Monday, November 26, 2007

Platt points

Somehow, I missed a great interview last month with Marc Platt, the producer of "Wicked." It aired on "The Business" a radio program on KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., that covers the entertainment industry. (It's also available as a podcast through iTunes or on the KCRW Web site).

Platt, a producer at Universal Studios, which owned the rights to Gregory Maguire's novel, tells host Claude Brodesser-Akner that he first tried to develop it as a film. But no matter how many versions he saw, "Wicked" never really clicked as a screenplay.

Then one day, he got a call from stage and screen composer Stephen Schwartz, asking him whether he'd ever consider turning the book into a musical. "Before he even got to the end of the third syllable of musical, the light bulb went off in my head and I thought that's exactly what's lacking here is music," says Platt.

A musical, he felt, would overcome some of the stumbling blocks that had tripped up efforts to turn "Wicked" in to a movie. "One wanted to get at inner dialogue, what was the character thinking or feeling. On film, that's very hard to do unless you create sort of the friend character, the best friend, or another character to whom you can articulate what you're thinking or feeling. But in a musical, you can literally turn to the audience and sing what you're feeling."

Asked about the prospects for a movie version of the musical, Platt indicated that it won't happen anytime soon. Apparently, there's still too much money to be made from "Wicked" on stage. If it were a movie, Platt says "Wicked" would be among Universal's most successful, if not the most successful, moneymakers of all time. (The studio's stable includes such megahits as "E.T." and "Jurassic Park.")

"There's tremendous, tremendous interest and enthusiasm in making the film, and there will be a film if we can develop the right screenplay, get the right filmmaker," Platt says. "But as producer of the musical, I think that one has to find the right timing, both for the marketplace of the film, but more importantly and significantly, for the marketplace of the musical."

"Happily," he added, "the musical "Wicked" is still growing as a theatrical experience. it is about to celebrate its fourth anniversary on Broadway, and there are currently seven productions of Wicked around the world that have grossed over $750 million dollars to date and are continuing to gross enormous numbers every week with no end in sight. And I think the thinking on a film is, one wants to bolster that audience, not risk taking it away in any way. So the timing of the movie is important."

I guess I have mixed feelings about this. As much as I'd like to see "Wicked" on the big screen, and have the DVD to watch whenever I want, I think it's also kind of nice that for awhile, if you want to see this show, you have to go to the theater.

Platt touches on the theatrical experience when he talks about the challenge of translating the show into Japanese, a process that took well over a year, and the thrill of being in the audience on opening night of the Tokyo production.

Even though he doesn't speak or understand the language, Platt said that in the theater that night, it didn't matter. "Somehow those actors, they understood emotionally what needed to be conveyed and I understood every beat of the musical as if I was watching it in New York."

The experience, he says, was awe inspiring.

"I've made many films before that get transported around the world globally that get subtitled, but there was something about hearing words and music that you're so intimate with and lived with for so many years, and a story that is so part of you, and really part of the collective American experience, being sung and performed in a completely foreign language."

"It was very moving. It was moving for me. It was extremely moving for [book writer] Winnie Holzman, who was sitting next to me. It was kind of inspiring and a great thrill, one of the great thrills I think in my professional life."


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Wow, what an excellent post.

I'm an unapologetic Wicked fan who has seen the show on Broadway, in Chicago, on tour, in London and now in Stuttgart (with hopes of still making it to LA and Tokyo). I agree with Platt on the exhilaration of seeing (and hearing) this show in another language because the fundamental storyline translates well.

And I can't wait to see the show again.

Esther said...

Thanks Steve! I figured you'd appreciate it, given your recent theater trip to Stuttgart.

Thank-you for encouraging me to see "Wicked" on tour when it came my way in January. It was my first time, and I definitely fell under its spell. I definitely want to see it again, hopefully on Broadway.