Monday, February 11, 2008

Three for three

So, a couple days ago I said I was salivating at the thought of seeing Hair in Central Park this summer. I wish I could say the same about these other projects, but my feelings are decidedly mixed. Here are my thoughts, along with some ideas for alternatives. Any producers reading this, you know where to find me.

Gone with the Wind: Am I the only one who thinks that a musical version of Gone with the Wind, which opens in London's West End in April, is a supremely bad idea? I'm sure director Trevor Nunn's intentions are good. But the depictions of black people in the 1939 movie are stereotypical and offensive, and I don't see how they'll be any better on stage. The thought of singing and dancing slaves makes me cringe. And casting Jill Paice as Scarlett O'Hara only confirms my queasiness. She was wonderful in Curtins as the sweet ingenue. But this article in Playbill refers to Scarlett as a "steely Southern belle." Paice just doesn't strike me as steely enough.

My alternative: You want to make a musical out of a classic movie, how about my favorite movie of all time: Casablanca. It's arguably just as well known and beloved as GWTW, and it has some of the same elements: a love story set against a wartime backdrop, strong male and female lead characters, memorable supporting roles. Plus, the 1942 film has an element of suspense and this time, our hero and heroine are on the right side of a moral issue.

Shrek: I'm kind of ambivalent about the musical version of the 2001 animated film centering around a large green ogre, which begins previews at The Broadway Theatre on Nov. 8. Although it probably doesn't matter what I think since I'm about 40 years older than the target audience and I don't have any small children to bring. On one hand, I think it's great that another movie, oops I mean musical, is opening on Broadway that's geared to young children and their parents. One of the great things about Broadway is the range of entertainment for all ages. On the other hand, I saw the first Shrek movie and I don't remember being all that bowled over by it. The only character I really liked was Eddie Murphy as the donkey. Now if he were going to be in the Broadway musical, I'd buy a ticket.

My alternative: Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmations. The 1961 classic has a love story, a great villain in the appropriately named Cruella De Vil, and a cute floppy-eared supporting cast. Plus, the male lead in the movie, Roger Radcliffe, is a professional songwriter. How perfect is that for a musical! I'm not sure how they'd get 101 dogs on stage. I admit that's a major stumbling block. Dancers in doggie suits probably wouldn't cut it. Maybe they could go the route of the horses in Equus and wear abstract wire Dalmation heads. Or maybe Julie Taymor could whip something up, a la The Lion King.

Yentl: A musical version of the 1983 Barbra Streisand movie about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to study in an Eastern European yeshiva is being considered by husband-and-wife songwriters Marilyn and Alan Bergman. I guess this is more in the Shrek category. I'm not opposed to it, I'm just not all that excited about it. And haven't we seen this before? It's like Fiddler on the Roof meets Shakespeare in Love. But do we need another Fiddler when the first one is still perfectly fit?

My alternative: What I'd really like to see is a musical that looks at contemporary Jewish life. So I'm recommending the very funny 2006 chick-lit novel by Laurie Gwen Shapiro called The Matzo Ball Heiress. The heroine, Heather Greenblotz, of Greenblotz Matzo, tries to save the ailing family business by pulling her quirky, far-flung and emphatically secular relatives together for a Passover seder to be broadcast on the Food Channel. Complications ensue, but needless to say, by the end she finds the kosher man of her dreams.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Very interesting, inspired alternatives to what's in the works.

The very first film I ever saw was, in fact, "101 Dalmations" -- as much it remains one of my all-time favorites, I do wonder how all those little puppies would be staged. If you could figure that out, you'd have a winner.

"Casablanca" is a supremely good movie -- perhaps so much so that any musical version would likely be met with both apprehension and anticipation. Given that they've already made an ill-fated 1983 TV series (David Soul played Rick alongside Hector Elizondo and Ray Liotta) and smart animated feature starring Bugs Bunny, a stage musical seems like a natural progression.

Finally, I'll be in the audience for Gone With The Wind the day after it opens in London this April. While I share your concerns, I'll reserve judgment until then. And c'mon, Jill Paice has an opportunity to show her range.


Esther said...

Thanks Steve! And what a great first movie. Mine was "The Sword in the Stone," but after "Camelot" and "Spamalot," I don't think there's an audience for another King Arther-themed tuner!

You're probably right about the challenges involved in bringing "101 Dalmations" or "Casablanca" to the stage. "Casablanca" is such an icon, and for "101 Dalmations," I guess there's no way to get around all those puppies.

It would be kind of interesting to see how the issues in "Casablanca" would be perceived today. It takes place at a time when the enemy was very clear and identifiable, when there was no big moral debate about what was right and what was wrong. It's a story about the individual's obligation when faced with evil. Rick goes from not wanting to stick his neck out, not wanting to be involved, to being very involved. It's about choosing duty over love.

You are so lucky to be going to London in April! I trust your judgment, so I'll be waiting to hear what you have to say about "Gone With The Wind." And you're right about giving Jill Paice a chance. Just because she played one type of character in "Curtains" doesn't mean she can't play someone completely different. That's why it's called acting!

I hope you're going to see Kevin in "Speed the Plow" while you're in London!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Right at the moment, the only other show I have tickets for is Wicked. (JUST KIDDING!) I have tickets to see the new Yasmina Reza play God Of Carnage with Ralph Fiennes.

Esther said...

Steve, I have to admit, I've never heard of Yasmina Reza, but Ralph Fiennes, wow! I'm looking forward to your review.

Very funny about Wicked! I know you were disappointed by the London production, but hey, if you have a free night and you want to give it another chance, why not! :-)

Theatre Aficionado at Large said...

Have you ever heard the original London or Japanese cast album of Harold Rome's musical adaptation of GWTW? It played in Japan first; a complete two-LP cast recording and in London in a single highlights recording (with Lesley Ann Warren as Scarlett)?

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment!

I have to admit, I've never heard the original Japanese or London cast albums of GWTW. But I love Lesley Ann Warren. She was in some great Disney movies that I saw as a kid, and of course, she was Cinderella!