By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 11, 2012 at 8:58AM
While we're not exactly overrun by the things, the last decade has seen a semi-revival of the movie musical. Once Hollywood's biggest genre, the style virtually disappeared from theaters in the 1980s and 1990s, only for the likes of "Moulin Rouge!" to revitalize cinematic singing-and-dancing in the early '00s, and now we get a movie musical, if not necessarily every year, then every couple, and more often than not it's an adaptation of a stage hit.
And the man perhaps most associated with the revival, along with "Hairspray" and "Rock of Ages" helmer Adam Shankman, is Rob Marshall, a Tony Award-winning choreographer and director (his big break was co-directing a stage take on "Cabaret" with Sam Mendes), whose 2002 film debut "Chicago" was the first musical to win the Best Picture Oscar since "Oliver!" in 1968. His second musical film, "Nine," wasn't anywhere near as successful, but with the director coming off a billion-dollar hit in the song-free "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," he's got something close to free rein, and it was only going to be a matter of time before he returned to the genre he knows he best.
And it looks like that return is on the horizon, as The Hollywood Reporter report that Marshall has signed a two-year deal tying him exclusively to 'Pirates' studio Disney, and one of the projects he'll be pursuing as part of that? An adaptation of "Into The Woods," one of the best known musicals by one of the form's most critically acclaimed talents, Stephen Sondheim ("Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street").
Marshall has worked as a choreographer on a number of Sondheim stage productions, and originally met with the musical's co-writer James Lapine a year ago, the writer telling the trade, "We talked about the meaning of it, and how timely it is still, and about family - that's always at the core of our lives." Marshall took the project to Disney, who reacted with some enthusiasm, and now the film's moving ahead, with Lapine writing the screenplay, and Sondheim being courted to add new songs to his stage hit.
The show, which originally premiered in 1986, fits right into the zeitgeist of the moment, focusing as it does on a number of famous fairy tale characters, including Cinderella, Jack, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood, who cross paths with the central couple, The Baker and The Baker's Wife, as they seek to lift a witch's curse that has left them unable to have children. But it's not some unimaginative "Red Riding Hood"-style reboot; instead, it's a rather dark, complex piece of work about the effects that parents can have on their children, and vice versa.
The film has competition for Marshall's next slot, with a remake of "The Thin Man," which will reteam the director with Johnny Depp, already well into development, with Billy Ray working on a script at present. And plenty of others have tried and failed to make "Into The Woods" in the past. Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes flirted with it at various points, while versions directed by Penny Marshall (with Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn and Cher) and Rob Minkoff (with Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon) both came very close to production in the 1990s.
But there's a reason it's never come to pass in movie form. The structure of the piece, which runs at about three hours, is an inherently uncinematic one, with a false ending midway through, and then a sort of darker reprise of the first half -- it essentially sequelizes itself at the halfway mark. Furthermore, Marshall's going to have to be a little more imaginative with his direction -- there aren't a lot of dance numbers, his greatest strength, and he certainly can't use the "take the songs and put them on a stage" approach he's applied to previous musicals.
Still, the piece is a great one, and we liked "Chicago" well enough that we won't dismiss Marshall's involvement entirely, particularly with Sondheim and Lapine involved. If nothing else, we'd rather see him take this on than "The Thin Man," and if Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" takes off at the end of the year, expect this to climb Disney's list of priorities.