‘Wicked’ games: Biz big on pic-stage crossovers

Hot properties get second life with musical reinvention

It’s always daunting to predict box office hits, but here’s an exercise that’s even scarier: forecasting “transies.”

I define a “transie” as any show that can transcend its original medium, stage or screen, and find another robust audience in an alien setting.

For whatever reason, “transies” are coming into vogue this season.

“Chaplin” was a flaccid film, but the theatrical “Chaplin” is surviving its Broadway previews. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” nurtured by Warner Bros, will open this winter at London’s Drury Lane. And Sony has just announced its determination to develop “Tootsie” into a musical under the stewardship of producer Scott Sanders. Even “Flashdance” is getting a Broadway debut.

The Broadway-Hollywood connection can be a messy one. “Rock of Ages” is still a hit on Broadway but the movie was a dud, despite Tom Cruise’s bejeweled codpiece, and I think Steven Spielberg should have left “War Horse” to cavort on stage. But then I dozed through the film version of “Once” and, despite its success, find the stage musical also torpor-inducing.

Despite the notoriously high casualty rate for musicals, Hollywood studios are more determined than ever to build a program of Broadway hits and the bait, of course, is “Wicked.”

While the precise numbers are closely guarded, “Wicked” has become a multibillion-dollar property that represents Universal’s biggest entertainment asset, excluding theme parks. Indeed, “Wicked” puts “Jaws” to shame. The company has turned down an offer of several hundred million dollars from entities that want to acquire all media rights. Now sliding into its 10th season on Broadway, “Wicked” is the queen of all “transies,” having drawn its inspiration from the old Gregory Maguire novel as well as “The Wizard of Oz” (several “Wicked” companies are performing worldwide).

To be sure, “Wicked” itself survived serious birthing pangs. Its producer, Marc Platt, had to spend his own money to keep it afloat. In return, he’s become one of Hollywood’s wealthiest showmen.

While Warner Bros., Universal and Sony are hungering for Broadway success, Disney has long been the corporate leader with hits ranging from “The Lion King” to “Newsies.” According to Variety’s box office tallies, both shows were still at capacity even during the soft pre-Labor Day week.

While a movie like “Tootsie” seems like a tempting target for Broadway, its director, the late Sidney Pollack, struggled for years to develop a point of view for the story and a “voice” for Dustin Hoffman, who played the lead.

“Flashdance,” the surprise 1983 hit, now scheduled for a Broadway debut next summer, had an even bumpier road, surviving furious post-production arguments and major reshoots. Will New York audiences buy into a fragile love story about a female welder who happens to be a brilliant ballerina?

The stage-to-movie transition can prove even more hazardous. “Evita’s” reincarnation as Madonna caused many Andrew Lloyd Webber loyalists to groan, and Gerard Butler’s high notes did not register well in “Phantom of the Opera.”

So if magic is that hard to come by, is it too greedy to ask for a reprise? Even a “transie” reprise?

Here’s my list of shows that I hope never are attempted: Please don’t try “The Godfather” as a stage musical. And as for “The Book of Mormon,” can its delicious nastiness really work onscreen?