The Saturday List: Lights, Camera, Action! Ten Movie Musicals on the Way to the Silver Screen

Emma Watson as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Emma Watson as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Who doesn’t love a great movie musical? OK, there are loads of people who don’t. But I do, and it’s devastating when one doesn’t live up to its potential. On this week’s Saturday List, I’m taking a look at five upcoming movie musicals to which I’m looking forward. Some of these are nowhere near opening day, but here’s hoping!

1. Let’s get Beauty and the Beast out of the way first, mainly because it has a release date that is less than a year away. When this live action remake of the 1991 animated classic was first announced, my first reaction was that Disney should have produced a live television special of their stage adaptation rather than trying, once again, to reinvent the wheel. At that point, I think we all presumed that the new film would be an adaptation of the stage show, but it turned out that this was not to be the case. The new film, with a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, would incorporate songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from the original film and new songs with lyrics by Tim Rice, who augmented Ashman’s lyrics for the stage show, but none of the material from the stage show itself would be used. Although the teaser trailer was something of a non-starter, we’re all waiting in anticipation to see what the film is like, with its cast led by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Audra McDonald on set in HELLO AGAIN

Audra McDonald on set in HELLO AGAIN

2. Nobody who knows me will be surprised that I’ve placed Hello Again second: I’m a huge Michael John LaChiusa fan and make no apologies for it. I’m also a huge fan of the play upon which the musical is based, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler, and its various incarnations such as David Hare’s The Blue Room. So when news arrived about a film version of one of my favourite LaChiusa shows starring Audra McDonald (who will get a new song in the film), Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Martha Plimpton, I was in seventh heaven. Directed by Tom Gustafson with a screeplay by Cory Krueckeberg, Hello Again is currently being filmed. Everytime LaChiusa posts something on Facebook or the film updates its Instagram or Twitter account, the excitment builds. I simply cannot wait for this one.

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

3. Miss Saigon is a musical I’ve always wanted to see make the jump to the big screen. The popular musical retelling of Madama Butterfly that transfers the action to the fall of Saigon in 1975 is already incredibly cinematic and lends itself to the kind of visual expression that a cinema experience can provide. Back in 2009, I loved hearing industry buzz that ex-United Artists CEO Paula Wagner was gearing up to produce a screen version of Miss Saigon with Lee Daniels at the helm. That film was to be a co-production with Cameron Mackintosh with a 2011 release date. That never happened. Then, in 2012, Les Misérables hit in the big screen. Although both Mackintosh and Daniels hoped that the success of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s first musical theatre classic would spur on a film adaptation of their second, it was not until the closing night of the West End revival earlier this year that Mackintosh indicated that things were on track. In March, it was announched that Danny Boyle might direct the film. All along, it has been said that the film will remain faithful to its source material, although I still wonder what changes we’ll see to the show as we know it. No doubt Ellen will get yet another song to try and solve a moment in the show that has never quite gelled. I know I’ve always thought the fall of Saigon – the infamous helicopter scene – could be shifted to its chronological place because the last half of the piece is strong enough both emotionally and dramatically without it. But we’ll have to wait and see, I guess. It took 32 years for Les Misérables to go from its first production as a Parisian spectacular to the premiere of the film. Miss Saigon opened in London in 1989. 1989 + 32 years = 2021. The clock’s ticking, Mr Mackintosh…

Joshua Park as Pippin the the 2006 Goodspeed Opera House's produciton of PIPPIN

Joshua Park as Pippin the the 2006 Goodspeed Opera House’s produciton of PIPPIN

4. Pippin has been in development since 2003 when Miramax acquired the film rights for the musical penned by Stephen Schwartz, Roger O. Hirson and (the uncredited) Bob Fosse. A decade later, The Weinstein Company – who I guess took the rights along when Bob and Harvey Weinstein broke away from Miramax – named James Ponsoldt as a screenwriter for the project, which was subsequently confirmed as Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s next project. This was around the time of the much-loved Broadway revival of the show, but things have been pretty quiet since then. Perhaps this team is still struggling to find a way to make this very theatrical musical work in the medium of film. Maybe they should recruit Rob Marshall: Pippin seems like the kind of thing that would suit him and his style of musical film-making, one with a framework that offers a plausible excuse for the stylistic features of the genre. Or… why not take inspiration from the anime-inspired hip-hop version that played Los Angeles in 2008? Animation might be an inspired choice of medium for this adaptation.

IN THE HEIGHTS as it appeared on Broadway

IN THE HEIGHTS as it appeared on Broadway

5. It’s been five long years since Universal withdrew from the production of a film based on Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. Back then Miranda, the show’s original Usnavi, would have been directed by Kenny Ortega, who would have had the opportunity to redeem himself for his tacky work on the High School Musical franchise following the promising work he did in staging the numbers for Newsies. Miranda said that he would try to get another studio interested in making the film, but many – including myself – feared that this stumbling block would be the end of the road for a film adaptation of this show. Last month, The Weinstein Company announced a $15 million production, which would have a new screenwriter working on Marc Klein’s existing treatment of the material. In the wake of the success of Hamilton, Miranda will be involved, but not as Usnavi, as he has aged out of the role.

Honourable Mention

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY

For all intents and purposes, My Fair Lady is dead in the water. That’s why it’s in last place here, but it did attract enough buzz over its time in development to merit an inclusion  – and given the change in circumstances for In the Heights, why not? There are those who have no desire to see a remake of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s classic musical, believing that the original film is brilliant. While I don’t think a new My Fair Lady film is a necessity, the original film is by no means untouchable. It’s a solid film, and a faithful one, but it’s not perfect. Rex Harrison is fantastic, but…. In any case, new films don’t supplant old ones. Nobody who doesn’t want to watch the remake has to and the old film will always be there for anyone to see whenever they like. The one consistent factor in the saga of bringing a new Eliza Doolittle to the screen: a screenplay by Emma Thompson. At one point, Danny Boyle was on board to direct the remake. I didn’t think it a great loss when he dropped out. Then it was rumoured that Keira Knightly would play Eliza, with Joe Wright, who directed her in the tepid Pride and Prejudice remake and Atonement. Knightly and Wright obviously enjoy working together, but the idea of the two of them and this material seemed to be something of a mismatch and they went on to make Anna Karenina instead. When Knightley backed out, Carey Mulligan’s name was tossed about as an option, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt both being bandied about as potential Higginses. At that point, John Madden also had his eye on the director’s chair. For a while, Sony Pictures tried keep the buzz about the remake going, but Mulligan shattered all hopes of it moving forward in a statement she made at Cannes. Since then, no further information about the project has been forthcoming. Not yet, anyway.

So there you go… My favourite five movie musicals to be. What movie musicals are you anticipating with glee? Head over to the comments section and let’s hear!

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