NEW YORK – Tomorrow’s Broadway musicals are coming right off yesterday’s movie marquees. Composers and lyricists are at work on tuner versions of “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Hairspray,” “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” and over a dozen other film-to-legit projects.
In September, the Deauville Festival of American Cinema pays tribute to a bygone era when the trend ran in reverse and Broadway tuners fed Hollywood’s production line. The movie versions of “Cabaret,” “My Fair Lady,” “West Side Story” and “The Music Man,” among many others, are to be featured in a festival tribute that will include appearances by Joel Grey, Leslie Caron and Mickey Rooney.
Will such long-gestating projects as “Dreamgirls,” “Chicago” and “Rent” ever join that illustrious company and make the transition from stage to screen? Or is the movie musical simply a beloved tyrannosaurus — dead but not forgotten?
“If I were to sit down and write one, I’m stuck,” says Elliot Goldenthal, a prolific composer of film scores, musicals and ballets. “How populist do I have to be? Can I be as personal as I was with ‘Juan Darien’ and would anyone buy it?”
Surprisingly, Goldenthal and director Julie Taymor’s Tony-nominated 1996 musical, “Juan Darien,” is a candidate for celluloid immortality.
“We have an offer to do it in Brazil,” says the composer. “It would be a ($5 million-$6 million) movie.” Which is the rub. “When it gets up to a budget of ($35 million-$50 million), you’ve got to write something popular.”
Goldenthal will attend the Deauville festival, where Taymor’s “Titus,” which he scored, makes its French debut.
In Goldenthal’s opinion, the kind of movie musical honored at Deauville this year began to wane at the box office when legit tuners ceased creating music for the youth market.
“That market is very divided now: salsa, country and western, hip-hop, rap,” he says. “‘Hair’ is the last example that had the rebellious quality kids like. Those early Elvis Presley movies had it. They were what parents didn’t want.”
As for the current movies-into-musicals vogue, Goldenthal says the trend could last longer than the original golden age of movie musicals. “It is the economic imperative, which is a powerful force. The pre-sale of ‘The Lion King’ is enormous.”
So why not “Batman: The Musical”? After all, Goldenthal scored “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” Warners, in fact, approached him on the subject of a caped wonder who sings.
“I have a problem with that,” the composer says of putting “Batman” in the deep freeze of a long-running musical. “Batman is disposable culture. It is mythic, but you throw it away and next week Batman is doing something else. The beauty is Batman’s continued exploits.”
Better vehicles for the stage-musical treatment, in Goldenthal’s opinion, are pics such as “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Full Monty.”
For a nanosecond, he and the “Titus” director toyed with turning “The Full Monty” into a musical — an effort that has since been mounted by other creatives. Goldenthal says it is a “perfect” idea: “You can get people to sing without it being embarrassing and have them dance without it looking phony.”
Twenty-five years ago, Bob Fosse solved that same problem in the movie version of “Cabaret” by placing all of the musical numbers in a Berlin club.
“Even earlier, with ‘West Side Story,’ Arthur Laurents didn’t want Jerome Robbins to shoot the guys dancing outdoors on the street. He didn’t think it was believable,” says Goldenthal. “Of course, I think that’s what a movie musical should do.”
But would anyone in the 21st century buy it?