The Color Purple and Fight Club among many movies turning into Broadway musicals
July 28 2004 12:00 AM ET
Broadway is getting more inspiration from the silver screen. Several musicals based on movies are headed to the Great White Way within the next two years in a growing trend in musical theater. Monty Python's Spamalot, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dracula the Musical, and The Color Purple are just four movie-inspired musicals set to debut this year. Although no Broadway dates have been scheduled yet, The Ten Commandments musical, starring Val Kilmer, will premiere this September at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Other musicals that are in development stages include Tarzan (based on the 1999 Walt Disney animated film), Catch Me If You Can, Legally Blonde, Spider-Man, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Secondhand Lions, Fight Club, High Fidelity and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
What is behind this boom in musicals based on movies? Entertainment attorney Jay Cooper of law firm Greenberg Traurig in Los Angeles says, "Musicals and other Broadway productions are very risky investments, and it's easier to go with a concept that's familiar to people already. Musicals don't have an afterlife like movies do. If a musical flops, it's over." Indeed, launching musicals based on movies has yielded mixed results on Broadway. In recent years, The Lion King and Hairspray were huge hits. But Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy flopped. Monty Python's Spamalot, which is based on the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is aiming to beat the odds. The musical and the movie are a comic spin on the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Monty Python's Spamalot will star Tim Curry as King Arthur, David Hyde Pierce as Sir Robin, and Hank Azaria as Sir Lancelot. Eric Idle, one of the original members of the Monty Python comedy troupe, wrote the book. Idle also cowrote the music and lyrics with composer John Du Prez, who is best known for his work on the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda. Mike Nichols will direct. Monty Python's Spamalot will debut at Chicago's Shubert Theater, where it will run from December 21 to January 16. It then heads to Broadway at New York's Shubert Theater. Previews for the Broadway production begin February 7, before it officially opens March 10. In a statement, Idle said, "I like the title Spamalot a lot. We tested it with audiences on my recent U.S. tour, and they liked it as much as I did, which is gratifying. It comes from a line in the movie which goes, 'We eat jam and ham and Spam a lot."'
The origins of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels project came in part from composer David Yazbek's interest in doing a musical version of the 1988 comedy film, which starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Yazbek tells Billboard, "I found out that [writer] Jeffery Lane also wanted the rights to the musical, so we ended up working together on this project." Lane wrote the book. The musical debuts at San Diego's Old Globe Theater September 15, then heads to the Imperial Theater on Broadway. Previews begin February 15; the official Broadway opening is March 17. Yazbek composed the music for the Broadway musical adaptation of The Full Monty, whose choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, will have the same duties for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Tony award-winning director Jack O'Brien (Hairspray) will direct. Original Yazbek songs in the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels musical will include "Great Big Stuff," "Oklahoma!" "Chimp in a Suit," and "Love Is My Legs and You Are My Love So You Are My Legs, My Love." Its cast includes John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz, Sherie Rene Scott, Joanna Gleason, Gregory Jbara, and Sara Gettelfinger. Yazbek will produce the cast album.
The stage version of The Color Purple will feature music from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. The musical is to premiere September 9 at Atlanta's Alliance Theater. There is no Broadway venue or opening date at this time. The makers of Dracula the Musical, whose Broadway previews begin July 28 at New York's Belasco Theater, say the musical is primarily based on the Bram Stoker novel Dracula. However, visual elements of the musical are believed to be inspired by Dracula movies. The production features music by composer Frank Wildhorn. Don Black and Christopher Hampton wrote the musical's book and lyrics.
The Tarzan musical will feature the music of Phil Collins, who won a Best Song Academy Award for "You'll Be in My Heart" from Disney's animated film version. In an interview with Billboard last year, Collins said the Tarzan musical is expected to debut in 2005 or 2006. He said he was approached to compose the music for its stage production while working on music for the Disney animated film Brother Bear. "Writing the score for Brother Bear has prepared me to write the music for Tarzan [the musical]," Collins said. "The songs in Tarzan are still going to be pop, like in the movie, but they will be more orchestral than [they were] in the movie." Meanwhile, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which has already been produced in London, has yet to announce its Broadway cast. It will land next year at New York's Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Previews begin March 29, and it opens April 28. Disney veterans Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman wrote the music and lyrics. Adrian Noble is the director. Legally Blonde has not been cast yet but is expected to debut on Broadway in 2006. The production will feature music and lyrics by Larry O'Keefe and Nelle Benjamin and a book by Heather Hach. Jerry Mitchell has signed on as director-choreographer. According to a published report, High Fidelity also is to get the musical treatment. Hollywood trade paper Variety says the composer on the project will be Tom Kitt, with Amanda Green involved as lyricist.