NEW YORK — Turning movies into stage musicals is becoming a commonplace, but the B.O. success of “The Graduate” adds a new wrinkle to the equation: Are straight plays adapted from movies to be the next Broadway trend?
Conversations with more than a dozen legit lawyers, producers and agents turned up a relatively short list of prior efforts.
There were the short-lived stage versions of Abby Mann’s “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Budd Schulberg’s “On the Waterfront” and Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” which actually began as a “Playhouse 90” teleplay, in 1956, then turned up as a movie six years later starring Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason. In 1980, Janet Gaynor starred on Broadway in “Harold and Maude,” which as a movie had a cult success a decade earlier. On Broadway, four regular perfs obviously made for the wrong kind of cult.
But there are some new projects on the horizon. “Enchanted April,” from producer Jeffrey Richards, based on both the movie and the Elizabeth von Arnim novel. Robert Klane is taking his novel and screenplay “Where’s Poppa?” to the next stage — literally. Bill Haber is producing.
Disney still has its eye on “Dead Poets Society” as a stage property. “It may turn up in some form,” says Thomas Schumacher. If it goes legit, the 1989 Robin Williams starrer most likely will end up as a play with perhaps “a song or two,” says the Disney prexy.
On the West Coast, producer Don Gregory looks to resurrect “Requiem for a Heavyweight” as a possible joint venture between the Laguna Playhouse and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, with the intention to bring the production to Broadway in 2003. Gregory says he is “in discussions” with Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning and director Leonard Foglia.
Do porno movies count? The Araca Group has its “Debbie Does Dallas” ready for Off Broadway this fall. There are songs, but apparently not that many. According to Araca partner Mike Rego, they’re calling it “a play with music.”
Araca had announced a summer 2002 opening for “DDD,” but the date recently got pushed back. Stories have circulated that there were problems obtaining rights from the film distributor. Rego brushes that question aside. “It’s complicated,” he says. “But we will be ready this fall. And the distributor is very happy with the whole project. It has increased rentals of the film.”
If not the most significant road block, the rights issue deters several creatives and producers from proceeding with plays based on films.
Even at the mighty House of Mouse, it gets difficult. “Often times on live-action films, we don’t exclusively control the stage rights,” Schumacher says.
“The Graduate” appears to be the fortunate exception here. “We were quite blessed that the book and movie were controlled by StudioCanal,” says Sacha Brooks, the production’s lead producer with John Reid. “Ron Halpern, who controls that library, gave us creative freedom as we saw fit. He wants to license his library.”
Seth Geldblum at the law firm of Loeb & Loeb represents StudioCanal on “The Graduate” play, as well as MGM, which has aggressively licensed a number of its film properties for the stage.
“Everyone is getting very interested in this,” Geldblum says of the trend.
Darcie Denkert, president of MGM on Stage, says 90% of the properties she works on are going the tuner route. “But there are a few that would lend themselves more to the play form,” she adds. One of those is “Where’s Poppa?”
Despite the success of “The Graduate,” Brooks and Reid have no other movies-to-plays in the pipeline. “If you try to anticipate the market, as other industries do, you lose,” Brooks says. “We’re not working on anything else like this. But we’re not ruling it out either.”
Legit lawyer John Breglio says his office has received no more inquiries regarding movie-based plays of late than it did 20 years ago. Unlike movie-based tuners, the creation of a “new form” is not required here, limiting the critical if not the commercial appeal of such projects. “It’s just moving around the chairs a bit and not reforming the work,” Breglio says. “To have a play compete with a movie is really David and Goliath — unless you have star power.”
From Mrs. Robinson to Mrs. Fisher, “The Graduate” and “Enchanted April” each require a star actress of a certain age. “I hope when Matthew Barber’s play comes to Broadway, it opens with the same demand as ‘The Graduate,’ ” says Jeffrey Richards. As for giving the Joan Plowright role a nude scene, the producer categorically rejects the idea.