Thursday, November 20, 2014

reversal of fortune - from stage to screen?

Robert Shaw was a singing Elmer Gantry

The on-going trend of Broadway depending on movies for source material has not gone unnoticed, at least not by The New York Times which regularly runs updates detailing which popular film, usually a relatively recent one, is being refurbished for the stage, and always as a musical.

However, no one has picked up on the fact that the movie industry no longer depends on Broadway for "product."   A curious crisscross, a surprising reversal, has taken place, but more about that a little later.

Perhaps the best of the Times' reports on the ubiquity of musical stage adaptations of successful movies was Patrick Healy's title-packed essay, "Like the Movie, Only Different," which ran a little more than a year ago, timed to coincide with the opening of a song-&-dance version of "Rocky."

In it, Healy noted that musical versions of movies are not exactly a new idea:  "Big," the Tom Hanks film, came to Broadway as a musical back in 1996.  It was a flop but it was predated by such successes as "Wonderful Town," "The Most Happy Fella," "Sweet Charity," "A Little Night Music" and "Promises, Promises," all based on films but with notable title changes.

More obscure were musical versions of "Georgy Girl," "Alfie," "Lilies of the Field," "Lolita" (with songs by Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry!), "The Miracle on 34th Street" (by stalwart Meredith Willson, who titled his version "Here's Love"), "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (by Stephen Schwartz), "Exodus" (yes, "Exodus," retitled "Ari"), "East of Eden" (renamed "Here's Where I Belong"), "The World of Henry Orient" (reborn as "Henry, Sweet Henry") and "Gantry" (starring the late, great Robert Shaw, no less, as Elmer Gantry, and Rita Moreno as Sister Sharon), to name but a few.

And, of course, let's not forget the infamous - "Carrie" or "Holly Golightly" (aka, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," starring Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Chamberlain and Sally Kellerman). I could go on.  But won't.

If some of these titles seem a bit odd for musical treatment, that's a curiosity that has continued - and become much weirder.  "Big Fish, "Far from Heaven," "Hands on the Hardbody," "Love Story," "Catch Me If You Can,"  and "The Bridges of Madison County" have all come and gone as musicals.  And there's been talk of doing "Misery," "Diner," "Chariots of Fire," "The Bodyguard" and "Tootsie." Well, "Tootsie" admittedly makes some sense, as did the musical versions of "Hairspray" and "Kinky Boots."

There was once talk a few years ago of doing "Marty" with John C. Reilly in the title role.  It has yet to happen but I wouldn't count it out too quickly.

In one way, all this is great for Broadway.  Let's face it: There's a bottomless pit of movies to be turned into stage musicals.

On the other hand, stage plays are rarely gobbled up anymore by the movie industry.  This tradition is all but dead.  That revenue is gone. The Times could easily run a companion piece – or at least a sidebar – on how dramatically the Hollywood/Broadway relationship has changed.

There was a time when stage productions were a major source for the movie industry.  But not anymore.  Quick!   Name the Broadway shows that have been made into movies recently.  Off the top of my head, I can think of only six major titles – “Les Miserables,” “Rock of Ages,” “Rabbit Hole,”  "August: Osage County" and two by Roman Polanski - “Carnage” (“God of Carnage” on stage), and "Venus in Fur."

And coming up are "Into the Woods" and a remake of "Annie."

But, after that, I come up empty.

Successful stage plays like “Mister Roberts,” once routinely filmed, rarely make it to the big screen these days.

The marketing tool, “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture,” has become obsolete, replaced by “Soon to be a Major Broadway Musical.”

A reversal indeed.  But why?  Any theories?  Share!


Alex said...

You want a theory? While film has become technically sophisticated, that isn't true of the narratives that currently drive the industry. Franchise films - or films for kids (and kids who never grew up) - are all that matter, except at awards time. We get Marvel heroes and frat-house comedies ten months out of the year and then two months of films that do damage control.

joe baltake said...

Alex- You nailed it. -J

Brian said...

You forgot to mention "The Producers"!

joe baltake said...

Yes, I did! You make a good point, especially given that it went from film to stage and back to film again. But the film - much like the movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera" - is so darn unmemorable. Believe me, if you hadn't mentioned it, I still would have never thought of it.

Kevin said...

I grew up in NYC in the fifties and sixties and there always seemed to be a film version of a Broadway hit playing at Radio City Music Hall, and more times than not, it was a Warner Brothers release (Gypsy, Mister Roberts, Mary Mary, A Majority of One, Any Wednesday, Dark at the Top of the Stairs, The Music Man). I think the old Hollywood moguls (Jack Warner, especially) still thought of theatre as the more sophisticated and intellectual medium.


joe baltake said...

Kevin- Good point. I've always thought that the old Hollywood moguls appreciated the finer things in life - appreciated culture - because of their shared humble beginnings. Their method for bettering themselves was reflected in the movies they routinely would greenlight - films based on books and plays. The people in charge today - both the new moguls and young filmmakers - are from the TV generation. And it shows.

Kim said...

"Sunset Blvd."!

Cary said...

You forgot "Sugar." AKA, "Some Like It Hot."

wwolfe said...

Among the recent screen-to-stage adaptations, there also was the musical version of the lovely Olivia DeHavilland movie, "The Light in the Piazza." As I recall, that may have even won the Tony for Best Musical.