Classic Broadway musicals are getting a second coat of silver.
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.