Tuesday, June 12, 2012

From Screen to Stage and Back Again

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers
Over at The Film Experience today, Michael did a post about turning Broadway shows into movies and vice-versa. He was decidedly against the latter, though I had to point out at least one (among several) exception - The Producers. But more on that particular show in a bit.

There are currently 7 Broadway musicals based on films: Bring It On; Newsies; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Ghost; Sister Act; Once and The Lion King. And this has been a trend for a while. Of course, I blame Andrew Lloyd Weber, whose adaptation of Sunset Boulevard seems to have started the trend. Oh, there have been several before that: 42nd Street; Promises, Promises (based on The Apartment); Applause! (based on All About Eve); A Little Night Music (based on Smiles of a Summer Night), but these were relatively few and far between. Lately though, shows like Beauty and the Beast; The Little Mermaid; Tarzan; Mary Poppins (all Disney productions); Little Shop of Horrors; The Wedding Singer; Legally Blonde; Shrek; Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang; Spamalot (based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail); Singin' in the Rain; Billy Elliot and Xanadu have graced the Great White Way. 

The cast of Spamalot
 Some (Little Shop...; Spamalot; Xanadu) were actually quite good. Others, not so much. And there is at least one more Disney show on deck; Aladdin is scheduled to hit Broadway next season. Of course, the aforementioned The Producers is probably the best example of when this works. For many years I told anyone who would listen that Mel Brooks should adapt his 1968 movie (one of the funniest films ever made) into a Broadway show. The fact that it went on to win a record-setting 12 Tony Awards proved me right.

Some people have griped to me about shows like Kander and Ebb's brilliant Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Ehrens and Flaherty's Ragtime. "They were movies first, Uncle P!" But like the upcoming Rebecca  and Matilda, these shows are based on the novels which inspired the films, rather than the films themselves. Still I have to wonder about the state of the original Broadway musical. Is Broadway becoming like Hollywood, regurgitating and/or adapting old ideas because they've run out of new ones? I doubt that. But people seem to like the familiar. "I loved that movie! Let's see the musical!"

Of course, many musicals from the 40's through the '80's have been made into movies. Some, brilliantly: Funny Girl; West Side Story; Cabaret; Chicago; Hair. Others, not so much: Jesus Christ Superstar; Evita; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Phantom of the Opera; Nine. Currently, the film version of Rock of Ages is receiving scathing reviews. 

One of my favorite musicals (which deserves much more love than ever received) Bill Russell and Henry Krieger's heart-wrenching show about conjoined twins The Hilton Sisters - Sideshow, would make one hell of a movie. I can also imagine Avenue Q; Urinetown; The Boy from Oz; Wicked; The Drowsy Chaperone and Zombie Prom (among a few others) would all probably do quite well on celluloid (though these days movies have gone digital). 

Musicals will (hopefully) always be a part of American Theatre and as long as they are, they will be adapted into films. I just hope that the best of them get the film adaptations they deserve.

What original musicals would you like to see made into movies? Let me know in the comments.

More, anon.

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