So what do you do with a movie that fails at the box office? Why not make it into a Broadway Musical! It’s actually fitting that one of the most popular of these is a film about making a bomb, that just happens to turn out to be a big hit…The Producers.
In 1967, Mel Brooks wrote and directed The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Kenneth Mars also has a great role in the film, I wrote about it in another blog, you can ready that here… The film initially was not very well liked, people didn’t know what to make of it. Actress Estelle Winwood said about the film – “Oh, that dreadful picture. I can’t bear to watch it, even on a small television. I must have needed the money – living in Hollywood weakens one’s motives. It reminds me of the saying that nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public’s taste.”
Regardless, years later when Mel Brooks was considering adapting one of his movie into a play he decided to adapted The Producers as a Broadway stage musical and it opened at the St James Theater in April 2001, with Nathan Lane as Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. The renowned musical went on to run for 2502 performances and won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. A new movie which included Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick was released in 2005, but that one didn’t fare too well either. It’s better as a stage play.
Another one to take the stage was Victor Victoria. Originally written and directed by Blake Edwards in 1982, starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, the movie did not do well. We absolutely loved the film, however. It’s well suited for the transition to stage, as it’s about a struggling female soprano who finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life. Robert Preston is just amazing in the film and really steals the show with his musical number at the end of the movie. Robert Preston did the final musical number in one take, which explains why he was so clearly out of breath, physically stressed, and sweating profusely during the second half of the number. So it’s very easy to see it transferred to Broadway.
In 1995, Blake Edwards decided to transfer the movie to Broadway and convinced his wife Julie Andrews to reprise her role. The hit Broadway musical Victor Victoria opened at the Marquis Theater on October 25, 1995 and ran for 734 performances. Liza Minnelli substituted for Julie Andrews while she was on vacation and Raquel Welch took over for her when she left the show.
In 1980, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly starred in the box office bomb, Xanadu. Again, we loved the movie but it was a huge fail. Famously received the one sentence review: “In a word, Xana-don’t”. I think the main problem is that MTV ruined that movie. What I mean by that is, it’s totally designed to be a musical, but MTV was so popular at the time that they put all the musical numbers into the music, with none of the characters actually singing the songs. It’s just in the background and designed as like music video numbers scattered throughout the film. They dance plenty, but they never really sing. When I ask people about the movie, it’s funny that people don’t realize that no one in the film ever really sings any of the songs until the end of the movie when Olivia is on stage at the roller rink. The Broadway stage version opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on July 10, 2007, and ran for 512 performances. It was nominated for the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Book.
One of the most unusual film-to-Broadway adaptations would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In 1975, the Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast wrote and directed a small independent film called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It did fairly well at the box office but really achieved cult status on video and DVD. It’s a very funny but strange film. The theatrical release contains 527 jokes, including 42 in the opening credits, for an average of one joke every 10.5 seconds. According to Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones got the directing job because they were the only ones who were interested in it. The movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006 called Spamalot. The Broadway play was a huge hit. The original 2005 Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season and received 14 Tony Award nominations. During its initial run of over 1,500 performances it was seen by more than two million people and grossed over $175 million.
Newsies was another musical disaster for Disney initially, but managed to make for a very fine Broadway play. It was directed by Kenny Ortega, who would head up the very successful High School Musical series a few years later. (High School Musical, being way too successful to consider making into a Broadway play has never made the transition…) Newsies was released in 1992 with pre-Batman Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret and Robert Duvall. At the time, this was one of the lowest grossing live action movies in Walt Disney studio history. The movie was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial theatrical release. However, it gathered a cult following after its home video release, eventually made its filming budget back on rentals, and was deemed popular enough to be adapted into a stage musical, which premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011. The musical had music and lyrics by Alan Menken (who composed the movie’s music as well) and Jack Feldman (the movie’s lyricist), and a new book by playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein. This musical moved to Broadway in March 2012 and closed over two years later; a North American tour also launched in 2014. The show went on to earn eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
Now, Hairspray is another very unusual adaptation as the first movie in 1988 directed by John Waters was not a hit, but did moderately well and found cult status on Video and DVD, then was adapted into a very successful Broadway Play and then again translated into a very successful movie in 2007. The original was not a musical, which tells me that certain stories just lend themselves very well to being told as musicals. Jerry Stiller, who plays Wilbur Turnblad in this film, also appears in Hairspray (2007) as Mr. Pinky. Remade on the Broadway stage in 2002 as a musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, starring Harvey Fierstein (and later, Bruce Vilanch, Michael McKean and John Pinette) in the role of Edna Turnblad (played in the film by Divine) and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the role of Tracy Turnblad (played in the film by Ricki Lake) The musical opened at the Neil Simon Theater on August 15, 2002 and ran for 2641 performances. It won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Musical. Adam Shankman directed the 2007 film with John Travolta playing Edna and Nikki Blonsky playing Tracy. With $27.5 million, this had the best opening ever for a movie musical until Mamma Mia! (2008).
Another film-to-broadway-back-to-film adaptation is Little Shop of Horrors. Low budget Independent producer Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith. The shooting schedule for this film was two days and one night because Roger Corman had made a bet that he could make a movie in two days. Charles B. Griffith took a little more than that to write it. A young Jack Nicholson has only a small part as Farb’s masochistic patient, Wilbur Force. But later, as the actor’s career began to take off, he was prominently featured on the home-video releases to help generate interest in the film. The film was remade as a successful stage musical in 1982, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. (who would go on to do Disney’s The Little Mermaid and then many other successful animated musicals) The musical premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, where it had a five-year run. It later received numerous productions in the U.S. and abroad, and a subsequent Broadway production. When it closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances, it was the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.
Ellen Greene reprised her role from the play as Audrey in the 1986 movie of the musical. Frank Oz directed with Rick Moranis playing Seymour. Ellen Greene as Audrey (I) is the only member of the Off-Broadway cast to appear in this film. When she originated the role in 1982, it was her idea to wear a blond wig over her brunette curly hair. Howard Ashman originally saw Audrey as a brunette, based on Jackie Joseph’s look in the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). The original script called for Audrey and Seymour to be eaten by Audrey II, just like in the stage play. Frank Oz reluctantly had it changed after negative reactions from test audiences. Oz claims that the difference between the success of the scene in the play and the same scene in the film is that there is no curtain call to remind the audience that the actors were okay.