Okay… so, I saw Once on Broadway this week. I’m a big fan of the 2006 movie and its Oscar-winning song, “Falling Slowly,” and I’m very pleased to report that the stage version maintains the sweet spirit of the film. The entire cast is spectacular, especially easy-on-the-eyes leads Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti. If you find yourself in the Big Apple you owe it yourself to check out this wonderful piece of musical theater.
Once is certainly not the first movie to be turned into a stage musical, but it just might be one of the best. A quick look at Broadway.com’s homepage confirms the fact that turning movies into musicals is all the rage; half of the sixteen “popular shows” they highlight started out as movies: The Lion King, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, Sister Act, Mary Poppins, Once, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ghost and Leap of Faith. I’ve seen five of them; if the remaining three stick around for a bit, I imagine I’ll see those, too.
Broadway purists tend to cry foul at this phenomenon. Where are the original American musicals? Who are the new Rodgers & Hammerstein? Where’s the new Sondheim? Sure, I’d like to see more truly unique productions, but I’m a little more forgiving. I mean, really, if it’s entertaining, who cares about the source material?
Not all movies translate to the big stage, as recent disappointments 9 to 5, High Fidelity and Cry Baby clearly indicate. But there are/were plenty of good ones out there, namely…
Legally Blonde. Omigod, omigod, you guys… did you happen to catch Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods in this pink cotton candy coated confection? I actually saw it three times, as various siblings who visited me in NYC during its run really wanted to go. Let me just say that I returned happily each time, knowing I would be charmed by the staging, the performances and the catchy tunes, especially Orfeh’s (as Paulette) random “Ireland” number. Adapting a movie that’s so beloved (and quoted) by a generation is risky stuff. The producers of Legally Blonde: The Musical pulled it off. It was just like senior year, only funner!
Hairspray. Who would have thought that a twisted John Waters movie about a zaftig Baltimore girl who wants to be on an American Bandstand-esque show would make such a delightful musical? Tony Award winner Marissa Jaret Winokur was perfectly cast as Tracy Turnblad, belting out “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” with pure joy. This one made it full circle, when Hairspray the movie was released in 2007 based on Hairspray the musical (2002 – 2009) which was based on Hairspray the movie from 1988. You can’t get much more meta than that.
Billy Elliot. I was lucky enough to see the original production of Billy Elliot in London in 2005 and then again when it moved to Broadway in 2008. Ten Tony Awards later, it has certainly earned its place in the pantheon of great musicals. The Oscar-nominated movie on which it’s based is one of my favorites; I was delighted to see it so lovingly transferred to the stage. And if you don’t cry like a schoolgirl when Mrs. Wilkinson, Mum and Billy perform “The Letter,” you must have ice in your veins.
Xanadu. Here’s the perfect example of an awful movie that was a total hoot in its onstage reincarnation. Douglas Carter Beane’s book played up all the campy fun of the 1980 cult classic, the ELO and ONJ (that’s Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John to you newbies) songs are total toe tappers, and the cast was absolute perfection. Kerry Butler (Kira) rocked a hilarious Australian accent and Cheyenne Jackson (Sonny) rocked a pair of cut-off jean shorts and tube socks. And both of them sported roller skates… what’s not to love? Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa stole the show as Kira’s jealous sister-muses with their brilliant take on ELO’s “Evil Woman.”
Alas, there are far to many movies-to-musicals to mention here. There have been Best Picture winners (All About Eve became Applause and The Apartment morphed into Promises, Promises), Disney classics (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins) and head scratchers (Catch Me if You Can, The Wedding Singer) that have all experienced varying levels of success.
But I don’t have time to discuss all those. I’ve got to go online to get my tickets for Newsies: The Musical.