Eye­ing Broad­way, Hol­ly­wood sees big prof­its

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ARTS & STYLES - By PA­TRICK HEALY

LOS AN­GE­LES — To un­der­stand why Hol­ly­wood is mov­ing into mak­ing mu­si­cals for Broad­way, just look out the of­fice win­dow of Jimmy Horowitz, the pres­i­dent of Univer­sal Pic­tures.

On the stu­dio lot be­low is a black-and­green poster for the mu­si­cal “Wicked.” Univer­sal is the ma­jor­ity in­vestor in the show, which has grossed $3 bil­lion since 2003. “Wicked” is on track to be­come the most prof­itable ven­ture in Univer­sal’s his­tory.

“‘Wicked’ opened our eyes to the pos­si­bil­ity of what can hap­pen when you have a show that be­comes a peren­nial,” said Mr. Horowitz, whose stu­dio ini­tially planned to make the 1995 novel “Wicked” into a film — and now ex­pects to make a movie of the mu­si­cal. “I don’t think we’d ap­pre­ci­ated what those rev­enue streams could be.”

Now Univer­sal is turn­ing “An­i­mal House” into a mu­si­cal, and “Back to the Fu­ture” may be next. Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox is eye­ing “Mrs. Doubt­fire” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Sony is de­vel­op­ing “Toot­sie.”

And this sea­son on Broad­way is dom­i­nated by screen-to-stage adap­ta­tions like “Rocky” and “Big Fish,” with the mu­si­cal “Aladdin” com­ing this win­ter, adapted in-house by Dis­ney.

The stage adap­ta­tions may be fi­nan­cially re­ward­ing enough to push aside ques­tions of orig­i­nal­ity. Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives are try­ing to solve the puz­zle of what it takes for a movie to be­come a block­buster mu­si­cal, a hands-on strat­egy that rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant shift, af­ter decades in which stu­dios pas­sively signed away film rights to the­ater pro­duc­ers who did most of the work.

“We’re look­ing through our 4,000 movies for the sto­ries with the strong­est emo­tional res­o­nance, for sto­ries that feel like they want to be sung on­stage,” said Lia Vol­lack, who over­sees the­ater for Sony.

Most Broad­way mu­si­cals have been adap­ta­tions, al­though com­plaints about the movie-turned-mu­si­cal have been a rel­a­tively re­cent trend. (The lat­est, by the film critic of The Tele­graph in Lon­don, ap­peared last month un­der the head­line “Can We Please Stop Turn­ing Great Films Into Mu­si­cals?”)

Still, re­ly­ing on a brand-name movie has never been a guar­an­tee. Roughly 75 per­cent of shows lose money on Broad­way, in­clud­ing many pop­u­lar movies that were turned into mu­si­cals.

“Some­times the ma­te­rial doesn’t trans­late to stage,” said Mark Kauf­man, one of the ex­ec­u­tives over­see­ing the­ater ven­tures at Warner Broth­ers. “Some­times au­di­ences com­plain, ‘Why aren’t there orig­i­nal mu­si­cals?’ What’s hap­pen­ing now is, Hol­ly­wood and Broad­way are try­ing to make bet­ter shows to­gether.”

Last month, Fox an­nounced a part­ner­ship with one of Broad­way’s most suc­cess­ful pro­duc­ers, Kevin McCol­lum (“Rent,” “Av­enue Q,” “In the Heights”). Fox ex­ec­u­tives also tapped Isaac Robert Hur­witz of the New York Mu­si­cal The­ater Fes­ti­val to ad­vise them on their projects with Mr. McCol­lum and on the­ater pro­duc­ing strat­egy.

Be­hind the deals is a recog­ni­tion that most film­mak­ers don’t re­ally know how to make great stage mu­si­cals on their own.

Stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives say they are count­ing on Broad­way vet­er­ans to tell them, among other things, which char­ac­ters can be made to sing — and if so, how that should be done.

“A movie can have so many more scenes than a mu­si­cal, and so much can be achieved with close-ups and other cin­e­matic de­vices, so we had to think care­fully about which scenes to keep and make the­atri­cal and what other mo­ments could be turned to song,” said Dan Jinks, one of the film pro­duc­ers of “Big Fish,” who is work­ing on the movie’s mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion. “In the movie, there’s a scene where time stops and the main char­ac­ter walks through a cir­cus tent — a mes­mer­iz­ing scene.” Com­poser An­drew Lippa wrote “Time Stops” for the scene, and Mr. Jinks says “it hits you emo­tion­ally in a way only mu­si­cal the­ater can.”

By Hol­ly­wood stan­dards, stage mu­si­cal bud­gets are at­trac­tively small — $5 mil­lion on the low end, $20 mil­lion on the high, com­pared with $100 mil­lion or more for movies.

Stu­dios are a god­send for mu­si­cal pro­duc­ers, who oth­er­wise line up dozens of in­vestors.

A test for “Rocky,” a $15 mil­lion pro­duc­tion, is whether au­di­ences will ac­cept an ac­tor other than Sylvester Stal­lone in its lead role. Even Mr. Stal­lone, the orig­i­nal star of “Rocky” and one of the mu­si­cal’s pro­duc­ers, ac­knowl­edges as much.

“Some movies work per­fectly as movies, and you don’t want to mess around with them,” Mr. Stal­lone said af­ter the world pre­miere in Ham­burg. “But I think the ‘Rocky’ mu­si­cal is re­ally orig­i­nal, not some de­riv­a­tive silly show. We know, and the stu­dio knows, that au­di­ences will have the fi­nal word, though.”

Hol­ly­wood is look­ing for films to adapt to the stage. Clock­wise from above, scenes from the movies “Back to the Fu­ture,” “Big Fish,” “Aladdin” and “Toot­sie.” Left, the mu­si­cal “Rocky.”

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