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My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Stage to Screen

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.

marquee number - 3Dreamgirls (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.

Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls (2006)

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.

 

4500-number2Chicago (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.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago (2002)

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.

 

Fire Letters A-ZWest Side Story (1961) Based on the classic 1957 stage musical, the film is a true representation of the original stage material and by far, my favorite movie musical of all time.

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.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961)

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.

Because I Knew You…

Through social networking, I’ve been able to reconnect with many people that played an important role in helping me evolve into who I am today… and a few that I’ve been able to influence along the way. My high school drama teacher, band director, the head of the theatre company where I first got my feet wet… they, along with many others, had a huge influence on my life.

I was reminiscing over old photographs I had uploaded to Facebook with a former colleague and realized what a huge influence he had been on me.  In 1982, just a year out of high school, I was fortunate to be a part of a magical production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Alan played Jesus and I played Peter. Another actor in the show, Gene, playing King Herod, and would one year later write a musical on which we’d collaborate. One of my lifelong best friendships grew out of that production too… Melissa played Mary.

Alan, was and is, a brilliant set designer and great actor. In recent years, he has brought life and success back to a small theatre company that struggled for years to survive. Techniques I learned from Alan, mostly by observing, are evident in many of my set designs to this day. He didn’t set out to influence me but had a profound affect on my life.

Gene is a singer/songwriter with a bigger than life personality. When I was directing West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet), he and I somehow came to the conclusion he had to write a rock version of R & J. He would tell you it was a bet. Within a few months, we were in production for Starcross, written by Gene and I directed. Alan agreed to play Tybalt, initially giving me my first “I am not worthy” moment. I felt so inadequate to direct him… until we actually started working and he quickly put me at easy. Keep in mind, I was only 20 at the time. It was a great experience and I have repeatedly tried to get Gene to rework the show so I could produce it again. Gene is an inspiration to everyone he meets. I can’t even begin to list all the ways his influence has inspired me.

Melissa is my soul mate. She’s a little bit older than me and was the first person to make me feel grown up. We’ve been terrible about keeping in touch but manage to get together every couple years. She and I shared some of the darkest moments in our lives. No matter what, we’ve always known that the other is just a phone call away. We even had a pact years ago, that if we were both single by the age of 30, we would get married (in spite of the obvious complications). That never happened. To this day, she remains one of my dearest friends.

All three had a tremendous impact on my life and influenced me in different ways. There have been many, many people– most that would never know it, who helped me discover who I am.

I would never take credit for another person’s success but I take great joy in hearing from people I’ve somehow influenced over the years. A few years ago, I reconnected with someone I had directed in several shows when they were younger. Hearing from him, that I was a positive influence on his career path meant the world to me. It was unexpected, but told me I must be doing something right. By the way, that young man is now a composer, manages a growing musicians’ website and just recent conducted his first Broadway show. If I played some very small part in that… I am humbled.

We never really know who or how we can potentially influence people. It’s those positive influences that set us on a course for success. Who am I kidding? The negative influences play a huge part in our evolution as well. Today I just try to be as supportive as I can to anyone seeking guidance (and some that aren’t). The feeling that I can make a difference, has kept me where I am for the past 13 years.

It’s because of who I knew… that I am who and where I am today.

Maybe we can’t change the world…but with a little effort, some encouragement… maybe just a little kindness… we might just influence the people that can.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: If you never really understood why pipes break when they freeze… here’s an example of how water contracts and expands as it freezes.