The Return of Movie Musicals

June 11, 2008

Have you noticed over the past few years that movies based on Broadway musicals, along with original movie musicals, are making a comeback? I’m hardly complaining, myself. I love going to a Broadway musical, when I can afford it. You can thank my parents for that. They spent their honeymoon in NYC, back in 1967, and went to see shows both on and Off-Broadway. My sister took a liking to movie musicals right away, but I was a harder sell.

You see, my first exposure to movie musicals was the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog, specifically OKLAHOMA! and SOUTH PACIFIC. I was forced to watch these, among other movie musicals during a summer week when I was a pre-teenager. I hated them. I hated these two in particular. To me, they were just plain CORNY. I can feel you throwing your popcorn boxes at me already, but I am not going to pretend to like something I clearly don’t.

Then something happened. I saw LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. I learned in those wonderfully silly 90 minutes that rock and roll was NOT the enemy of movie musicals. That lesson was driven home later when I saw JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR at my aunt and uncle’s house. Unfortunately, i only half heard what was happening in SUPERSTAR, because my cousins were cracking wise the whole time. Little did I know that the producer of the former, and the composer of the latter would join forces to really get me interested in musicals in general. Yes, I’m a fan of CATS. The music is just fun to listen to, and this brings me to the heart of my column for today.

There are some musicals that have yet to hit the big screen. CATS was supposed to be an animated feature helmed by Steven Spielberg, but it never happened. That’s OK, you can still get the DVD version of the live-action musical. But there are other hits from the Great White Way I would LOVE to see:

SEUSSICAL. A flop on Broadway, but a huge regional and amateur hit. I think that based on their success with HORTON, Blue Sky would do a great job with the animation.

CHILDREN OF EDEN. While I’m on the subject of animation, I see this as the first made-for-TV animated musical miniseries. The first night would be Act 1, and the second night as Act 2. Then again, a big-screen version would be welcome as well.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. From the team that gave us SEUSSICAL comes this intensely moving Caribbean themed musical about a young woman who loves an upper class gentleman, and proves that love can indeed conquer death. The climax is a guaranteed tear-jerker.

MISS SAIGON. The composers of the mega-hit LES MISERABLES followed their success with this powerful take on Madame Butterfly, and the ultimate sacrifice a mother can make. When I hear the song “The Last Night of the World”, I can’t help but see a long camera pull-out from the balcony where the leads are singing and holding onto each other.

ONE RED FLOWER )Letters from ‘NAM). I saw this incredible musical at North Shore Music Theater not long after 9/11. I couldn’t talk at the end of Act 1, because I was afraid I’d start crying my eyes out. Taken from actual letters written by the soldiers who fought in this war, the musical tells the story of a mother who learns about the experience through these self-same letters. This could very easily be done as a series of vignettes. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for a cast album of ANY kind.

BLOOD BROTHERS. “So, did you hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each other as two new pins.” So begins Willy Russell’s hit musical about two brothers separated at birth whose lives are tragically intertwined. The story is told by a narrator who could outline the events as a series of flashbacks.

As always, you can post your ideas here at anytime. I must thank my friend Peter Filichia of theatermania.com for indirectly inspiring me to write this article. I encourage you to read his column every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, if you love theater (those of you who don’t already read it, that is).


One comment

  1. I absolutely love musicals and wish I could see one every day. There’s something special about the theatre though. My favorite is Les Miz. My hobby is making short films based on some of my favorite songs from musicals.

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