Movie Musicals

Movie Musicals Needing a Remake

Michael Kape
So, Steven Spielberg is wrapping up the shoot for his new filmed version of West Side Story. Like many people, I thought the first movie would have been the last time the material was approached. Why would Spielberg—a director whose work I generally like (okay, let’s forget about 1942 and the Jurassic Park movies)—want to tackle this project?

I know why now. I hadn’t really watched the film since I saw it in the movie house in 1961. I’m sure I must have a DVD around I intended to watch someday. But it popped up on my Netflix feed and I figured I might as well satisfy my curiosity. OMG! It’s a painful movie to watch now. Indeed, I managed to struggle through half before I just had to turn it off. The direction by Robert Wise (Jerome Robbins only staged five musical numbers before he was fired for cost overruns) was very sloppy (as was most of his work, the exception being The Sound of Music). The cast, while being good actors, couldn’t sing the demanding roles and the dubbing was awful. (As an aside, I’m well over Marni Nixon after learning how terrible a mother she was to the late Andrew [“Lonely Boy”, “Thank You for Being a Friend”] Gold, a singer/songwriter I really liked. She was talented but a real bitch to Andrew, though they reconciled before he died.)

Spielberg cast actors who could sing the demanding roles, and he actually is using Latinx actors in the Puerto Rican parts. Hurrah. I’m looking forward to a great director tackling the material the way it should be tackled.


Then another movie popped up on Netflix, one I hadn’t seen since 1972. I was curious. Would it stand the test of 47 years or not? Turns out, it didn’t. The movie in question is Fiddler on the Roof. Now, being a nice Jewish boy who lived through countless bad renditions of Fiddler songs while staying in the Catskills (oy, don’t ask, please!), and having finally seen countless productions of the musical onstage, I was curious about whether the movie was as good as I remember it being when I was 18 years old. So, I watched the whole, tedious, sloppy (again; this time blame director/producer Norman Jewison; he’ll pop up again), three-plus hour film (the show clocks in at 2:30 with intermission, which should tell you something).

I finally understood why Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerome Robbins (again) had nothing to do with this film except to cash the checks for the rights. (Additional music for the film was composed by John Williams of Star Wars fame; he couldn’t capture Bock’s sound.) Even then, Topol was looking a little too old to play Tevye—especially when the rest of the cast (except Molly Picon as Yenta) looked decades younger (best performance coming from the late, great Leonard Frey as Motel). The real problem is that the film failed to capture the miracle Robbins performed onstage. The suggestive Boris Aronson sets were more realistic (in sparking our imagination) than the realistic film settings (I know, this is required for any movie). The script sounded right (Joseph Stein did both stage and film versions) but came off hollow and forced when opened up on film.

This story could be told so much better now on film. Jewison worked with what he had (I guess), but his work was uneven, dull, and lifeless. Fiddler on the Roof demands a remake, just like West Side Story.

I was recently talking to some of my fellow ATB bloggers, and it sparked an idea. What other movies were done so badly they demand to be remade? What films cut half the original scores (or nearly all in some cases) when there was no good reason? So, I’ve made a little list. Feel free to agree or disagree or add some of your own. (You might note certain names keep cropping up, like Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. I am not surprised.)

·         A Chorus Line—Our ATB bloggers’ fearless leader calls this “Cats with people.” Okay, I get it. But there is no excuse in the world for this movie to be as stultifying bad as it is. Richard Attenborough was clearly the wrong director, the plot devices crammed into the movie to make more of the prior romance between Cassie and Zack was ridiculous, and the dancing took a backseat to the fake plot (which is completely counter to the point of the stage version). Whole swaths of the original were gone. Songs cut. The brilliant monologue by Paul? Not in this movie. Indeed, everything making A Chorus Line a landmark Broadway musical was erased from the movie.

·         A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Take a brilliantly funny, ribald musical farce with a terrific Stephen Sondheim score and reduce it to utter garbage. Cut half the score (why?) and change the intricate plotting. It just wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at all, even with Zero Mostel and Jack Guilford recreating their roles. We need a good movie version of Forum. No question about it. And since Sondheim now sells more than he did in 1966, it makes sense.

·         A Little Night Music—Do I really need to explain why we need a good movie version of this musical? Okay, you twisted my arm. Here goes:

—   Elizabeth Taylor is lovely to look at but painful to hear singing You Must Meet My Wife and Send in the Clowns

—   Director Hal Prince could not find a way to make this movie look good no matter what he tried

—   Fully one-third of the Sondheim score is missing

—   One-quarter of the plot is gone

—   The stage musical is lively and buoyant; the movie is dull and leaden

—   It’s dull, it drags, it’s boring

—   Why the hell is it set in Austria instead of Sweden? (I know, Prince got money from the Austrian government to fund the film. It still makes no sense since it’s about events of a midsummer’s night when “the sun won’t set,” and everyone still has Swedish names.)

·         Anything Goes—No, there’s nothing wrong with the 1936 black and white version except it’s missing most of the amazing Cole Porter score; thank Bing Crosby for that travesty. And the 1956 color version not only threw out most of the Cole Porter score again but also the whole storyline (except both have scenes on an ocean liner). Again, thank Bing Crosby for this travesty. We need an actual movie version of the original Cole Porter musical once and for all. Thank goodness Crosby isn’t around to mess this up a third time. (Not a fan, not at all.)

·         Brigadoon—My favorite score by Lerner and Loewe was truncated, major roles reduced to bit players, and it was produced entirely on a soundstage instead of offering real Scottish locations (or even suitable substitutes). Gene Kelly danced up a storm but never could find the right hook for the character of Tommy, and much of what made Brigadoon so special was lost because 20th Century Fox tried to produce a lush musical on a shoestring budget. A real movie version (and not that insipid television version with Robert Goulet) is demanded.

·         Bye, Bye Birdie—Ugh, I think this movie is awful compared to the original Broadway musical. Half the plot was jettisoned (along with half the score) to build up the role of Kim—played by Ann-Margret. Why? And please don’t cite the painful to watch television version with Jason Alexander as Albert. The less said about that the better (though Tyne Daly as Albert’s mother was the one bright spot).

·         Cabaret—Okay, let’s start by saying Bob Fosse’s movie is brilliant on its own. But let’s also say it isn’t the stage musical Cabaret by any stretch of the imagination. We should demand a movie version of the original.

·         Camelot—We have to be honest here. The stage version as it originally opened on Broadway was a complete mess. Director Moss Hart had been hospitalized during rehearsals, so Alan Jay Lerner limply tried to direct the show. But part of the problem was his book was just all over the place. (My BFF refers to this show as Cram-a-Lot, because they tried to cram so much stuff into it.) A few weeks after opening, Hart returned, cut three songs, trimmed the book, and voilà, the show as we know it now. So, making a movie out of the material already started with two strikes against it (the second strike being hiring AJL to write the screenplay). Dispirited direction from Joshua Logan (who should have known better) and subdued performances (to the point of rigor mortis) by the leads made this movie painful to watch. A remake done right would be expensive, but it would be worth it.

·         Finian’s Rainbow—Why hire a master realistic director like Francis Ford Coppola to direct a fantasy musical like this? His work (to be kind) was awful. Fred Astaire insisted his mostly non-singing role have more songs. The plot was changed. The whimsy was strained out. As a movie, to be honest (and kind), it sucked. A remake is needed.

·         Guys and Dolls—Word is a new movie remake is in the works (though others have been announced in the past and never come to pass). Good. Of the four leads, only Vivian Blaine recreated her Broadway role in the film. Jean Simmons was passable as Sarah Brown. Then we have the two male leads—Frank Sinatra as Nathan and (gasp) Marlon Brando as Sky. Why? Whose bright idea was this casting? (Answer: Samuel Goldwyn and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.) Sinatra is again miscast as the lead (he actually wanted to play Sky) and Brando couldn’t sing or act the role (he managed to look extremely uncomfortable throughout the movie). Five Frank Loesser songs were tossed out (three lesser Loesser songs were written for the film). It’s time for a remake—please make it happen this time.

·         Grease—I know some people might consider this heresy, but I think the movie version of Grease is an affront. The original Grease was a raunchy, raucous good time at the theatre. Then someone decided it should be more family friendly (why?). So, half the score was replaced by mediocre Bee Gees songs (and really, by comparison, they are mediocre). Sandy was made Australian to accommodate Olivia Newton John. All the fun and the life were sucked out of the original. I hated it in 1978. I hated the godawful live television version (directed by an old friend of mine; I always said he had no business directing musicals and I still believe it). Here’s a clue: Grease is NOT family friendly. Get it? Good.

·         Gypsy—It should have been Merman. It was Rosalind Russell. It should have been someone who could sing Louise. It was Natalie Wood. It should have been great. It wasn’t. We need a definitive version (though we have a few video ones passing muster).

·         Hairspray—John Travolta as Edna? Really? No. Do it right. It should have been Harvey. And everyone knows it, too.

·         Hello, Dolly!—Before all the Barbra Streisand fans chew my head off, this is not about her being way too young and too Brooklyn to play Dolly Gallagher Levi. It’s about the overblown direction by Gene Kelly, who managed to not just open up the Michael Stewart/Jerry Herman original, but blew it up into a huge, monstrous, unholy mess. Most of Hello, Dolly! Is surprisingly small and intimate on stage, with a few big production numbers thrown into the mix. The Thornton Wilder whimsy is completely gone. The movie goes way beyond Gower Champion’s wildest wet dreams. I’d love to see the movie done right, cast right, and directed/choreographed right. As a movie director, subtlety was never Gene Kelly’s strong suit.

·         Jersey Boys—Right material, wrong director. Clint Eastwood? What were they thinking? Those must have been some powerful drugs they were taking when the producers put him at the helm.

·         Jesus Christ Superstar—Norman Jewison strikes again! The director who bungled Fiddler started working on JC Superstar while filming it. He cast the movie mostly with actors who had never been in a film before (though the leads had done the show on Broadway; let’s not talk about what an unholy mess the Tom O’Horgan production was). Instead of a straightforward retelling of the rock opera, it became a story about a busload of traveling players staging a musical passion play. New songs were added, and some original songs were trimmed beyond recognition. This is yet another case of Jewison not really trusting the material enough. He should have stuck with dramas where he excelled.

·         Little Shop of Horrors—Really, this movie shouldn’t be on this list, but yet it’s here? Why? Because the producers tacked on a happy ending which did not belong there. Put it back, the way it was. Period. End of discussion. (Rumor is this is going to happen in a new filmed version, but I’ll believe it when I see it.)

·         Mame—Everybody loved Lucy, that is, until she bought the film rights to Mame and cast herself as the title character. In truth, aside from her voice being wrong for the role and her being 30 years too old to pull it off effectively, she wasn’t that bad. No, the problem with Mame is Gene Saks wasn’t a good movie director. He had brilliantly directed the Broadway version, but he couldn’t find a way to make it work on film. He even made his wife, Bea Arthur, look forlorn and bored on screen. Indeed, the look of the movie is all wrong (the Morton de Costa film of Auntie Mame got it right). And no amount of mayonnaise on the camera lens could make Lucille Ball look like Mame. A movie remake is demanded (or at least a live television version).

·         Man of La Mancha—Okay, let’s take a small musical, ostensibly a one-set show performed in a dungeon, and then open it up with realistic Italian scenery subbing for the plains of Spain. Let’s go through three directors and writing teams (only go back to the original book writer of the stage musical). Let’s cast three well-known actors (Peter O’Toole, Sophia Loren, James Coco) who can’t sing a note and then dub them badly (because you pissed off the actors from the original stage version who had been promised they could recreate their roles in the movie). Let’s cut some of the musical’s better numbers while we’re at it (indeed, if O’Toole had gotten his way, all the songs would have been excised). Man of La Mancha demands a remake. It has angered theatre fans since 1972; it’s time to put them out of their misery with a good movie.

·         Oliver—I know, I know, it won the Oscar for Best Picture. It still sucks. It’s painful to watch. When every song turns into an overblown production number (even the quiet, wistful Where Is Love?), then you know something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

·         On the Town—The original Broadway show, based on Jerome Robbins’ (again) ballet Fancy Free about three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City, was a brilliant piece with an incredible score with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Comden and Green. Not one bad song in the entire piece. (Odd side note: Bernstein also wrote the lyrics to I Can Cook Too, which led him to first tackle all the lyrics to West Side Story. He couldn’t according to his daughter, and Stephen Sondheim came to the rescue.) Successful on Broadway so it had to be made into a movie, right? Well, um, uh, sure. But the producers miscast Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as two of the sailors and jettisoned most of the Bernstein score for mediocre work by Roger Edens (who thought Bernstein sounded “too operatic”). This movie needs to be remade. Not updated (there’s no more Miss Subways, after all). Cast it with people who can sing and dance and actually play the characters as written (sorry, Sinatra and Kelly didn’t cut it so far as I’m concerned).

·         Pal Joey—Sinatra again miscast as the title character, a heel who preys on women until one woman preys on him. The biting Lorenz Hart lyrics were tamed by Hollywood, and it became a mess of a movie. At least Sinatra sang his own songs; Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak were dubbed. The movie has a happy ending; the musical doesn’t. In the movie, Joey is a nice guy; in the musical, he’s a major louse. It’s a crying shame movie for many reasons. The changes to the Rodgers and Hart show were just plain dumb. Worse, Pal Joey on stage made a star of Gene Kelly, and he could have easily recreated his star turn. Sinatra didn’t think bad boy Joey fit his image, so the whole thing was Bowdlerized beyond recognition. It demands to be made—this time using the original score and storyline. In the #MeToo age, it is especially relevant.

·         Porgy and Bess—This movie is so laughingly bad, so deliciously lousy. It’s an affront to the original Gershwin work on every level. Is it any wonder the Gershwin estate wouldn’t allow it to ever come out on DVD? Let’s do it right this time.

·         Show Boat—There are two movie versions of this landmark American musical (actually there was a third, part-talkie one made in 1929). The first complete one from 1936, shot in black and white, is the superior one, sticking closely to the stage version and features (be still my heart) Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson, and Helen Morgan. So, of course, MGM couldn’t leave well enough alone and remade it in color (sometimes I still wonder what Arthur Freed was thinking in his choices). Hammerstein’s original book is mostly gone. The social commentary propelling Show Boat is reduced to a few lines. Ava Gardner’s character is beefed up (she being a big MGM star at the time). It’s a friggin’ nightmare to watch now. It’s MGM lush and MGM lousy at the same time.

·         South Pacific—Just get rid of the tangerine skies and the movie would automatically be 100% better.

·         The Fantasticks—What? You never saw this movie? Consider yourself extremely lucky. Still, try to remember authors Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt were themselves the ones who adapted their work for the movies. Badly. Very badly. So incredibly badly even MGM wouldn’t release it for five years after director Michael Ritchie filmed it—and under duress because of contractual obligations and in only four theatres. Francis Ford Coppola (see Finian’s Rainbow) was brought in to trim it from 109 minutes to a scant 86 minutes. What went wrong? First, the authors opened the tiny show up. Onstage, the musical is performed on a small stage with a platform and a trunk. Total orchestra? Two (a piano and a harp). On that small stage, the audience is transported around the world and in two backyards. Full orchestrations were created. The film tries to emulate the big, splashy 1950s movie musicals, setting the story in the Arizona prairie, yet reducing the whole world to a traveling carnival (don’t ask). While the show opens and closes with Try to Remember, the movie cuts this famous song down to a couple of choruses at the end (huh?). The tiny story is lost in all the extraneous scenery. Hallmark Hall of Fame attempted to do a truncated television version in 1964, but it wasn’t good at all. The Fantasticks is the world’s longest running musical. It’s simple, sweet, and makes you cry at the end. If ever a property is demanding a great movie version, this is it.

Some (dis)honorable mentions not worth remaking: Annie, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, The Wiz, On Your Toes, Rose Marie, Good News, and Evita (I say this reluctantly because I sort of enjoyed it).

There you have it. Movie musicals derived from Broadway shows demanding to be remade as soon as possible. Entirely my opinion, of course, but I don’t think there’s one movie cited anyone could disagree about the need for a better version.

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® grew up watching movie musicals when he couldn’t see live performances. Even as a kid he knew a bad movie musical when he saw one. Now he cringes when watching them.)

My 1776 Love, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Film Adaptation

David Culliton

If I’ve learned anything from the countless hours I’ve logged watching extremely nerdy, thirty-minute-plus video essays on YouTube, it’s that the theatre and the cinema are two VERY different beasts. While both share the basic aesthetic of longform entertainment, the creative processes and indeed the appealing aspects of said entertainment varies from form to form. This is relevant to the discussion of adaptations, whereupon the creative products of one medium are translated into another. It is the rule of thumb that, for various reasons, you cannot directly and exactly recreate those creative products between mediums, or else risk many of the best aspects of the original being lost in translation. For example, had the entirety of Victor Hugo’s revolutionary magnum opus been put into that little indie musical adaptation nobody’s probably heard of (something about a bunch of miserable French people?), the audience would be subjected to a 5-hour derge that nobody would ever want to sit through. Excess needed to be trimmed, character beats expanded to fit a more theatrical setting, etc. When it was adapted into a movie, changes were then made to make THIS adaptation fit the silver screen rather than a box stage & a turntable. While I’m aware that how effective these changes were is still up for debate even seven years later, Tom Hooper and crew at least recognized that the show had to be meaningfully transformed to fit the new medium to a point where many viewers were able to concede that the movie felt like more than just a boring retread of the show. Compare this with adaptations like the Phantom of the Opera or Rent movies, who don’t meaningfully change enough of their source material to fit (or even warrant) their cinematic presence, and consequently did NOT fare well critically upon release. I won’t dive into too much detail as to why (if you’re curious, go watch Lindsay Ellis’ videos on the two movies- I cannot recommend her content enough!!), but suffice to say the refusal to make changes to either show that fit the aesthetic and form of film makes their executions feel clunky and lackluster.

If this issue is prevalent in movie-musical adaptations of the last 10 years, it was even more so 50 years ago, and much more thorny to boot. Movie-musical adaptations then are comparable to Marvel movies today. They were the big spectacle blockbuster events of the season, and studios would sink millions of dollars into the production, promotion, and release of these films, even touring some of them on roadshows to build hype before wide releases. The problem was that not all of these big budget cinematic marvels were huge hits, and I’m sure it won’t shock you to know that two of the most infamous flops of this era, Camelot and Hello, Dolly!, were massive, $15-million-plus expensive attempts to recreate the magic of the original shows in order to squeeze as much money out of the prestigious movie musical genre that seemed while refusing to actually engage with the material in a meaningful way. They put the stage shows on screen, and while Camelot cut some things for time & Dolly added a Louis Armstrong cameo, not enough was done to either to make the musicals work as movies and both failed tremendously, both at the box office & with audiences. Dolly was so disastrous, in fact, that it became known as the one that maimed the genre into nonexistence for about 3 decades. There, of course, were still musical adaptations that popped up in the cinemas between 1970 and the late 90s/early 2000s, but they touted much smaller budgets, safer risks, and stories that worked well onscreen and kept up with the sensibilities of the times (as opposed to movies like Camelot and Dolly, both of which were accused of being outdated and out of touch with the prevalent social themes of the day). These films, such as Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, and Hair, performed well and received well and kept the genre alive long enough to see the release of Moulin Rouge! and Chicago, both of which are seen as responsible for putting the movie musical back on the map. (Quick side not before we get to the main attraction that the history I just detailed is a GROSS oversimplification of how all of this went down in the industry and I once again refer you to Lindsay Ellis to give you a better picture in her video “The Death of the Hollywood Movie Musical”).

Amidst all of this came a modest little adaptation of a modest (though award-winning and well-received) musical three years after Dolly crashed and burned its way through its wide release. The musical, and subsequent movie, was, of course, Peter Stone’s 1776. While it didn’t boast the massive budget of the infamous flops that predated it (only clocking in around an estimated $4 million), it did sport some of their other trademarks. For one thing, it was a musical about the founding of America that doesn’t comment all that much on how that creation led to the America we have today/had in 1972. While the musical notably did premiere during the Nixon administration and Vietnam, being lobbied by the administration to remove the song “Cool, Considerate Men” for its less-than-glowing depiction of the American right wing, it didn’t comment all that meaningfully on the world around it, opting instead for traditional sensibilities akin to what got Dolly and Camelot criticised for being out-of-date. Most notably, the adaptation AGGRESSIVELY refused to change the script or score of the show, putting the entirety of what could be seen in the Broadway run on film and even ADDING a few moments to bring the film to a whopping ~180 minute run time. The film also brought a majority of the show’s original Broadway leads onboard to reprise their roles, only adding to the feeling of the movie simply replicating the stage musical. And while the original theatrical release of the movie did cut down the runtime to just over 141 minutes, the spirit of a direct adaptation that makes no significant alterations to the source material was still present, and you should know the punchline already. The movie only earned just over $6 million at the box office, thus obtaining a meager $2 million in profit after breaking even on the budget, and was received pretty tepidly by critics and audiences despite using the same script and score that won the original Broadway production the Tony Award for Best Musical. Once again, a movie-musical adaptation didn’t engage with its source material to consider how it plays on the big screen, and so audiences found themselves bored and not caring a whole lot about the story of the fate of our country. By all accounts this film is an overlong mess that has absolutely no right to exist.

President Richard Nixon with the cast of  1776  after a performance in the East Room of the White House

President Richard Nixon with the cast of 1776 after a performance in the East Room of the White House


So… is it bad that I deeply love the fact that we have this movie in all its near-three-hour glory?

First off, I should lay my cards on the table and say that the reason I have such a strong affection for this movie is due to my love of the musical itself. 1776 is a musical that has some risky elements that pay off gloriously. There’s an infamous 30 minute Continental Congress scene in the play solely dedicated to the goings on in that Pennsylvania meeting hall, both on and off the record. Said scene has absolutely no music, sung or instrumental, which is a tricky thing to pull off smack in the middle of act one of your MUSICAL. And yet, the scene is brilliantly written and really helps immerse the audience in the history their watching and give it personality and stakes with spoken word alone. In fact, the whole show often reads like it should be a straight play, which would make a lot of sense for a realistic retelling of the founding of the United States as jam packed with dry political conversations as this show is. And yet, Stone insisted that this show had to be a musical, giving it songs to add variety and levity to a more serious and dry book. The music that was added has a consistent-ish period feel but can be very bombastic in style. The “Yours, Yours, Yours” scene comes right out of nowhere and sounds like a modern-ish love ballad and “Molasses to Rum” plays like a Scenes-From-An-Italian-Restaurant-style mashup of different motifs. And yet, that gamble pays off, too! Sherman Edwards’ score, though bombastic, IS outstanding, the lyrics are clever-as-all-get-out, the music is powerful, and you’re guaranteed to come out of the show singing at LEAST one of the songs. The antagonist songs are honestly intimidating, the happy songs are thoroughly joyful, you get a fantastic feel for the characters with each song, and John’s power ballad at the end is impressively poignant-- you really feel for his plight. And that score combines well with the book to give us a libretto filled with witty exchanges between our forefathers and some strong characterization for all of the show’s MANY main and supporting characters. I think it also resonates with audiences because (to steal some more from Lindsay Ellis) it’s very assuring of the American experience, showing the resilience of its people to create our great nation from the ground up and fight off the advances of its mother country.

Now, if this all works so well onstage, where did it go wrong on screen? Like I said, perhaps the biggest problem was the people behind the movie not editing a single thing about the original script so as to keep movie audiences engaged, making scenes that are riveting onstage into se quences too long and dry for the average moviegoer. The overall effect of this is a long and often tiresome experience as a LOT of the length is due to the endless dialogue in these drawn out congress congress scenes which onscreen doesn’t always come across as particularly exciting despite some smart comedy and strong drama interspersed into the scenes. It’s a long slog that amounts to what probably doesn’t feel like an impressive payoff. There is no big final song, no mind-blowing final line of dialogue; it simply ends with members of congress coming up and signing the Declaration of Independence one by one as the liberty bell rings.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

There’s also nothing added to the historical ending we already know: the declaration is passed and signed, America officially strives to become the independent nation we know today and it ends exactly how you could picture it ending: a bunch of guys in a room signing a big sheet of paper. Sure, they’re important guys in an important room signing an important sheet of paper, but the imagery wouldn’t be too stirring to your usual audience member in the middle of the Vietnam era. This movie came to us at a time of increased cynicism about the American experience and the movie almost seems to be attempting to reinspire enthusiastic patriotism without showing the audience any sympathy for the political turmoil that so many people felt during the war, which I believe only helped to turn people off to the movie.

Now, when you adapt something to the screen, if you’re not going to change all that much about the material for the screen you should at LEAST try to visually engage with the material in a way that justifies its existence as a movie. Basically, you’ve gotta ask yourself what the medium of film can add to the pre-existing work, and showing off cool cinematography techniques to add to the visual storytelling of the piece is one answer you could have for that. 1776 seems to attempt this, but its cinematography has a bizarre dichotomy between neverending medium shots and weird attempts at different angles and tricks at what feel like arbitrary times. For instance, in the Lees of Old Virginia sequence, there’s this bizarre long take where Ben Franklin is persuading Richard Henry Lee to get a proposition for Independence from Virginia’s delegation. It’s not a shot that directly faces our main characters though, like a lot of long takes in modern cinema. It’s an overhead as they circle around this giant fountain and you can’t help but focus not on the scene, but on how the lines they’re saying HAVE to have been dubbed in because there’s no way the dialogue could be heard from that far away. It’s distracting. There are no other shots in the movie like it and it just strikes you as so out of place. In “Molasses to Rum”, there’s this bizarre edit where we see Rutledge from both the front and the back as he re-enacts a slave auction, both of the shots kind of transparently laid over each other in a slow fade from one to the other. Why do they edit the song like that? Why are his movements in the two shot so out of sync sometimes?? WHAT DOES THAT OVERLAY MEAN??? Who knows, that’s just how the director and cinematographer felt like dealing with this song sequence. These decisions serve to only take the audience out of the experience while they scratch their heads as to why exactly the movie has decided to look like this all of a sudden, so its attempts at interesting visual storytelling isn’t an improvement over the original in any way. This movie reads and acts like a filmed play. Minimal changes to the script means minimal changes to the general tone of the piece means a very theatrical feel persists, which would turn off a lot of moviegoers. 1776 the movie is 1776 flavors of wrong when it comes to stage-screen adaptations. So… why do I love it so much?

For one thing, I’m going to admit here and now that I am a bit of a purist. 9 times out of 10, I’m a proponent of a musical being superior to any movie adaptation that may come of it because there’s a magic to a live stage show that most movies either can’t capture or most Hollywood bigwigs are too afraid to ACTUALLY try to capture, although I think there are some exceptions (I’ll always prefer the movie version of Hairspray to the stage show, for example). But this is a direct translation of the stage musical and honestly? It just works for me. Because the movie has that very stagey feel to it, I find it hugely entertaining EVEN in the drawn-out scenes in the Continental Congress. And moreover, like I said earlier I love how this script is written. The dialogue is fantastic. Unexpectedly raunchy when the show needs some levity (there’s a quip early in the movie when a delegate is missing a vote because he’s gone to the restroom that “Rhode Island passes”), dramatically affecting when a critical moment is at hand (a great moment when Adams and Franklin are fighting over a contentious slavery clause in the Declaration of Independence comes when Franklin yells in Adams’ face that “THE QUESTION HERE IS INDEPENDENCE!”), and overall just intelligent. I don’t know if I’ve EVER seen something as intelligently written yet thoroughly comprehensible as 1776, except perhaps Hamilton which, by all accounts, is its theatrical successor.

Another thing is, even though I was complaining about some of the bizarre cinematographic choices, I personally feel like the medium of film does add some je nais se quoi for the betterment of this material. First of all, the ability to film in different locales gives all the settings of 1776 a very authentic feel, while most productions of the musical, especially the original Broadway production, have a much less diverse feel to their set design. The movie feels like the late 18th century. You feel immersed in the time and place. And the cinematography has some fantastic moments, especially in the songs. The congress scenes do a good job at mimicking the mood of the scene, though it’s more so with the negative moods than the positive, whether it be claustrophobic, chaotic, lonely, tense, or happy & energized. And those songs! “Sit Down, John” has the freezing and unfreezing congress members, the bits with Abigail Addams have the gorgeous veil of a dream sequence, “The Egg” has those great shots of our main trio coming to a conclusion about our future nation, “Mama, Look Sharp” has that dramatic lighting and the fading in backup singers of McNair and the Leather Apron and that harsh fade back to congress at the end, “Molasses to Rum”’s weird half-fade thing, however bizarre I think it is, looks really cool and makes it cinematically memorable, especially when it finally focuses on one shot when Josiah Bartlet jumps up and has his line (“For the love of God, Rutledge, please!”), “Is Anybody There” has those great shots where John Adams is alone in Congress but filling the space with his commanding presence and resolve, “But Mr. Adams” has the staircase, “He Plays the Violin” has the waltz and the playoff, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” (my favorite song in the show if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose), has the minuet while Thompson reads the letter and the shot as they all come out of Independence Hall and board their carriages, the finale has the fade to the painting and the gorgeous long take, OH, it’s all just so darn good! The only song I can think of that has major problems cinematically is Lees of Old Virginia because of its overhead shots feeling weirdly voyeuristic. One could argue the high angle is meant to reflect Lee’s high-soaring optimism (though I somehow doubt that was the point since of all the shots in the song itself that are grounded and standard). That’s just one miss out of close to 20, though. These songs make what should be a 3-hour slog feel like a dynamic look into the birth of our nation.

AND THE ACTING! BY GOD THE ACTING!! This film has no huge names in it, no one you’re going to look at and go “OH I KNOW HIM/HER FROM THAT ONE THING” unless you’re an overly-obsessed broadway buff like me, a fan of watching Prolia commercials, or are one of those 90s kids who never lets us forget about “Boy Meets World” and just loves you some Mr. Feeny (seriously, while William Daniels is known in the TV world mostly as that dude who played Mr. Feeny in “Boy Meets World,” the Broadway community knows him as that dude who played John Adams in 1776). But these actors make up for unrecognizability with LOADS of believability and well-constructed pathos. This is a musical that just feels REAL. Like, sure, Ben Franklin breaking out into song may not be the height of realism, but to a great extent it feels like you’re taking a peek in on congress on those fateful summer days. Not once do I find myself thinking “wow that moment seemed really forced” or “what an awkward line delivery.” These actors are dedicated and invested, and their performances come out as nothing less than organic. THAT, more than anything else, is what keeps me engaged for those 3 hours. I think it actually HELPS that the biggest name in this movie is young Blythe Danner. If they had thrown in random star power, I don’t think I would’ve been as convinced of these characters. If that were… ohhh let’s say MICHAEL DOUGLAS admonishing congress in the opening number I would be too distracted with thinking “wait why did they put Michael Douglas in ANOTHER movie musical” to recognize him as John Adams in the flesh. If Lucille Ball were singing about “violin bow joke here” instead of the woman best known for being Gwenyth Paltrow’s mother, I’d probably be laughing too hard at that vaseline filter over her to be like “oh how cute Martha Jefferson is singing an innuendo song for her dear Tom.” This is a perfectly assembled and perfectly not-famous cast for getting this to feel just right. I think above all, the strong performances across the board are my favourite thing about this movie that keeps me coming back for more. These performances, these flawless embodiments of our country’s historical figures, take an artsy, MUSICAL retelling of America’s founding, and gives it a surprising integrity that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Overall, this movie in its undoctored cut is a bit of an overlong, probably-boring-to-most-people hot mess. But that’s kind of what I love about it. For all its flaws as a cinematic adaptation, 1776 trades that for succeeding in a way that very few movie musicals do- preserving its obscure source material to a tee in ways that feel moving, engaging, and oh so real, with ne’ery a blemish of self-embarrassment or stunt-casting-fueled bad performances in sight. This film is a direct theatrical translation and proud of it, a feat that, in my mind, puts it among my favourites in the movie musical genre. And maybe, if you give it a watch either on DVD, Blu-Ray or Putlocker (sssshhhh you didn’t hear that from me), it will for you too. With the 4th of July coming up, I cannot recommend enough that you find this movie somewhere and give it a watch. While you won’t find any great insights about the America of today packed into this movie, it more than makes up for its refusal to provide relevant commentary with the experience of watching a history teacher’s valiant attempt at breathing humanity into the stuffy John Trumbull paintings and stiff textbook lessons all of us take for granted about the creation of America DECADES before Hamilton made it cool. In my mind, this alone, along with the smart writing, fantastic cast, and brilliant score, make the locating and watching of the mythical, near-three-hour extended director’s cut worth every single second of the time you spend doing so. Happy early 4th of July to all my American readers, and happy watching to everyone willing to give this forgotten little cinematic behemoth a try.

Till then, I am as I ever was and ever shall be: yours, yours, yours truly,



5 Musicals that Should Get the Hollywood Treatment

With the recent announcement of the beloved musical Cats becoming a motion picture event next year, it really got me thinking which other beloved Broadway musicals should get the Hollywood treatment. Embarrassingly enough, this is a topic I think of quite a bit, down to the cast. With that being said, here are 5 musicals I think would be great with the Hollywood treatment. I based my choices on popularity (meaning with theatre fans on social media and how they’re received in general), the music and story. Of course not, everyone is going to agree with these, but these are a few I’ve seen garner a huge response and gathering for. Without further ado!

Photo by manaemedia/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by manaemedia/iStock / Getty Images

 

5. Spring Awakening (2006)

Spring Awakening is just awesome, truly. Set in Germany in the late 1800’s, it’s a story of teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality, their inner battles and struggles, and what they believe to be, love. It’s set to a rocking (quite literally) score that will have these tunes stuck in your head for days. Spring Awakening is also a story that will stick with you far after you experience it, and with talks of the musical being turned into a film since 2013, there’s no time like the present to do it. In a day and age where sexuality is not only a wonderful and fluid thing, it’s an open discussion and to see a movie musical that could help someone come to terms with it if they are struggling, would be wonderful. It also shows the typical teenage angst that is set to a rock score, it is sure to make us laugh and break our hearts. To see this musical put out on the big screen in such a modern day and age would be as revolutionary as this musical.

 

4. Next to Normal (2009)

Next to Normal, the story of a mother who is currently struggling with bipolar disorder and how it is effecting the lives of her daughter and husband. This show addresses many mental and physical struggles that many people do have to face on a daily basis, and it is done respectfully and beautifully. In the modern day and age, in which topics such as mental illness, suicide, abuse of drugs and many more of the like are being acknowledged more and are being talked about, there’s no time to put this real, raw and beautiful musical up on the big screen. Next to Normal resonates with many fans because they feel they can relate to seeing the struggles displayed on a platform they love and use to deal with their own struggles, so to see this done and up in the public’s eye can keep the conversation going. With beautiful songs such as “Light”, “There’s a World”, and “Maybe”, this adaption will leave no viewer with dry eyes, but will also have them leave with a new outlook on life and these topics. This is also one of the shows I have seen a huge demand for on social media to have some form of a Hollywood film/live showing of, so it would do phenomenally well.

 

3. Miss Saigon (1989)

Oh Miss Saigon, set to the final days of The Vietnam War and the aftermath of one soldier’s decisions while there, this show has garnered its fair share of supporters and haters. While back with the Original London Cast they did very unfortunately do yellow face, but thankfully as they realized their very poor course of action, the show has been done better. With the recent Broadway and London revivals, and current UK and US Tours, an interest among newer audiences is being displayed, so why not put it on the big screen while it’s being toured nationally. Like how they did with the timing of Les Miserables in 2012, with the film being released with a simultaneous US Tour, it could be a huge benefactor in selling it. The newer staging of the show is also so elaborate and beautiful, to see how it’s translated onto film is something I would LOVE to see, especially that helicopter scene! I believe Miss Saigon is one of those rare musicals that would be done so precisely, it could end up being better on the screen than the stage, due to what the magic of bigger Hollywood sets/cameras with it. Miss Saigon could be captured a million different ways, but like the show, I know it will be taken such good care of and it will be done with such care, that any Saigon fans would be proud of it. The music is also hauntingly beautiful and so well crafted, to see the public’s reaction to it and the heart wrenching ending would be a smash hit for the movie musical crowd.

 

2. Kinky Boots (2013)

Kinky Boots being one of the two most modern musicals on this list is, dare I say, very important. Kinky Boots is a musical that is a big bundle of happiness with a side of acceptance, it’s just such a feel-good musical that’s important to our modern society. Kinky Boots is all about feeling good about who you are and accepting yourself, and in a day where that message is so important, and acceptance is a thing we all favor, having this huge hearted musical up on the big screen is very well needed. Shoe salesman Charlie befriends a glamourous drag queen Lola, and they create an unlikely friendship that not only sells shoes, but helps them come to terms with who they both are and creates acceptance from the both of them. Set to amazing tunes, this show will guarantee to make you leave the theatre with a huge smile on your face, good feelings, and songs you’ll guaranteed to be singing for weeks to come. Kinky Boots whole message is literally “Just Be Who You Wanna Be” and to have that message displayed in a Hollywood movie, in a time where we are working towards accepting and acceptance of ourselves without any judgement, this would be what is drastically needed. Plus, I feel everyone can relate to Lauren and her ”History of Wrong Guys”.

 1. Hamilton (2015)

Yes, we all knew this was going to be number 1, but Hamilton is just that important of a musical that it needs to be adapted for a Hollywood musical. Hamilton follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, the ups and downs of his life, and ultimately what he accomplished. It’s also set to the non-traditional style of musical theatre music, but the rap fits in the modern telling of the story. Hamilton is also important as it includes people of color in the roles of the main characters and gives them a voice and prominent role in this blockbuster. The entire world has fallen in love with Hamilton, the music and the message of not only the musical but what the musical and cast represent, so to see it given the big screen adaption is something I, many musical theatre fans, and quite honestly the world can agree on. It has taken the world by storm, so why not dominate Hollywood. For some people, Hamilton was their introduction to the wonderful world of theatre, so this also gives everyone a chance to witness it’s brilliance and importance. Seeing Hamilton on the big screen is something I can see in the near future, but until then, we can only hope we will be seeing it. But when it does get it’s big screen slot, it will be a relief to many fans, and considering how beloved it is, it will be taken care and done so creatively, we know it will be well worth the wait.