Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Where Are the Musicals? (Part Two)

Last week I thought I was being a little bit overdramatic when I started worrying about the absence of future movie musicals. But maybe I wasn't dramatic enough. Is it time for panicked hysteria? Just ten years into the genre's spectacular rebirth -- which I trace back to the 1-2-3-4 spectacular punch of Dancer in the Dark (00), Moulin Rouge! (01), Hedwig (01) and Chicago (02) -- it seems to be dying again.

I read today that plans for Hairspray 2 have been halted. It's not often you hear of sequel ideas to hit films being cast aside. Adam Shankman's statement about the dead sequel sounds rational on the surface:
That got killed. I was so happy with the first one, let's leave well enough alone. It's all good.
Since when were Hollywood types ever all zen about the "leave well enough alone". They live for easy money and what is easier than getting a big opening weekend out of pre-sold popularity be it through sequels, remakes, reboots or reinterpretations? Hollywood (speaking generally of course) never has original ideas. What's more they're usually spectacularly proud of their insistence on repeating themselves.

The only musical in development that's getting discussed lately is a remake of My Fair Lady. A remake.

Even weirder and more worrying is that Universal reportedly decided against a Mamma Mia! sequel (2008) even though ABBA has a thousand other great songs that could be similarly massacred for coin if such a film were to exist. I never in a million years thought I'd be freaked out about that decision, "Hooray!" being the only sane response. But I can't recall one time in the history of ever that a major studio has decided not to make a sequel to a movie that grossed over half a billion dollars.

All right... I exaggerate a little. But I'm scared because I love my song & dance. Mamma Mia! is currently the 50th highest grosser ever worldwide*. As it turns out, there are a few higher grossers that don't have sequels (yet) or weren't sequels to begin with. Of the other 49 the stand-alones are (in descending order)
  • Avatar (sequel in development)
  • Titanic (a wee problem called historical accuracy prevented sequels)
  • Finding Nemo
  • Independence Day
  • E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
  • 2012
  • Up
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Kung Fu Panda (the sequel arrives next year)
  • The Incredibles
  • Hancock
  • Ratatouille
  • The Passion of the Christ
That's fourteen other movies, a few of which will undoubtedly get sequels. It seems like the only reason a hit movie doesn't get a sequel is if its lead character dies, or if it stars Will Smith (two examples there, but isn't he his own franchise? Maybe those are sequels) or if it's made by Pixar and isn't named "Toy Story".

If Wicked needs bankable 20something stars,
Anne Hathaway & Amanda Seyfried can both sing.

All of this, plus the weird absence of money-magnet "Wicked" in Hollywood's current Oz-mania production slate, is really getting to me. The stage show's cumulative gross is approaching half a billion dollars (it's currently at $469 million and it still earning over a million a week) Why wouldn't Hollywood be rushing to capitalize on it?

I'm officially very worried. It's too easy to blame it on Nine which cost a fortune (What did they spent the money on? It takes place on a stage! How did that cost $30 million more to make than Mamma Mia! or Sweeney Todd?).Perhaps the problem is actually Sweeney Todd. It earned $152 million worldwide which sounds like a decent amount... until you stop to consider what Burton/Depp pairings usually make.

You'd think it'd be an ideal time to grow a hit musical. The past ten years should be seen as ample fertilizer: the genre has produced hits, several song and/or dance adept celebrities have become much more famous/bankable (Hathaway, Jackman, Harris, Chenoweth, Tatum, Seyfried), musical theater stars have started to gain more fame outside of New York than they have in some time (Cheyenne Jackson, Jane Krakowski, Audra McDonald, Lea Michelle, Idina Menzel) and then there's a little something called Glee on TV. Maybe you've heard of it?

Greenlight some musicals, suits! Just make sure they don't cost as much as Nine so you have a chance at a profit. That shouldn't be hard. It's not like Sweeney Todd looked bad for $30 million less. It looked great. It just didn't sound that way.

*none of these figures are adjusted for inflation. The biggest musical hit of all time (and the third biggest hit of any type ever) is The Sound of Music (1965) which made over a billion dollars in today's numbers.


City_Of_Lights said...

Saw something that said Hairspray 2 is definitely dead. I haven't loved any musicals this past decade unless they starred Nicole Kidman, so that's a grand total of 1. Why am I thinking the only way a film musical will be successful now is if it's a film version of Glee. I hate that because although I love alot of musicals I am not a part of the musical theater crowd. I've been around it and it's just not my scene.

Mamma Mia cost less because unlike Nine it didn't have real dancing or singing to spend weeks of rehearsal on *snort*

Sorry MM fans :)

Robert said...

I really, really want to see a musical hit the big screen has been too long. What about Burlesque though, with Cher and Christina Aguilera? Isn't that supposed to be a musical?

Alex said...

Hathaway and Seyfried would be PERFECT in a Wicked movie. Get on it, Universal!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Wouldn't it make sense for Lea Michele to get Elphaba? 20-something, star of a hit TV show, great voice...and clearly being groomed as the Next Idina. It only makes sense that she would get it, non?

Julian Stark said...

As much as I loved Hairspray. I must admit that I completely forgot about the tentative sequel until I saw this.

Anyway, I love, love, LOOOOOVVVE!!!! the idea of Hathaway and Seyfried playing the leads in Wicked! I also think that Lea Michele could make a great Elphaba and Amanda Bynes could work as Galinda/Glinda.

Can't wait for Burlesque, even though I'm VERY skeptical about it's pairing of acting pros (Cher, Tucci, Bell and Dane are arguable) against those with little to no experience (Aguilera, Hough)

Victor S said...

The only reason Nine costed 80 million is the cast: it was certainly not cheap to get Day-Lewis, Kidman, Cruz, Cotillard, Dench, Loren, Hudson and Fergie all together. They probably spent half of the budget on the cast.
And I support your casting ideas for Wicked: since we can't have Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, Hathaway and Seyfried are great choices.


Victor S -- there's no way they paid all of those people their real salaries, right? Especially since so many of their roles were small. That would've made it even more than a $80 million budget.

Hairspray only cost $50 million ($30 million less somehow despite having John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah in the cast. I assume none of them are inexpensive.)

I don't really think stars get their quotes all that often outside of the big franchises. just my suspicion.

Robert -- you're right. I keep forgetting about BURLESQUE. bad me.

Emanuel Arredondo Gutiérrez said...

Your casting choices are perfect. And it's weird because they are my options too. I also considered Kirsten Dunst for Glinda, but she's not exactly working right now.

CanadianKen said...

Isn't the remake of DAMN YANKEES with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jim Carrey still a go? Or has that fallen through? And at different times I'd heard that either Julianne Hough or her brother Derek(both from "Dancing With the Stars") were tentatively attached to a redo of "Footloose".

Glenn Dunks said...

Countries outside of America are making musicals, too!

But you're right. They need to stop remaking second-tier product like Nine (sorry, but it IS second tier) and either get back to making the big ones (isn't Gypsy ready for a big remake, especially after Glee re-popularised "Rose's Turn"), get some people to start crafting new ones why not skip broadway and adapt movies into movie musicals without having to spend 10yrs on stage? I dunno.

I'm not keen of Lea Michele in Wicked since her performance of "Defying Gravity" on Glee left me wanting.

Franco Marciano said...

Anne or Lea would be great in "Wicked". "The Boy From Oz" is perfect for a film adaptation. Baz? Dear Baz. Is it possible we could get ONE more musical out of you? Please!

@ Victor S.
I still wonder how Antonio Bandares would have interpreted the part on film had he been cast, or for that matter Chita Rivera. Sigh...

Franco Marciano said...

@ Glenn Dunks

Last I heard Mike Nichols was supposed to helm a new "Gypsy" film, with Meryl Streep. I'd personally like to see Bernadette Peters or Betty Buckley return to film for the roles, although Meryl could act the pants off of anything!

BTW, I hope they revive the idea of doing a TV movie of "Mame" with Cher. That would be awesome.

Iggy said...

Hey, I hadn't seen the Comment du Jour. Thank you!

I think if Glee continues its love story with the audience, there will be a movie sooner than later. Personally, I don't get all the love for Glee but I admittedly can't pass the American microcosmos that is high schools with those species of its own (cheerleaders, footballers, nerds...). It's just something I can't relate to, here or in any movie or series. I asked David Lynch for his words of wisdom, "do you like Glee?" And he replied. "Get real". Ha.

But back to the topic, maybe studios think the audience that digs sequels isn't the same type of audience that likes musicals. It is indeed strange that there're no plans for a Mamma Mia! sequel. It'd have everything in its favour: it's quite unlikely that it'd be worse than the first one (maybe the godawful fun would be lost)and the opening weekends could be great.

Dimitra said...

I enjoy musicals, but I can't say I'm a big fan. I like it when there's much plot along with the songs, like in Cabaret or Sweeny Todd. When songs take over (Mamma Mia) it gets a little annoying and tiring.

But when your top 2 films of the decade were musicals, I can understand the panic.

They should do an all-male sexy musical, with J.Renner and H.Jackman and maybe E.McGregor and and...

Kim said...

I was a BIG fan of Hairspray, but the proposed Story Line for the sequel sounded just dreadful...I mean the subtitle was "White Lipstick". Ugh.

I personally can't BELIEVE that a Wicked movie has yet to be greenlit. That would be such a money maker. I also think Jersey Boys could do well. And isn't (EW EW EW) McG attached to Spring Awakening?

Dimitra said...

@Kim, God yes! I think I'm going to cry...


Kim -- well WICKED is in development of some sort but all we ever hear are rumors and no progress. still no director, screenplay, cast, and it's been years.

Wicked has been open for 7 years now (my god time flies) and it's still earning 1.5 million a week. let's see (52 x 7) x 1.5 = $TONSOFMONEY. And that's just in NYC. Let alone all the touring companies and whatnot.

they could finance a $100 million movie version on a year of stage profits alone and still have money left over. Plus, movie versions of stage shows actually augment stage box office rather than hampering it (see Chicago's endless run after briefly dipping a bit)

that said. I fear a WICKED movie would suck (hundreds of things could go wrong or come out hideously bad/garish/overproduced/under or over sung-- it's not like the stage show is impervious to) but hundreds of movies do so why not make some money while sucking? ;)

Urey said...

Oprah's supposedly bringing "The Color Purple" to the big screen starring Fantasia. I'd be there opening night to see that one.

And yes, get on that "Wicked" film ASAP. Lea Michele pretty much has to play Elphaba, right?

ShoNuff Lives said...

with a proliferation of jukebox musicals assaulting broadway, i'm a little surprised no one's thought to translate that movement to the screen.

disappointing to me was the recent hbo version of grey gardens. the movie interpolated a lot from the stage show & dropped the music. the musical was brilliant & dynamic, and i had hoped they would simply translate it to the screen.

of recent shows that deserve the big screen treatment, wicked comes up a lot, though i'm the last theatre queen in new york to have not seen it and really don't have much interest in it. i would love to see adaptations of ragtime (so ripe for the screen), sunday in the park with george (after seeing the recent revival, the visual effects of creation could be amazing), and urinetown (perfect for these times).

Volvagia said...

The Hairspray subtitle was White Lipstick? Yikes! It's the Beatles and the Who, not Keri Hulme, that were invading America in the 1960s.


ShoNuff... yeah, Grey Gardens the miniseries kept a lot from the musical version but without those great songs. (sigh)

Magicub said...

Anne Hathaway was a great choice to play Elphaba until Lea Michelle appeared

Derreck said...

I'm happy that Hairspray 2 never came to fruition because it just wasn't needed. It was great and a sequel just seems a certain movie with a Abu Dhabi excursion. Mamma Mia doesn't need a sequel either.

Aren't we always complaining about unnecessary sequels?

while we're at it, why not do Moulin Rouge 2 where Zidler tries to make a musical out of Christian's story?

But i believe musicals had an excellent run in the last decade. I wouldn't be saddened if it the genre took a small break.

OtherRobert said...

Oh, goodness, no. Amanda Seyfried does not have the vocal range to play Elphaba or Galinda. Please, the last thing we need is another Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd situation. I didn't oppose the transpositions, just the casting of an actor with such a limited vocal range. If Helena Bonham Carter could shriek her part out (and by shriek, I mean actually perform Mrs. Lovett with a lovely lilt and unexpected grace that enhanced her performance), Johnny could have sung a few more notes.

Anne Hathaway. I don't know. She's the type for Elphaba, but can she belt? Is Lea Michele famous enough yet? She could pull it off.

Then again, do we want CGI green skin in a movie musical? Ain't no way they'll do the film with make-up. Besides, I oppose the film adaptation of the stage show unless they go with the real ending of the story, not the "don't alienate young children, make it happy" ending of the musical.


OtherRobert -- er.... are you actually trying to sell me on the idea that Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter have better voices than Amanda Seyfried? WTF?

I'm just saying. if they have to go with "names" -- and you know they always do -- they should only be going with names WHO CAN SING. always. so Hathaway and Seyfried strike me as best of what hollywood might actually do since they're both good actresses, both able to sing, both the right age range.

i don't get why Hollywood keeps breaking this rule (they must be able to sing!) when there are so many names who can sing.

And Sweeney Todd just killed me. Because though i liked it while watching it, they just massacred those complex songs (among the most beautiful in musical theater) with those weak weak voices. i came right home and put on the most recent cd and Michael Cerveris and Patti Lupone rescued my ears.

Derreck -- i lived through the 80s so "breaks" scare me when it comes to musicals. The 80s were so f'in bleak. there was just nothing. and when there was something it wasn't good (little shop of horror excepted)

Kim said...

Wasn't Hugh Jackman supposed to be doing a remake of Carousel as Billy Bigelow? Sigh...I would die to see that.

I'll say again that Jersey Boys could work very well cinematically, and considering its stage success, I am surprised that one hasn't been discussed as a film.

And don't throw things at me, but I actually think Aida would translate to film well (after some work on the book).

And yes, I work in the theatre industry. The amount of money Wicked has made world wide would blow your mind.

sp said...

I read that film & broadway producer Marc Platt is taking his time with "Wicked" - to make sure this production is done properly. Incidently, he also produced Anne Hathaway's Oscar -nominated film "Rachel Getting Married" So , I'm sure he has Anne Hathaway in mind for "Wicked".

The wonderful producers Neil Meron & Craig Zadan ("Chicago" & "Hairspray") are still developing "Damn Yankees" and it is on the fastrack.

I desparately want Hathaway & Hugh Jackman to do "The Greatest Showman on Earth" because it seems to have a strong "Moulin Rouge" feel.

P.S. I'm curious on why Sam Mendes has not done a film musical. He has directed & produced several critically-acclaimed musicals on Broadway & on the London West End. In "American Beauty" , Mendes brilliantly displayed great camera angles , poetic touches, and very memorable imagery that would be wonderful if utilized for movie musical.


sp -- Mendes would have to chuck some of his miserabilism though... at least if he wanted to do something other than a tragic musical. He'd do well to loosen up a bit. His films feel increasingly smothered to me.

Kim -- i figure since the broadway version just in ticket sales has made over $400 million. add in merchandise and other tours. yikes.

Kim said...

I actually preferred Mendes' production of Gypsy with Bernadette over the Patti LuPone production. Gasp! I still get angry that Marissa Jaret Winoker beat her for the Tony...

Loved his take on Cabaret as well, but a good deal of that was probably Rob Marshall. So I think with the right show, Mendes could do a great movie musical.

They are developing In The Heights too, aren't they? many things in "development". It's obnoxious.

Dorian said...

I heard they're trying to get Demi Lovato for "In the Heights." WTF??

I'd be down to see film versions of "Wicked," "Ragtime," and "The Color Purple." Don't know how the latter two would do box office wise, but I know plenty of people that would love to see all of these musicals get their due on film. Make it happen soon, Hollywood, before it's too late!

Anonymous said...

One wonders why Jackman hasnt done a musical yet. I remember hearing about him being attached to Soderbergh's Cleopatra musical, then he dropped out. Considering how talented he is at song and dance, it'd be a good career move for him to do one. IMO it'd be his surest bet for an Oscar nom.


Kim, i liked the Mendes Gypsy a lot too. I didn't see the LUpone version because, like La Cage Aux Folles, I figure enough is enough with these revivals. There are so many great ones.

it's like when they do Hamlet. It's like okay okayokay. how about something we haven't seen 200 times?

Kim said...

Totally Nathaniel...I have lived in NY for 9 years now, so when something has been revived twice in the time I have been's too much. Especially when there are so many more shows that could be revived. I do hear the La Cage production is stellar though. If only I could get free tickets... :-)

Terence said...

I'm so happy someone mentioned Aida and Ragtime! Those could be great money makers and awards magnets...if done right.

But last I heard about Aida, Beyonce was attached to the title role -_-

Personally, I think that musicals aren't that hard to predict. "Family friendly" musicals (Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia,etc.) tend to do better because they are more accessible. I LOVE the scores for Sweeney Todd and Nine, but for the average movie watcher they are tougher to swallow/appreciate.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Does anyone remember back in 2005 when it was announced that Chess and Jekyll & Hyde were supposedly in development? And Aaron Sorkin wrote a script for Follies, and Lee Daniels is supposed to do Miss Saigon, and Marc Webb was attached to remake Jesus Christ Superstar....

Anonymous said...

Dimitra, I like the idea of an "all male sexy musical " I was completely surprised that Jeremy Renner can actually sing. He has a nice Billy Joel vibe to his singing. See him sing here : this:

OtherRobert , trust me Anne Hathaway can belt with the best of them. She received rave reviews for her appearance on "The Simpsons" special anniversary episode that aired this year. Hathaway blew me away with her singing voice (hitting high notes like an Opera singer) & acting voice( her wonderful comedic timing & flawless Long Island accent) when she voiced the character of Princess Penelope on "The Simpsons" . I truly hope she is nominated for an Emmy for that incredible performance. Anne is such a rarity in Hollywood because she is unbelievably versatile when most young A-list movie stars have such a very limited range.

I still enjoy watching Anne's hilarous take on Mary Poppins passing a STD to Bert on the classic "Saturday Night Live" skit . Hathaway's interpretation of Ms. Poppins is stupendous (British accent & Julie Andrews' mannerisms) Please watch it :

Glenn Dunks said...

Can I just ask what it is that Amanda Seyfriend has done to make people think she can sing? Have I missed something?

I might actually lead a campaign to make sure Lea Michelle does NOT get cast in Wicked. It's just TOO.MUCH. We already have her singing Wicked songs on TV and her character on Glee is Idina Menzel's daughter for christ sake. I almost feel like Michele is using Glee as her Wicked audition and I just... no.

I reckon a good movie could be made out The Boy From Oz and we occasionally hear whispers down here in Australia that someone is trying to develop something but then it disappears again. Is Hugh Jackman willing to put it all on the line and actually make a musical though for the big screen? Especially one as big and gay as The Boy from Oz.

vg21 said...

I wish I could see the NY musicals, but it's too far away. While I really loved Hairspray and Mamma Mia! I don't think a sequel is needed to any of them because it would definitely be a disappointment. As somebody has already pointed out, sequels hardly ever live up to the first film and I have no intention of reading critics whining about Merly Streep wasting her talent on such lightweight chick-flicks. I'd hate another SATC2 situation, when I so want the film to be good and it is even worse than I thought it could.

But still, I love musicals, I even enjoyed Nine a lot and would be thrilled to se more well-written and well-sung (!) ones on the big screen.

vg21 said...

*could be

Thais Afonso said...

I don't think I could really appreciate a Wicked movie enough. I'm just to much of a Idina/Kristin fan not to compare everything and be really whiny about it.


@Terence -- you write "I LOVE the scores for Sweeney Todd and Nine, but for the average movie watcher they are tougher to swallow/appreciate."

while I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, I think the obvious solution is to cast great singers. "difficult" music always sounds a million times better when you have a very trained singer (who is also good at acting) to tease out all of the nuances.

I am not particularly knowledgeable about music (though I can read it and play piano) so i don't always know what's going with Sondheim's music but I love it all the same. That said, if I had first heard the Sweeney Todd tunes as sung by Depp & Bonham Carter I almost certainly wouldn't have known it was brilliant music.

@vg you write "I love musicals, I even enjoyed Nine a lot and would be thrilled to se more well-written and well-sung (!) ones on the big screen."

i agree. I'm not sure why hollywood doesn't know that "well-sung" is important. They'd never not know that "well-muscled/athletic" was necessary for an action movie, you know?

OtherRobert said...

No, Nathaniel, I'm saying that actors with mediocre voices shouldn't be getting leads in big movie musicals unless it really fits. Exhibit A: Lucille Ball in Mame. Depp grumbled his way through Sweeney for an Oscar nomination, while Carter did something very different with Lovett that fit her vocal abilities. A bit off for a standard Lovett, but she didn't play it standard. I wouldn't call Carter's performance weak. It was wistful and introspective. Can you tell she won lead that year for me? And can we just agree that the costumes were almost as beautiful as Sondheim telling reporters to stuff it over the key changes?

I liked Seyfried in Mamma Mia. I also accept that pretty much the entire cast was mediocre-to-good singers performing pop music. Wicked is probably beyond Seyfried's vocal abilities, but I can't say for sure. Both female leads have a wide range--Elphaba with the actual notes, and Galinda with the necessary vocal styles.

And why even look at the film actors, anyway? Eden Espinosa kills it as Elphaba when she goes back to the show and she's young(ish) and more traditionally pretty than the other stage options. Better yet, adapt Brooklyn into a film musical and cast all those beautiful/handsome super talented Broadway actors from the original production as the leads.

Devon said...

I think that jukebox musicals like "Jersey Boys" and "Million Dollar Quartet" could do very well as films. Both have that kind of "Behind the Music" vibe that audiences seem to respond to well, and the music is familiar to general audiences. "Memphis" might be an option too. I wouldn't be surprised if we get an "American Idiot" movie at some point too. Green Day won't rest until they've beaten that album into the ground and every person possible has heard it (and I say that adoring both the band and that original album).

Volvagia said...

And as for movie musicals, my top five would be:

1. (obviously) Singin' in the Rain
2. Cabaret
3. Bugsy Malone
4. Funny Face
5. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Terence said...


I hope that would happen more too. But I feel that many classically trained and/or amazing singers aren't necessarily acting. Maybe this is my ignorance, but the only ones I can recall are Sarah Ramirez, Audra McDonald, and K Cheno (who though I love dearly, we see too much of). This is excluding the Glee Kids and younger 25 and under actors.

Jersey Boys to me, along with Wicked, seems to be the safest musical to transfer to the screen.

Wouldn't it be amazing though if something more challenging like Caroline, or Change would be greenlit? I adore the soundtrack and maybe Oscar would do what the Tony's didn't (a la West Side Story). Tonya Pinkins would almost certainly be assured a nod if she took the film, right?