Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

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

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood February 28, 2013 at 12:35PM

Let's face it, movie musicals are usually bad. Don't get me wrong, nobody should love them more than me: I'm a movie nerd and a musical nerd, so a movie musical should be exactly what the doctor ordered. But sometimes the whole ends up a lot less than the sum of its parts. Think pickles plus peanut butter: Just. Don't. Do it. (Or think "Rock of Ages." Exactly.) But every now and again something like "Les Miserables" happens and we remember that movie musicals can be awesome. Sure, they're bombastic and unrealistic. Yes, it's weird that people start singing on the street and orchestral music seeps out of the very air.
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.

This article is related to: Musical, In The Works, IN THE WORKS, Harvey Weinstein, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Redgrave, Jesse Eisenberg

E-Mail Updates

Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.