randal Kleiser, in his first big screen effort, nailed it. The only other musical films we can think of that seemed to get the casting just about right came the following year with Milos Forman’s Hair, (a film widely under appreciated during it’s initial release but holds up surprisingly well today) and in 1986 with another very under appreciated movie musical, the almost perfect Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Yoda himself, Frank Oz.
Since the 70s we’ve seen A LOT of dubious and questionable casting decisions coming out of Hollywood that, in their own way, sank their ships before they ever had a chance to leave port. The movie musical has been an endless source of frustration for many in recent years, especially when the filmmakers seem to get so close to getting it right only to sabotage themselves with the casting of ill fitting “marquee” names.
1982’s Best Little Whorehouse in Texas seemed, at first blush, like it would be a surefire hit with the perfectly cast Dolly Parton at the peak of her career, unfortunately they cast Burt Reynolds as her would be suitor and sabotaged themselves unforgivably. Likewise John Travolta in Hairspray, with his distracting and grotesque make-up, affected voice and limited acting abilities crushed what should have been a monster hit. The Academy Award Winning Best Picture Chicago might have been a film worthy of repeat viewings but the often cringe inducing performances of Renee Zellweger and, at times, Richard Gere make that an unattractive prospect for most people.
The casting of the long anticipated big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita was wrong on so many levels we honestly wouldn’t know where to begin…actually, that’s not true, it begins with the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard casting of Madonna and pretty much goes from there.
One would think after the debacle that was Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Company would take great care with his Broadway blockbuster Phantom of the Opera, but alas, this was not to be, for two glaringly obvious reasons. First the choice of the artistically challenged Director Joel Schumaker, (for us he’s tied with M. Night Shyamalan for worst director of all time) and secondly, the shockingly odd decision to cast Gerald Butler in the title role. At this point in Butler’s career he was considered by most an “unknown”. When the power brokers cast an unknown in a major big screen adaptation of the longest running musical in Broadway history it would normally be safe to assume the guy is going to have some serious vocal chops and deliver a legendary musical performance but, for those that have had the displeasure of seeing the film, you know this did not turn out to be the case. How Butler won that highly coveted musical theatre role as a non-singing unknown is still a major head scratcher for us but then, Hollywood moves in some strange and mysterious ways sometimes.
The films in recent years that came very close to getting it right in the casting department include Dreamgirls, (with the exception of Beyonce), Rent, which to it’s credit took great pains to deliver the original Broadway cast nearly intact, (and in turn all but guaranteed that strange anomaly would never happen again), and Mama Mia, which cast the women perfectly and the men….not so much, (we love Pierce but, holy shit, it’s just too painful to watch let alone hear.)
Last year’s Rock of Ages shot themselves in the box office foot with the stunt casting of Tom Cruise who, these days, repels as many from the theaters as he once attracted, (though the film would have still been doomed with Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand in the mix).
Most times the primary reason the big Broadway musical fails on film is the casting, followed closing behind by the direction. This brings us to the two movie musicals that should have soared at the box office and been as big, if not bigger, than Grease, namely Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables.
Not only did Sweeney Todd have some serious casting issues, but in the film’s first reel we quickly became aware of the fact that Goth King Tim Burton had no understanding of the dark humor intrinsic to the success of the Stephen Sondheim classic. If you’ve never seen the show on stage you will be very surprised to know that there are some big dark and twisted laughs in that musical, which were nowhere to be found in the film.
Les Miserables is a tough one for us. In it’s initial release we were very kind, to the point of a rave review but, after repeat viewings and closer inspection, we’ve very nearly done a 180. The truth is we had been anticipating this film for 20 years and wanted it to be great so badly we might have been trying to will it into greatness. Hindsight tells us, we were wrong about this one.
While we are big fans of Tom Hooper and his previous work, his obsessive close ups and handheld camera work was a complete miscalculation and distraction. Likewise, much was made about the actors singing “live” on film, which is still an interesting prospect for a movie musical just NOT this one. Singing “live” in a smaller, more intimate movie musical makes total and complete sense, however, when you are dealing with an epic on the scale of Les Miserables it’s a recipe for disaster and, from the opening with the convicts in the ship yard shouting their individual lines more than singing, we knew this gimmick wasn’t going to work. Hooper has said he was looking to bring a strong sense of “reality” and “truth” to the piece, an incredibly pretentious and curious choice given most of us, in “reality”, don’t walk around breaking into song on the street. Hooper’s direction at times seemed like he wanted to ignore the fact that this was a pop opera and that all of that singing was just a necessary evil that he somehow needed to work around. As for the casting, well, we are big fans of both Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman but we are now willing to concede, it was WRONG. The bottom line is, while both actors are capable singers, Jackman, for nearly the entire film, was straining at the tippy top of his range. No question, the actor is a solid baritone but the tenor notes, try as he did, just weren’t there, particularly on Valjean’s normally quiet prayer, “Bring Him Home“. Russell Crowe simply lacked the confidence and the vocal force that is required to successfully pull off the musical requirements of Javert. For the record, the casting of Anne Hathaway, Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried and Colm Wilkinson was dead on right, the rest of the cast-sadly- not so much.
All of this brings us to the point of this week’s Broadway Bitez. There’s been A LOT of news lately in regards to the big screen transfers of Broadway musicals and we thought the subject was definitely worthy of talking about this week. So, without further yada, yada, yada, let’s get this cast party started!
• Into the Woods
Director Rob Marshall best known for his Oscar Winning Chicago, his television adaptation of Annie and, most recently, for captaining The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, has teamed up with Disney once again to bring us Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Marshall has a lot to prove with this one given he has lots of musical theater detractors still grumbling about his miscasting of Chicago and the train wreck chop job he did on Nine, (we thought Daniel Day could do no wrong but…)
In recent weeks the casting news has been coming steadily and, while this is not one of our favorite musicals, so far the casting seems pretty close to perfect.
Sondheim’s fractured fairy tale is basically a musical about a witch who conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
As of today it looks like The Witch will be played by Meryl Streep, Cinderella is rumored at present to be Anna Kendrick. Jake Gyllenhaal is Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince is to be played by Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine. For those that don’t know the musical, the lead roles are that of the Baker and his Wife and this bit of casting news gives us a lot of hope and indicates Marshall is going to get this flick right. James Corden, a relative new comer to the big screen, will play the Baker opposite Emily Blunt as his wife. Blunt is best known for her fine work as the envious receptionist in The Devil Wears Prada and Corden received the Best Actor prize at the 2012 Tony Award for his hilarious star turn in the British import, One Man, Two Guvnors.
Jack, of “Jack and The Beanstalk” fame, will be played by Daniel Huttlestone, (Gavroche from last year’s Les Miserables) and Tracey Ullman has been cast as his mother, (brilliant!)
Christine Baranski, Streep’s costar from Mama Mia, will be playing Cinderella’s Stepmother and Johnny Depp has signed on to play the role of The Wolf opposite an as of yet un-cast Red Riding Hood, (may we suggest Chloe Grace Moretz, please?)
Into the Woods will begin production in the U.K. this Fall
• The Last Five Years
Speaking of Anna Kendrick, despite her extremely well received success in films like 50/50, Up in the Air and End of Watch, the young actress is clearly most interested in projects that let her flex her vocal muscles as much as her dramatic. Many will remember Kendrick made her big screen debut in the musical cult film Camp, in which she performed a hilariously memorable version of “I’m Still Here” from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies, ( and in doing so all but stole the movie.) The actress also delivered a solid performance, both emotionally and vocally, in last year’s surprise hit, Pitch Perfect. Before Kendrick heads off to London to begin work on Into the Woods she’ll wrap the film version of the hit Off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years in which she stars opposite Jeremy Jordan, best known for his work on the now cancelled NBC series Smash as well as the lead role in the Broadway musical Newsies.
The Last Five Years explores a five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a rising novelist, and Cathy Hyatt, a struggling actress. was inspired by author Jason Robert Brown’s failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill. The film is currently in production in New York City.
We don’t have a trailer for The Last Five Years as of yet but we thought it would make sense to include a little Anna for you here so we’ve chosen this short film released recently in conjunction with the film Pitch Perfect. Enjoy!
• The Jersey Boys Meet Dirty Harry
Jon Favreau, author and star of the indie classic Swingers and Director of box office hits like Iron Man & Iron Man 2 was set to direct the big screen adaptation of Jersey Boys, the multiple Tony Award Winning Broadway musical based on the lives of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, but when Warner Brothers allowed the project to go into turn around it was snatched up by GK Films who now have Clint Eastwood filling the Director’s chair.
While it was previously reported that Favreau was looking at some name talent for the film it appears Eastwood is going in a very different direction. Deadline.com recently reported that Clint is seriously looking at actors from various stage productions of the hit musical. The film is expected to go into production sometime this Summer in Los Angles, (Sorry Jersey not this time, maybe you puckered up to the wrong guy Gov. Christie?)
Here’s a clip from the stage version of Jersey Boys for you, this is easily the best Broadway show we’ve seen in the last decade and we’re confident it’s in good hands with Eastwood, if Clint were ever going to direct in this particular genre, this is THE show.
• The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
The soundtrack to the John Mellencamp and Stephen King stage musical The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County was released recently and we’ve haven’t been able to stop playing it since we first got our hands on it.
The musical premiered last year in Atlanta, Georgia at the Alliance Theatre and the reviews were extremely mixed, Stephen King’s script was viewed by many as problematic, though Mellencamp’s score earned nearly unanimous praise.
We have our doubts about this show ever reaching Broadway but the album is destined for a lot of attention when the 2013 awards season rolls around.
This promotional video put out recently covers all the details for you, we can’t recommend this album to you more highly, it’s a must own for music lovers of all ages.
• Yo, The Sun Be Comin’ Out Tomorrow, Bitches!
In what sounds like a bad sketch from an old Saturday Night Live, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s production company are moving forward with the Annie remake they had originally planned as a vehicle for their daughter and have cast the title role with 2013 Academy Award nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild“), according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is attached to star opposite Wallis in the film, as a character named Benjamin Stacks, a variation of Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.
Actually many of the characters’ names have been changed for this remake. An earlier casting notice for the Columbia Pictures film asked for actresses to play an 11-year-old foster child named Isabella, who dreams of a better life involving a “no-limit credit card and shopping sprees galore,” and an eight-year-old child named Mia, who has a slight speech impediment, (O’tay!)
Oscar Winner Sandra Bullock is in talks to play the role known as Miss Hannigan in the stage musical but, given the production teams predilection for revising the original material, we suspect that character’s name will most likely be changing as well, may we suggest Miss Crackerbitch?
The film will include SOME of the Annie classics, which were written by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin but many will be cut to make room for additions by Jay-Z., the rapper who previously reworked “It’s a Hard Knock Life” into his “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),”. Jay-Z, of course, is best known as the modern day Cole Porter responsible for classics like “Big Pimpin‘”, with the now quotable lyrics, “You know I thug em, f*ck em, love em, leave em, cause I don’t f*ckin need em, take em out the hood, keep em lookin good, but I don’t f*ckin feed em, first time they fuss I’m breezin, Talkin bout, “What’s the reasons?”, I’m a pimp in every sense” of the word, b*tch”.
No doubt with Jay-Z offering up new classics, this flick is definitely going to be fun for the whole family!
Honestly, why even bother calling this Annie? Why not Orphan Ho? Better yet, why not write your own musical instead of cherry picking an American Broadway classic?
Orphan Ho is coming to a theater near you Christmas of 2014 and should be on it’s way out by New Years.
• August: Osage County
Of course musicals aren’t the only shows making the transfer from stage to screen this year. Tracy Letts‘ Tony & Pulitzer Prize winning play August: Osage County is headed for the big screen this holiday season and, we suspect, some serious Oscar glory.
The play/film is a look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.
Check out the trailer!
Screen to Stage
• Disney’s The Jungle Book Premieres in Chicago
Given Disney’s success with their stage adaptations of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Newsies, it’s no surprise Disney Theatrical currently has several projects in various stages of development. Of course with Tarzan and The Little Mermaid failing to deliver the same level of success enjoyed by the company’s other properties it’s always anybody’s guess as to what can be expected.
The stage adaptation of Disney’s The Jungle Book premiered this past month at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and the reviews were, on average, positive, albeit with consistent reservations.
This is a tough one for us, though we haven’t seen the stage adaptation yet, The Jungle Book is our all time favorite Disney classic and, while we remain hopeful, judging from this brief glimpse we have our strong reservations as well. Put simply, the vocal work of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway and the legendary Louis Prima in the film, is an extremely difficult act to follow. As an example, pay close attention to Andre De Shields in the clip below, De Shields is a fine actor and performer in his own right, but to ask the man to recreate or reinvent the masterful work of Louis Prima as “King Louis” is, in our opinion, a mountain a little too high for any performer to climb.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s currently on stage in Chi-Town
• The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Jungle Book is just one of many projects Disney currently has in development for the stage. You actually might be surprised to know that a stage adaptation of their film The Hunchback of Notre Dame has already been presented on stage in 1999. The reason you may not have heard about the show is that this work-in-progress was titled Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, and it’s only production to date was in Berlin, Germany.
Since the film’s original release a stage version has been stuck in “discussion” hell as the project, for one reason or another, has been pushed back a countless number of times. The ongoing speculations surfaced once again in a New York Post article published in January of this year. The stage version is to be penned by Peter Parnell, best known for his stage adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, working from the original screenplay by Disney scribe Tab Murphy. The Score, as it was in the film, would feature music by Alan Menken, (Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors) and lyrics from Stephen Schwartz, (Godspell, Pippin, Pocahontas, Wicked). It’s been reported the musical dream team of Menken/ Schwartz would also be writing new music for the stage version. In an interview published in the Fall of 2012 Stephen Schwartz said of the project, “I very much enjoyed working on both the movie and the German stage production from 1999, and I love Alan’s music for it and have always thought it his best score, so if this moves ahead, I think it could be fulfilling….”
While all of this sounds promising it’s important to note, Schwartz is currently in early pre-production for a big screen adaptation of his Broadway hit Wicked, with Billy Elliot Director Stephen Daldry at the helm, and continuing discussions with The Weinstein Company regarding a movie version of the composer’s 1972 hit Pippin, which is currently enjoying a renaissance on Broadway with a Tony Award winning revival.
Alan Menken is also extremely preoccupied with several projects outside Hunchback including, a big screen musical version of the cult Saturday morning T.V. classic, Lidsville, (which recently received a greenlight from Dreamworks), as well as Broadway adaptations of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Disney’s Aladdin.
So when can we expect the stage version of Hunchback? It’s hard to say, but the decade is young, hopefully we’ll see this one by 2020?
Until then, here’s a clip from the German production, if you’re familiar with the film no set up is required, you’ll figure it out.
• Disney’s Aladdin is Headed for a Whole New World
As mentioned in the previous piece Disney’s Aladdin is headed to Broadway and will begin it’s 9 week out of town tryout in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 19th of this year and is due to open in New York at the New Amsterdam Theatre in the first part of 2014, (before the Tony Award cutoff date no doubt).
The stage adaptation of Aladdin had a Summer workshop production in 2011 at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The show has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin; Mr. Beguelin wrote the book as well. Casey Nicholaw, one of the Tony Award-winning directors of the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, will direct and choreograph.
Check out this new addition to the score by Menken/ Rice, from the Seattle workshop production.
• Toga! Toga! Toga……!
Universal Stage Productions has been trying to develop a musical based on the classic comedy Animal House for quite some time, the pop group Barenaked Ladies were originally onboard to compose the score but, as was reported in the Lethbridge Herald last week, things have changed.
Producers of the new stage musical based on the 1978 film comedy have tapped Tony Award-nominated songwriter David Yazbek to write the tunes. Yazbek is actually one of our personal favorites, first and foremost for his hilarious and brilliant score for the Broadway hit The Full Monty.
The film’s original producer Matty Simmons, who is also the executive producer of the stage musical, explained the shift in gears to the Lethbridge Herald, “It just wasn’t something we liked,” Simmons said of the initial songs by Barenaked Ladies. “We wanted music that would fit the story and the nature of the story and the raucousness of the story. The movie has a personality and the music had to suit that, you know?”
No doubt they made the right call with this one.
Animal House is set to premiere some time in 2014 and is expected to be directed by everyone’s go to guy these days for the hip and irreverent, Casey Nicholaw, of Book of Mormon fame as well as the above mentioned Aladdin. If we can predict anything regarding this production, we’d bet the house they’ve been talking to Josh Gadd about stepping into the Belushi role, (c’mon, they’d be crazy not to!)
Here’s a taste of Yazbek for you, enjoy “Man” from The Full Monty.
There are actually so many different movie to musical adaptations in the works right now it’s almost impossible to keep up with them but recent reports indicate Slumdog Millionaire, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Muppets, Disney’s Dumbo, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway and Sheryl Crow’s repeatedly postponed Diner are all looking to take their chances on the Great White Way in the next few years. Some of these sound great while others seem really odd, (Pan’s Labyrinth? It’s one of our all time favorite flicks but we really don’t need to see that thing with the eyeballs in his palms belting out an 11 o’clock number, ever.)