By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood June 17, 2014 at 7:00AM
The multiplex is alive once more with the sound of Broadway show tunes. Whatever damage was done by 2012’s hair-band tribute "Rock of Ages" was quickly forgotten after the big-screen adaptation of "Les Misérables" had the people singing (and sobbing) along by year’s end.
"Les Mis," the first musical since 2002’s "Chicago" to make the cut as a Best Picture Oscar-candidate, was just a warm-up act for 2014. A trio of popular shows, all aimed at distinctly different audiences, will take a bow in movie theaters this year. First up: "Jersey Boys," the backstage story of the '60s pop group the Four Seasons, opening Friday.
Meanwhile, the holiday season will deliver a pair of tune-filled presents for fans of the musical genre, a diversified and updated twist on the comic-strip-inspired "Annie" and an all-star presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale-inspired "Into the Woods."
Will these three titles turn into global sensations like 2008’s "Mamma Mia!" or will they end up hitting a sour note like 2009’s "Nine"? Here is an assessment of each stage musical’s cinematic potential.
"Jersey Boys" (June 20)
Stage roots: The jukebox musical about the Four Seasons, the chart toppers fronted by Frankie Valli and his trademark falsetto, premiered Nov. 6, 2005 on Broadway--and is on the brink of being the 12th longest-running show on the Great White Way. "Jersey Boys" was nominated for eight Tonys and won four, including best musical and lead actor in musical for John Lloyd Young as Valli.
Other adaptations: None yet. But much like the band, which sold 100 million records worldwide with such No. 1 hits as "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don’t Cry,' the show has proven to have international appeal. Besides two North American tours and an ongoing Las Vegas production, "Jersey Boys" has played in London’s West End, Toronto, Melbourne, Singapore, South Africa and the Netherlands. Whether that popularity translates into box-office bucks remains to be seen.
Behind the camera: Never mind Eastwood’s own big-screen attempt to sing ("I Talk to the Trees," no less) and act at the same time in the tin-eared oddity "Paint Your Wagon" from 1969. He might be best known for Westerns and action thrillers, but he also has had a career steeped in music. The piano-playing jazz aficionado directed and warbled country-Western tunes in 1982’s "Honkytonk Man" and he helmed the 1988 biopic "Bird," about saxophonist Charlie Parker. He has also penned the scores, often with son Kyle, for most of his films released in the past 10 years.
The cast: Despite pressure to do otherwise, Eastwood took a pass on hiring big names (and avoided their big paychecks) and went with many of the seasoned performers from stage versions -- most notably vocal standout Young. The lone well-known quantity is Christopher Walken as Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo, a mobster who helped the group get out of financial jams.
The budget: No estimate available. Warner Bros. initially had put "Jersey Boys" in turn-around two years ago when Jon Favreau was set to direct, supposedly because of concerns over cost and a potential lack of foreign ticket sales. That they then turned to Eastwood, known for the frugality of his shooting methods and for being on schedule, suggests that overspending has not been a problem.
Oscar prospects: Don’t expect "Grease 3." Sure there are those toe-tapping numbers everyone knows, but the movie doesn’t skimp the downbeat side of showbiz--which allows for dramatic acting opportunities. And Eastwood is an Academy favorite, winning twice as best director (as well for best picture) with 1992’s "Unforgiven" and 2004’s "Million Dollar Baby." However, a June release date suggests weaker potential for awards gold. Besides, the studio is probably more focused on going after adults, often under-served in the summer blockbuster months, who might respond to such counter-programming.
On the plus side: Those wonderful songs.
On the minus side: An R rating combined with a lack of star power and buzz, partly because of a late-arriving trailer.
Prediction: Nostalgic baby boomers and women, who helped propel "Mamma Mia!" to a take of $610 million worldwide that summer, are the surest bets to show up on opening weekend. But "Jersey Boys" doesn’t offer anything as surefire as the sight of Meryl Streep in disco garb singing ABBA’s "Dancing Queen."