Friday, November 28, 2014

reversal of fortune - from screen to stage?

The cast of Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman."  Why hasn't any one adapted this natural into a stage musical?

The immediate previous essay comments on Broadway's current penchant of adapting popular movies, mostly recent ones, into lavish stage musicals.  Not a bad idea, except that most of the choices have been slightly wacky.  "Rocky"?  "The Bridges of Madison County"?  Oy.

Not every Broadway musical derived from a successful film makes sense.  Not every past movie lends itself to singing and dancing the way a "Hairspray" or a "Kinky Boots" does.  Not every old film is as natural a musical as "The Producers."

The new musical version of Andrew Bergman's 1992 movie, "Honeymoon in Vegas," which begins previews in two weeks and opens January 15, is one of those rarities that makes complete sense.  Bergman himself did the adaptation and he's come up with a delightfully wonderful show, an old-fashioned musical comedy, along the lines of "Bye Bye Birdie."  The New York Times' Ben Brantley said as much in his rave review when the show premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey in October, 2013. A natural musical.

Anyway, here are my picks for ten films that would make terrific musicals.

I think. 

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" - This 1993 masterwork, directed by Henry Selick under the eye of auteur Tim Burton, contains one of the screen's best original song scores - a symphonic blend of the elegant and the eccentric by Danny Elfman.  Disney has been so astute and so aggressive in refashioning its animations into surefire stage musicals that it's quite curious that the studio has managed to overlook this one.


"True Stories" - The talented David Byrne made his directorial debut in 1986 with this inventive new-style musical, which he co-wrote with playwright Beth Henley and Henley's then-boyfriend, actor Stephen Tobolowsky, and then seemingly retired.  Too bad because he had an original vision.  This film bristles with idiosyncrasies and terrific songs and its eclectic cast - John Goodman, Swoosie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Annie McEnroe and Byrne himself - operates in an apt alternative space.

"Elmer Gantry" - Sinclair Lewis' novel was already the basis of a powerful and hugely entertaining movie - filmed in 1960 by Richard Brooks - as well as a stage musical.  Yes, as mentioned in the previous essay, it was staged in 1970 with the late Robert Shaw in the title role and Rita Moreno as Sister Sharon, directed by choreographer Onna White.  The rest of the creative team was lesser known  (book by Peter Bellwood; music and lyrics by Stanley Lebowsky and Fred Tobias, respectively) and the show closed after only one performance. Ouch.  But there's still potential for a great musical here, particularly if cast with someone as dynamic as Burt Lancaster, who brought a musical lilt to his showstopping performance in the film.  One problem: The subject of lay preachers was the basis of the recent flop, "Leap of Faith," also based on a film.


"My Sister Eileen" - Richard Quine's highly regarded 1955 musical version of Ruth McKenney's perennially popular stories about life and a career in New York/Greenwich Village of several decades ago already comes with a great script by Quine and Blake Edwards and a nimble song score by Leo Rubin and Jule Styne.  It would be ill-advised to update the material.  "My Sister Eileen" is comfortably ensconced in the past and should remain a period piece. And keep the Bob Fosse choreography.

"The Landlord" - Hal Ashby's 1970 seriocomedy, based on the book by Kristin Hunter, remains one of the best films about race relations, alternately comic and tragic.  It has just the right number of characters for an intimate stage musical and already comes with a selection of evocative songs that Al Kooper wrote as background for the film.  I could see Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Williams taking on the Pearl Bailey and Diana Sands roles, Harriet Harris doing Lee Grant's bit and Jeremy Jordan in for Beau Bridges. Bill Gunn's movie script should adapt well.

"A Face in the Crowd" - Budd Schulberg's cautionary (and prescient) fable about corrupting power, directed in 1957 by Elia Kazan, is a natural for a stage musical, given that its lead character, the hillbilly Lonesome Rhodes, ingratiates himself with the public with his twangy singing. True, Andy Griffin is indelible in the film but country superstar Blake Shelton could easily fit Griffin's boots. He could be a knockout  if anyone is inspired to turn the material into a full-scale musical.

"Raise the Red Lantern"- Yimou Zhang's splashy 1991 melodrama about the pecking order and rivalries among the four wives of a wealthy lord in 1920s China is so fascinating and so accessible because one could read the material as being about office politics in the workplace.  With virtually an all-female cast, this would make a great Stephen Sondheim musical and not atypical at all for the legendary composer who tackled similarly difficult subjects in "Pacific Overtures" and "Passion."

"One-Trick Pony" - Paul Simon's music never ages and the fabulous songs he wrote for Robert M. Young's 1980 film (for which Simon also wrote the screenplay) would sound wonderful sung live - on a New York stage.  Simon is now too old to recreate his autobiographical role on Broadway, but his story about a singer trying to navigate the details of a tour while putting out an album remains as contemporary as ever.

"Waiting for Guffman" - This one could be the next "The Producers."  Christopher Guest's tale of an awful centennial show - being done by an amateur cast (including a dentist and a couple who work as real-estate agents) from Blaine, Missouri and under the direction of a clueless "off-off-off-off-off-Broadway" character named Corky St. Clair - is ready-made for the Broadway stage. And the songs, of course, are appropriate idiotic.  It remains a mystery why Guest hasn't done this himself.

"Mike's Murder" - James Bridges' ill-fated and misunderestood 1984 film is about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the memory of a one-night stand after the guy is murdered.  Bridges, who also wrote the script, originally told his story backwards and used a song score by Joe Jackson in lieu of the usual instrumentals.  When the film failed in previews, it was re-edited and made chronological and the Jackson songs were scrapped for a John Barry score. During the film's delay,  A&M Records released Jackson's soundtrack in 1983, a solid year before the film's release, and it became something of a sensation.  And with good reason.  It's terrific.  The story, with Jackson's marvelous songs, would make a fine small musical.

So there you have it.  My nominations.  What are yours?  Any Ideas?

Share!

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!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

que sera

There are hundreds - nay, thousands - of movie blogs on the web.  Too many.  It can be overwhelming to those film freaks compelled to sample them all.  Personally, I reduced my movie-blog perusing to one, Vienna’s Classic Hollywood, which is hands-down, inarguably, the best.

Vienna's goal is simple - to treat us to an array of movie stills, posters and especially rare production shots, such as the one above of Vera Miles in a costume check when she was getting ready to star for Hitchcock as Madeleine/Judy in "Vertigo."  Vera left the production, of course, and Kim Novak came on board, turning in an iconic breakthrough performance.

It's difficult to separate Novak from"Vertigo," and one can only imagine how Miles would have read the role(s) if her pregnancy hadn't intruded.

I hope Vienna doesn't mind that I "borrowed" this shot from her site, but what better way to introduce you to Vienna's most essential blog?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

indelible moment: "The Graduate" (1967)

It's 1967. The movie is Mike Nichols' "The Graduate," adapted by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham from Charles Webb's novel.

Dustin Hoffman, as recent graduate Benjamin Braddock, is talking with Elisabeth Frazer, as Joanne, a friend of his parents, when they are interrupted by Mr. McQuire, played by Walter Brooke.

Mr. McQuire's one-word recommendation to Benjamin brought gales of laughter in theaters - and still does, even though that word has proven to be eerily prophetic.

Joanne: "What are you going to do now?"
Ben: "I was going to go upstairs for a minute."
Joanne: "I mean with your future - your life."
Ben: "That's a little bit hard to say."
Mr. McGuire: (interrupting them) "Ben."
Benjamin: (to Joanne) "Excuse me."
Benjamin: (turning away from Joanne) "Mr. McGuire!"
Mr. McGuire: "Ben."
Benjamin: (voice trailing off) "Mr. McGuire."
Mr.McGuire: "Come with me for a minute. I want to talk to you. Excuse us, Joanne?"
Joanne: "Of course."

(pause)

Mr. McGuire: "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word."
Benjamin: "Yes, sir."
Mr. McGuire: "Are you listening?"
Benjamin: "Yes, I am."
Mr. McGuire: "Plastics."
Benjamin: "Exactly how do you mean?"
Mr.McGuire: "There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?"
Ben: "Yes, I will."
Mr. McGuire: "Enough said. That's a deal."