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With the recent release of the film version of Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to share my top three favorite film versions of musicals that originated on the stage.
A number of adapted musicals have enjoyed big box office success and some are quite good; both for their stand alone entertainment value and in their homage to their source material. My Fair Lady and Grease are two good examples.
For me, there are three that stand above the rest for a variety of reasons. In two of the three cases, I think the film adaptations are actually better than the original stage versions.
Dreamgirls (2006) Directed by Bill Condon and adapted from the Tony Award-winning original 1981 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dreamgirls was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two Oscars: Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.
Suggested by the rise of The Supremes, Dreamgirls is an exuberant tribute to the sights and sounds of the 50’s & 60’s.
I find the film version superior to the stage production because of the visual, on location advantages and smoother scene/time transitions. The screenplay (by Condon) stays true to the original.
Chicago (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods). Screenplay by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse, Kander & Ebb musical, whose stripped-down 1996 revival, far exceeded the success of the original. Still running on Broadway after 18 years.
I’m not a fan of the stage version. I find it drab and dull. On screen though, Chicago is an exciting, vibrant song and dance masterpiece. By far, the best example of a film adaptation being much better than the original.
West Side Story is a contemporary re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet love story, told against the backdrop of the gang-controlled streets of New York.
Ground breaking in so many ways with some of the best choreography ever created, West Side Story is perfection.
The result was honored with a record 10 Academy Awards– the most of any other movie musical and the fourth biggest winner, overall in Oscar history.
I’ve loved West Side Story since I was a kid. When I finally saw it live on stage for the first time, I was completely blown away. It’s one of the few works that I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. The film and stage versions are equally brilliant.
I’m always shocked when someone says they’ve never seen West Side Story. If you’ve honestly never seen it. Put it on the top of your list now.
What was it about the parade?
As a kid, it was all about the balloons. As I got older, it became more about the chance to get a glimpse of current and upcoming Broadway performances.
The parade has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I have memories of watching it on TV in different houses and at different times in my life. It’s always been a tradition, no matter where I am. Finally, as an adult, I actually got to experience the parade live. Three times, actually.
There’s nothing in the world as exciting as spending the holidays in New York City. There’s also no place in the world that’s busier.
Michael and I have spent multiple Thanksgiving weeks in NYC; on our own, with family and with friends. The biggest thrill for me was having the chance to fulfill that childhood fantasy: seeing Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, up close and personal.
If crowds aren’t your thing, it might be a little difficult. I just recommend you avoid areas like Columbus Circle, Times Square and Macy’s itself, unless you are connected and have a reserved viewing spot. It’s crowded all along the parade route, but if you set out early and bring along your patience– it’s an unbeatable experience.
One of my most memorable experiences was in 2008, when I went to the balloon inflation on Thanksgiving Eve. Years ago, the inflation took place over night in Central Park. People could wander through, all night long and watch all the workers; busy readying the balloons for their big flight. In more recent years, it has become an event and they started inflating the balloons earlier in the day– so families could bring their children to witness the magic coming to life.
This year the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation takes place Wednesday November 26th, near the American Museum of Natural History, from 3 to 10pm. You enter at W 79th Street at Columbus Avenue.
The later you go, the more the balloons will have taken shape. It’s also more crowded (later). You walk along at your own pace and are sure to get a great, close up view of some of your favorite balloon characters.
I’ve heard (and read) of many people having good and bad experiences; but all agree, it’s one of those things you must do at least once.
I loved it and would do it again.
( I took all the photos featured here during the 2008 balloon inflation.)
Every year on this date I take time to remember, grieve, celebrate and honor the many heroes and those that lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. Thirteen years have flown by but the wounds are deep. 2,977 innocent people died on that day and they, as well as their families deserve to be remembered.
In addition, more than 1,400 first responders have also died since 9/11. There are many more that are sick and suffering.
I think it’s important on this day of remembrance to also remember the heroic men and women that have served our country and those that gave their lives in the days since 9/11 to protect our freedoms. To date, more than 8,000 American and Allied soldiers have died in post-9/11 wars.
How will you remember this tragic and historic day?
Here is a link to a list of ways you might participate in the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The photographs I’m sharing here are images I took on the official opening day of the museum at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City on May 21, 2014.
You can see more images I shot that day by clicking here.
A lot has changed in our world since then. Some good, some bad. I can honestly say I don’t feel any safer today than I did immediately after the attacks. I will say though, that I think America needs to be very cautious and not let fear and hate win over reason when it comes to national security and our place in the world. War does not equal justice and war does not always protect us in the way it is intended.
In today’s world, it makes us a bigger target.
I miss the unity I felt in the days and months after 9/11. We came together as a nation then. With all that is happening in this country and around the world, we need that now more than ever.
In June of each year, the Tony Awards honor the previous Broadway season’s productions. Here are the 2014 Tony Award nominations with my predicted winners. Even though I did not see every show nominated this year, I did see many of them. I thought it might be fun to make my own predictions and add some comments. I’m sure I’ll miss the boat on a number of them.
- Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
- Tim O’Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Mick Potter, Les Misérables
- Brian Ronan, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
This is pretty much a wild guess. Hedwig was the only nominee in this category that I actually saw. I’ll say this: It was loud. Unfortunately, from where I was seated the band overpowered the actors much of the time and that should never be the case. I’ve heard numerous people comment on the impressive sound design for Les Miserables, commenting on the fullness and clarity. How often do you hear people compliment the sound? Usually the average audience member won’t mention it unless they can’t hear the performers.
Best Sound Design (Play)
- Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
- Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
- Matt Tierney, Machinal
I saw both Cripple and Act One and didn’t notice anything unique or challenging here. “A play with music” is the way Lady Day is being billed. I’m still a little surprised this didn’t end up in the revival musical category. With the challenges of blending music with dialogue, not an issue in the other nominated shows, I expect Lady Day will take the prize.
- Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
- Howell Binkley, After Midnight
- Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County
I saw all but After Midnight in this category and feel better about my choice here. Hedwig is a lighting show. The lighting is an integral element of the show’s concept, not just an enhancement. In addition, it incorporates many effective projections and special effects that normally fall under lighting considerations.
Best Lighting Design (Play)
- Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
- Jane Cox, Machinal
- Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
- Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men
I saw both Cripple and Of Mice… and the lighting for both were fine. I didn’t see Menagerie but it’s a single interior set. I saw pictures from Machinal and the lighting looked spectacular, so that’s my choice.
- Christopher Barreca, Rocky
- Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
- Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Rocky, with it’s innovative design approach and high tech movement– stand above the rest. The fact that the boxing ring flies down from above the stage and then places the ring out in the audience (moving the front rows of patrons on to the stage as fight spectators) wins it the prize alone.
Best Scenic Design (Play)
- Beowulf Boritt, Act One
- Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
- Es Devlin, Machinal
- Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan
The revolving Cripple set was attractive and worked well, the images I saw from Machinal were outstanding; but I have to give this to Act One with its multi-tiered, intricate, revolving set.
Best Costume Design (Musical)
- Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
- William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
- Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Isabel Toledo, After Midnight
I was highly impressed with Cho’s very detail, brilliant designs for Gentleman’s Guide. I couldn’t get over how perfectly she married color, patterns and textures in her stunning costumes.
- Jane Greenwood, Act One
- Michael Krass, Machinal
- Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
- Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night
For me, the only clear stand out is the well-executed, period costume design of Twelfth Night. The other nominees were well done but failed to have the impressive design-edge attained through an ornate, classical period design.
Best Book of a Musical
- Aladdin, Chad Beguelin
- Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Douglas McGrath
- Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical, Woody Allen
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Robert L. Freedman
I saw both Gentleman’s Guide and Bullets Over Broadway in this category. Only the book for Beautiful might be considered original, as it was written to showcase the music of Carole King and tells her life story. (Hence, a jukebox musical.) Both Aladdin and Bullets were adapted from films featuring music from those sources. Gentleman’s Guide was adapted from a 1907 novel, that was also the source for a film.
I chose Gentleman’s Guide because I thorough enjoyed it– great story, cleverly told and very well written. Though I’ve heard wonderful things about Beautiful, the book was written to move the songs along more than to tell a story. Bullets is the typical, old book style musical, formula plot and I just don’t feel it works effectively on stage. Most of the jokes fall flat. And Aladdin is, well, Aladdin. I’ve heard nothing to indicate that the book for this production contains anything unique or original beyond being a fairly direct adaptation of the cartoon.
I have to note that the only truly original book, If/Then was not even nominated. Egregiously overlooked, as was Bridges, though it is an adaptation. Poor judgement on the part of the nominating committee, in my opinion.
- Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. Aladdin
- Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
- Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
- Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, If/Then
I will be content with any of the shows winning the award for best score except Aladdin, which is not original. Violet and Hedwig were not eligible because they had previous Off-Broadway runs that did not lead them directly to Broadway this season, so they were not considered new. I feel the same about Aladdin even though its source was a film score.
As much as I truly love the score for If/Then, I have to give my vote to The Bridges of Madison County. The score is simply perfection.
- Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
- Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
- Steve Sidwell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
- Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Again, If/Then was snubbed in this category. With no disrespect to the other nominees, there is no competition in this category. Jason Robert Brown’s orchestrations are so clearly, far and above the others, they should have just given him the award. Brilliant, lush, gorgeously written, Brown’s orchestrations are probably the best on Broadway in the past twenty years.
- Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
- Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
- Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
- Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night
- Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie
Birney’s performance is the only one I saw in this category. Dressed as Charlotte, I often found myself forgetting he was a man. A great performance in a difficult role.
I’m actually surprised there are no nominees from All the Way here. Three nominees from one show (Twelfth Night) will probably split the vote and Smith’s role of the Gentleman Caller is rather pedestrian (the role, not his performance), having limited stage time. So Birney is my pick.
Best Featured Actress (Play)
- Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
- Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
- Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
- Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
- Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina
Celia Keenan-Bolger could very well win this category for her performance as Laura in The Glass Menagerie and I wouldn’t be surprised– but my vote goes to one of the most under-valued actresses in stage and film, Mare Winningham. She gives a full, layered performance and obviously feels so at home on the stage. Her performance is so natural and real– and she immediate feels like a old friend you’ve always known.
- Danny Burstein, Cabaret
- Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
- Joshua Henry, Violet
- James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
- Jarrod Spector, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
I didn’t see Iglehart’s Genie but for God’s sake– it’s the Genie in Aladdin. I’ve heard good things about his performance as well. So he is my choice to win. Cordero definitely had the audience in the palm of his hand the night we saw Bullets. The always incredible, Joshua Henry, one of THE best voices on the stage, gives a touching, carefully thought out performance in Violet. I did not see Burstein or Spector’s performances in their respective shows.
Best Featured Actress (Musical)
- Linda Emond, Cabaret
- Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Anika Larsen, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
- Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
- Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
I only saw two of these performances and my prediction is based more on buzz and hype than an actual opinion. In fact, I really don’t feel my prediction should win. Lena Hall is just fine in her performance in Hedwig. I just didn’t find it a memorable performance that will stick with me. She sings back up and is only featured vocally on a couple numbers . Lauren Worsham was excellent in Gentleman’s Guide, but so was counterpart, Lisa O’Hare, who was not nominated and should have been, equally.
Will someone please tell me why LaChanze was not nominated for If/Then?
Best Actor (Play)
- Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
- Bryan Cranston, All the Way
- Chris O’Dowd, Of Mice and Men
- Mark Rylance, Richard III
- Tony Shalhoub, Act One
Having seen three of these performances, I think it will be a tight race between Chris O’Dowd’s Lenny in Of Mice and Men and Bryan Cranston’s bravura performance as LBJ in All the Way. Though both performers are both deserving of the prize, I believe Cranston will and should reign victorious.
- Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
- LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
- Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
- Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn
Some extremely talented women in some powerful role in this category this year. Daly gives a powerful heartfelt performance in Mothers and Sons but I don’t see it as a Best role. Parsons has a disadvantage in that her show closed after an abbreviated run. My head tells me that Cherry Jones should win this but my heart says Audra McDonald, already a five-time Tony winner will edge ahead of the rest. A sixth win would give her the record.
Best Actor (Musical)
- Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
- Andy Karl, Rocky
- Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
- Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
The outcome of this race may upset me. Neil Patrick Harris is fine in Hedwig, just not a Best performance. He could easily win too, being a big supporter of the Broadway community and audience favorite. Jefferson Mays should win this, playing eight roles beautifully in Gentleman’s Guide. Bryce Pinkham gives an outstanding, memorable performance as well. I’m sure one of the reasons Andy Karl was nominated, was the size of the role. Again, he was fine but I didn’t find him memorable this time around. We would have liked to have seen Ramin Karimloo in the new revival staging of Les Miserables but just couldn’t fit it in our schedule.
Another embarrassing omission here– Steven Pasquale in his tour de force performance in The Bridges of Madison County. Had he been nominated, he’d have been my choice. The best live male vocal performance I’ve ever heard in any genre.
- Mary Bridget Davies, A Night With Janis Joplin
- Sutton Foster, Violet
- Idina Menzel, If/Then
- Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
- Kelli O’Hara, The Bridges of Madison County
With so many brilliant female performers in this category anyone of them would be deserving. I was lucky enough to see O’Hara, Foster and Menzel’s incredible performances. So to choose, I had to go with who went the step beyond. In my opinion, combining acting, singing and the challenges of the role put Kelli O’Hara above the rest.
- Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
- Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
- Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
- Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Seeing just two of the four but knowing the requirements of the shows, I chose the dance show, After Midnight. I don’t really remember choreography in Rocky and Stroman’s work in Bullets was not her usual impressive staging.
Best Direction (Play)
- Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
- Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
- Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun
- John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie
Cripple was the only nominee I saw here. Going by the numerous acting nominations Twelfth Night received, I figured it was a safe bet to go with director Tim Carroll. I would also be quite happy if John Tiffany won for his direction of The Glass Menagerie. I really wish I could have seen it.
- Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
- Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Leigh Silverman, Violet
- Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
I saw three of the four nominees. The director guides the ship. Some shows require much more steering than others. So I enthusiastically go with Darko Tresnjak’s wild romp in Gentleman’s Guide.
Best Play Revival
- The Cripple of Inishmaan
- The Glass Menagerie
- A Raisin in the Sun
- Twelfth Night
The Glass Menagerie received mostly rave reviews. The fact that this, one of Tennessee Williams’ greatest works has never been nominated, tells me its time has come.
Best Musical Revival
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Les Misérables
It doesn’t matter how good the other nominees are– Hedwig is going to take the prize. Buzz, hype, long lines for tickets and a somewhat legendary history make this a shoo in.
- Act One
- All the Way
- Casa Valentina
- Mothers and Sons
- Outside Mullingar
I saw four of the five nominees and really liked three of them. The most polished and impressive, without a doubt, is All the Way.
- After Midnight
- Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
This may end up being a tight race between Gentleman’s Guide and Beautiful. If Beautiful wins, I think it will be considered by many as an upset. I found Gentleman’s Guide to be a perfectly packaged night at the theater and the most innovative of the choices here.
Why aren’t If/Then and The Bridges of Madison County in the running? It’s anyone’s guess. Apparently, an adaptation of a cartoon, a dance show (with existing music) and a jukebox musical are held in higher regard than a completely original new musical or an adaptation with the best score in recent history.
Many people have asked me what the best show was, of the seventeen productions I recently saw. I have yet to pick one. I either really liked the shows or I didn’t. It’s really hard to compare art. And there is really no need to. I feel really fortunate to have seen so many excellent, vastly different productions and performances this year. Even though some of my comments may come across a little negative or snarky; they are purely based on my personal impressions and preferences. I applaud all the nominees and those that were overlooked in what I feel is some of the best accumulative work in any recent Broadway season.
Watch the Tony Awards on CBS Sunday night, be entertained and see how close I am on my picks.