re-mak­ing mu­si­cals

Clas­sic Broad­way mu­si­cals are get­ting a sec­ond coat of sil­ver.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - T PEOPLE - By AMY DE KANTER

Clas­sic Broad­way mu­si­cals are get­ting their sec­ond coat of sil­ver.

ONCE or twice a year, with equal amounts of cu­ri­ousity, hope and dread, I scout cy­berspace to find out which stage mu­si­cals will next ap­pear on the big screen.

The cu­ri­ousity is in­nate, the hope is be­cause – thanks to my the­atremad dad and un­cle – mu­si­cals were among my ear­li­est pas­sion. And dread well, be­cause that just goes hand-in-hand with leav­ing any­thing you care about in the hands of Hollywood.

Then, once Hollywood gets its hands on a the­atre hit it is of­ten stripped of most of the things that made it glow and stuffed with things pro­duc­ers in­sight­fully think its au­di­ences will like bet­ter. Like cast­ing based on pop­u­lar­ity rather than abil­ity.

I was so ex­cited when I learned that one of my favourite mu­si­cals by my favourite com­poser/lyri­cist, Stephen Sond­heim, was go­ing to be di­rected by a favourite di­rec­tor, Tim Bur­ton.

If any­one was go­ing to do jus­tice to the very dark Sweeney Todd: The De­mon Bar­ber Of Fleet Street it would be Bur­ton. He is in­ca­pable of mak­ing a film that does not have the per­fect Sweeney Todd at­mos­phere.

Un­for­tu­nately, nor is Bur­ton ca­pa­ble of mak­ing a film that does not star Johnny Depp or He­lena Bon­ham Carter. I am a great fan of both, es­pe­cially of Depp, but Bur­ton broke many a Sond­heim fan’s heart by cast­ing two peo­ple who can­not sing.

And there lies one of the big prob­lems with mu­si­cals turned into films – cast­ing. Just be­cause some­one can carry a de­cent tune does not mean he can per­form show­stop­pers. Depp can sing, but he can’t sing Sond­heim.

Sweeney Todd’s voice should go deep enough to rat­tle our souls. Mrs Lovett’s (Carter’s role) songs are as much inane (even­tu­ally in­sane) chat­ter as sing­ing. All this was lost.

The Pro­duc­ers di­rected by Mel Brooks lost many of the points when they added Uma Thur­man to the mix. Or Cather­ine Zeta-Jones to Chicago. Or (for good­ness sake, any­one who can do karaoke can do Abba) the tone-deaf Pierce Bros­nan in Mamma Mia!.

So ex­cite­ment is tem­pered by worry when rumour has it that among the shows about to be flat­tened onto the sil­ver screen is mu­si­cal Pip­pin’. I just hold my breath and hope for the best.

What was a real sur­prise is the num­ber of re­makes of shows that were hits both on stage and on screen. Four favourites are said to be mak­ing a come­back over the next cou­ple of years. Will they be any good? If you haven’t watched the orig­i­nal films do it now so you have some­thing to com­pare them with.

This show has ac­tu­ally been made into film twice. The orig­i­nal in 1963 starred Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. Then in 1995, these roles were charm­ingly re­pro­duced in a made-for-TV ver­sion by Se­in­feld’s Ja­son Alexan­der and Ugly Betty’s Vanessa Wil­liams. Ev­ery­one knows Wil­liams can sing, but did you also know Alexan­der can dance?

Based on the 1960 stage mu­si­cal, Con­rad Birdie, like Elvis Pres­ley is a rock star who has just been drafted into the army.

Be­fore he sets out to the front lines, his pub­li­cists ar­range for him to go to a small town and meet the pres­i­dent of his lo­cal fan club. With num­bers like An English Teacher, Tele­phone Hour, Span­ish Rose and Put On A Happy Face, the play and films re­main a de­light to any­one who still laughs at poo­dle skirts.

MyFairLady: Even non-mu­si­cal peo­ple know and love these songs. The 1956 play, star­ring Julie An­drews, was a sen­sa­tion. So was, though less de­servedly, the 1964 film ver­sion in which An­drews could not ap­pear and so was re­placed by the much less mu­si­cally-gifted Au­drey Hep­burn.

The mu­si­cal was based on the Ge­orge Bernard Shaw play Pyg­malion, about El­iza Dolit­tle, a flower girl with an ap­palling cokney ac­cent. Pho­net­ics pro­fes­sor Henry Hig­gins takes her on as a project, de­ter­mined to teach her how to speak like a lady. Un­less Hollywood wis­dom does what it did to Fame

I Could Have Danced All Night, Get Me To The Church and The Rain In Spain.

Je­susChristSu­per­star: Su­pe­rior to any of his later works like Cats or Phan­tom Of The Opera, Je­sus Christ Su­per­star is an An­drew Lloyd Web­ber clas­sic. Web­ber in­vented the Rock Mu­si­cal, and at this point was still col­lab­o­rat­ing with the ul­tra-bril­liant Tim Rice.

Though per­formed else­where be­fore reach­ing Broad­way, it opened in New York to mixed re­views in 1971 and has shown around the world in schools and the­atres ever since.

The film opened in 1973 and did de­cently well at the box of­fice and re­tained a cult fol­low­ing. Among its show­stop­ping num­bers is Mary Mag­da­lene’s lovely I Don’t Know How To Love Him but for some of us, ev­ery song is a clas­sic.

Lit­tleShopOfHor­rors: In the in­ter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I have to re­veal that this was the first film I ever bought for my­self. I wore it down as I did my record­ings of both the off-broad­way and the 1986 film. I’ve saved this for last not only be­cause it is still among my favourite mu­si­cals, but be­cause space con­straints will keep me from go­ing on and on about it. Which, trust me, I could.

If you like dark hu­mour, all you need to know is that the story is about a nerd who names a maneat­ing plant af­ter the bimbo he is in love with. And the songs are awe­some.

I hope that Hollywood does not com­pletely muck up the new ver­sions of these won­der­ful films, but even if they do, we’ll al­ways have the clas­sics.

Dark tale: Johnny Depp and He­lena Bon­ham Carter in SweeneyTodd: TheDe­monBar­berOfFleetStreet.

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