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Producers Zadan and Meron Will Bring Music Back to the Oscars

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 23, 2012 at 2:26PM

Under new president Hawk Koch, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has gone with fresh blood to produce the 85th Academy Awards. Musical producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago") will produce the Oscar show set to air live on February 24 on ABC. Last year's show was produced by Brian Grazer and Don Mischer, who filled in after then-president Tom Sherak had to fire his controversial first choice, Brett Ratner. Host Eddie Murphy also left the show, replaced by stalwart Billy Crystal.

Finally, after a lifetime of everybody saying no, Zadan and Meron got to make the first movie musical in 34 years to win the Oscar. Unlike "Chicago" -- which created an alternative fantasy vaudeville universe inside Roxy's head -- the characters in "Hairspray" sing to each other in real time.

"Hairspray" relies on book songs, in which actors talk and then break into song, as opposed to just performance songs, set within a showbiz milieu. In recent decades, very few movie musicals that are not backstage performance musicals have worked with the public. Book musicals that have performed well tend to inhabit an entirely artificial universe, like "Moulin Rouge" or "Grease."

As much as Zadan and Meron wanted to realistically evoke the '60s-era racial issues that grounded the musical, they knew movies are a tricky medium. They would have to walk a fine line between style and reality. Written by Leslie Dixon, "Hairspray" jumps right in, with newcomer Nikki Blonsky running down a crowded street singing at the top of her lungs.

While director Adam Shankman (who went on to produce the Oscars with Bill Mechanic) had directed commercial comedies like "The Wedding Planner" and "Bringing Down the House," he had never directed a musical. But he had the background of being a dancer and choreographer. Shankman knew the rules of the genre, and so did John Travolta, who Zadan had known since he was a New York chorus boy. So Travolta gamely donned a fat suit and danced as Edna Turnblad.

The team also produced the 2011 remake of "Footloose." On TV they produced series "SMASH" and movies "A Raisin in the Sun" and the upcoming "Steel Magnolias." On Broadway, they produced the Tony Award® winning revivals of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and "Promises, Promises."

Their productions have earned 73 Emmy nominations, 12 Tony nominations and seven Grammy nominations.

This article is related to: Oscars, Academy Awards, Awards, Awards, Musical

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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.