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When Hollywood Met Broadway: Screen Stars Hit the Stage as Stage-to-Screen Musicals (and Vice-Versa) Move Through the Pipeline

by Jacob Combs
February 28, 2013 12:35 PM
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Bernadette Peters in James Lapine and Stephen Sonheim's 'Into the Woods'
Martha Swope Bernadette Peters in James Lapine and Stephen Sonheim's 'Into the Woods'

Into the Woods: Ah yes, the holy grail of film musicals.  Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim's complex, deconstructionist fairytale (Cinderella meets Rapunzel meets Little Red Riding Hood meets Jack and the Beanstalk meets real-life issues) has been a classic of the stage since it premiered in 1986.  It's funny, it's disturbing and it's utterly unconventional, which makes it a perfect project for…Disney?  Yes, the big mouse announced in early 2012 that it was moving forward on the project with director Rob Marshall, who brought 2002's Oscar-winning "Chicago" from the stage to the screen.  An October 2012 reading of a screenplay written by Tony-winner James Lapine (who wrote the script for and directed the 1986 Broadway production) featured some big stage names--Nina Arianda, Megan Hilty--and some big screen ones as well--Allison Janney, Anna Kendrick.  The best news of all?  While Donna Murphy played the role of the Witch at the reading, word on the street is that the role in the film could very well go to none other than the great Meryl Streep.

Screen to Stage

American Psycho: Yeah, we didn't believe it either when we heard in 2010 that "Spring Awakening" composer Duncan Sheik and "Big Love" writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa were making a musical (as in, with songs) of the Christian Bale-starring slasher film based on Bret Easton Ellis's novel.  Then, last April, London's Headlong Theater Company announced it would be producing the show as part of its 2012-13 season.  Just last week, Sheik told Gothamist the music for the show is "all electronic."  Here's a sample of a few of the show's song names: "You Are What You Wear," "I Am Clean," "This Is Not an Exit."

Aladdin: I will go to my grave beating the drum that the absolute most obvious Disney movie that should be made into a stage musical is "Hercules."  Period.  Apparently, Disney Theatrical doesn't agree with me, choosing instead to bring us shows as different as "The Lion King" (amazing), "Mary Poppins" (fun, but not great) and "Newsies" (in my humble opinion, bad, but the stage show was a bigger hit than the movie).  Next?  A stage version of "Aladdin," which was performed last year at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Ivins, Utah.  The fully staged production will have its world premiere at Toronto's Ed Mirvish theater this November before heading to Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre in spring 2014.  The reason you should be excited: the show apparently includes several songs written by composer Alan Menken and genius lyricist Howard Ashman that were cut from the film.  Ashman died from AIDS-related complications before the movie's release in 1992.

Sleepless in Seattle: Nora Ephron's shining masterpiece of what a rom-com can and should be is making its way to the stage this May with a production at the Pasadena Playhouse, whose artistic director, Sheldon Epps, will take over directorial duties from actor and director Lonny Price.  The show, with music by Ben Toth and lyrics by Sam Forman, is also being written by Jeff Arch, who wrote the original story for the film and collaborated on the screenplay with Ephron and David S. Ward.  Epps told the Los Angeles Times that the musical, which has its sights set on the Great White Way, is "very, very faithful to the film script."

The Nutty Professor: The Musical: Be of strong heart, friends, this musical is an adaptation of the 1963 film starring and directed (and produced and co-written) by Jerry Lewis, not the 1996 Eddie Murphy vehicle.  Actually, we're not sure whether that's any cause for comfort, but this stage version premiered in Nashville last summer, directed by (you guessed it!) Jerry Lewis with music by Oscar/Emmy/Tony/Pulitzer winner Marvin Hamlisch and book and lyrics by Tony winner Rupert Holmes.  Following the composer's unexpected death later that summer, the show's Broadway prospects are currently uncertain: apparently, the Hamlisch score is complete but it remains unclear how the almost-certain tweaks that Broadway would require could accomplished.

Bridges of Madison County: This 1995 Clint Eastwood film has been adapted for the stage by Tony-winning composer Jason Robert Brown ("Parade") and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman and theater Director Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony for the Lincoln Center revival of "South Pacific," helmed a workshop to develop the show in December 2011.  A reading of the show also took place in New York this month.  According to the New York Times, a production "Bridges," directed by Sher, will take place at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts this August.

Finding Neverland: The Musical: Marc Forster's 2004 semi-biography of "Peter Pan"-scribe J.M. Barrie was a touching, gentle period piece with a magnificent score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek.  Last year, an $11 million production (complete with flying sequences) premiered at the Curve Theatre in Leicester, UK, marking yet another theater excursion by infamous movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.  The musical version, written by Allan Knee (who wrote the play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" that inspired Forster's film) and "Grey Gardens" composer/lyricist team Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, didn't exactly flourish--the Daily Telegraph said that is "rarely soars above the realm of so-so."  Weinstein and the team plan to revamp the show, hoping for a chance at London or Broadway.

Kinky Boots: This 2005 British comedy starred Chiwetel Ejiofor in a Golden Globe-nominated turn as Lola, a drag queen who helps Charlie Price (played by Joel Edgerton) save his family's failing shoe business by making boots that can support of weight of men who perform as women.  A musical version with music and lyrics by 80s pop-star Cyndi Lauper and a script by Harvey Fierstein opened in Chicago last year.  A Broadway production will open this April, with previews beginning March 5.


  • rgm | February 28, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    As someone was bound to point out; It all depends upon choosing the right pickle. I refer you to NYT, Oct.22, 2013, Dining section. However, this is a fascinating look at the current, "reverse," trend of Hollywood hoping to "make it" on Broadway. Considering the former, older process , Broadway "adapting" for the movies, I agree, many works , especially new musicals, just don't make the transfer. But then, in the great 50s-60s era of the Hollywood movie musical, most Americans had never actually seen a live professional production of anything. We needed Hollywood. Now, nearly every medium size US city has hosted "Phantom." I must admit, that Broadway, now aping Hollywood, turning Disney into theater, and burning "Manderlay" onstage, really makes me wince. In my "dated" heart, it is just the wrong direction.

  • Brian | February 28, 2013 12:55 PMReply

    I prefer ORIGINAL movie musicals to Broadway adaptations. Y'know, like the Astaire and Rogers musicals, plus: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, THE BANDWAGON, MARY POPPINS, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS, and all those great 1940s musicals with Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan. Why can't we see an original hiphop movie musical? Or something from Hong Kong with Cantopop stars? (Why didn't the Twins ever star in a movie musical?) Or a K-pop movie musical from Korea with Psy, Girls' Generation, KARA and a million other acts? Or a Morning Musume musical from Japan? If I was a billionaire, I'd finance a few of these things.

  • Josh R | February 2, 2013 6:26 PMReply

    I'm glad the movie musical has experienced a recent resurgence, although as Edward points out, the majority of stage-to-film adaptations have been disappointing. In addition to those he mentioned, I would say that neither Dreamgirls nor Phantom managed the transition all that smoothly.

  • Edward Copeland | February 2, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    I'm a huge stage musical fan and a movie musical fan. Unfortunately, it has been a long time since Hollywood has managed to adapt a Broadway musical without screwing it up either slightly or monumentally (sorry fans -- I include Les Miz in that group). Book of Mormon might come off if Parker and Stone handle it since the South Park movie probably was the most recent example of a good movie musical. Chicago came closest, but they still miscast Richard Gere. Hairspray could have been spectacular if not for the grotesque distraction of John Travolta. Tim Burton brought some great ideas to Sweeney Todd and almost pulled it off except he tied an albatross around its neck by casting his wife as Mrs. Lovett. Mamma Mia! made me long to listen to real ABBA. That's how bad that was one. The Producers even had almost the entire Broadway cast and crew and somehow failed to bring that off. They should have known before they ever got the greenlight that Nine was a bad idea for a movie. I worship Sondheim and Into the Woods, but somehow making it real on film sounds like a bad idea. An animated or motion capture film I might be able to see working. You're fortunate that you don't know about the Jekyll & Hyde musical -- because that will be making a movie out of a terrible musical from composer Frank Wildhorn, a man I suspect Andrew Lloyd Webber created in a lab to increase his own prestige.

  • Sam O. | January 28, 2013 10:41 PMReply

    Two exciting notes:

    1.) The German musical production of Disney's " The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is slated to come to America after its successful European run (though to appeal to those more 'cultured' audiences, Esmeralda meets a fate more similar to the novel than the animated movie).

    2.) The animated musical "Anastasia" is currently holding workshops where the likes of Angela Lansbury and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras from the 2012 Les Miz movie) play the Dowager Empress and Dmitri, respectively.

  • Rory | January 28, 2013 6:37 PMReply

    How can you say that Jekyll & Hyde is not that good!? What version did you see, the one with David Hasselhoff? Because the Original Broadway Cast recording with Robert Cuccioli and Linda Eder is beautiful, and the National Tour that I saw twice was awesome!

  • Zane | January 28, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    I agree with you 100%!!! I have though for years that Hercules would make an incredible broadway show. It has fantastic music!

  • Jamie | January 28, 2013 4:35 PMReply

    Of the musicals you listed I only see Book of Mormon, Wicked and Into The Woods as the only ones likely to be major box office simply because thye are so potentially visual as well as musical plus already having well established following. Book of Mormon has the "South Park" built in audience. Into the Woods could be problematical because of the length ... lots of judicious snipping to be done. Wicked coming on the heels of Oz The Great and Powerful might be overkill. I really would tend to go with the movie within a movie of City of Angels or the Brigadoon remake. The first because Hollywood loves Hollywood and the film noir content from the mystery novel has great cinematic possibilities. Brigadoon because most people know the Gene Kelly original but don't know that half of the songs are missing from the Minnelli film. Then there is always another Guys and Dolls to be done, this time with stars as Skye and Sarah who can actually sing.

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