It seems that enough people love the film Big Fish to turn it into a Broadway musical. That's all well and good, and I'll make sure to catch it at the Neil Simon Theatre now that it has opened, but when it comes to adapting films for the stage, Big Fish would hardly be my first choice. In fact, I am sure every musical theater goer has a few favorite books and films that they'd like to see adapted. Musicals are nearly always adaptations — even when you don't realize it — and I think the time has come for us to stop dreaming and start discussing the many possibilities out there. Because if there is one thing I know in this crazy world, it's that the following five books and movies would make the most astounding smash hit musicals since Legally Blonde.
It's insane that Miss Congeniality has not yet reached the stage. You can almost forgive the absence of brat-pack stage shows (a subject that deserves its own article), because time has shuffled those stories into the cult film aisle. But Miss Congeniality? I am pretty sure that everyone has at least heard of the movie, if only because of Chandler’s obsession with it on Friends.
If you mention adapting Miss Congeniality for the stage, you'll get the reaction all good film-to-musical adaptations deserve: people will recall how good the movie was when they saw it, and hypothesize about how enjoyable it would be as a musical. Much-loved but often maligned films make for great musicals, whether it's The Producers, Kinky Boots, the long-awaited Bridget Jones musical, or even Big Fish.
Nothing spells fun like the story of super strong, super smart Sandra Bullock as she becomes a beauty queen who teaches her fellow contestants about living a little, and fighs Michael Caine, William Shatner and Candice Bergen. The story has so much potential for musical theatre references, a la Book of Mormon, that it seems offensive that it hasn't yet been adapted. The opening number can be an "I’ll make a man out of you"-style montage. Heck, every feminising makeover is an opportunity for a montage. There’s also room for My Fair Lady to make a brief appearance. Of course, the Heather Walker character would have a powerful ballad through which she shattes her timidity, something like Sister Act’s "Life I Never Lead."
In my mind, William Shatner is still involved, and he sings — or, really, speaks — a cringingly awful rendition of Tom Jones’ "She’s A Lady." I rest my case.
The set is a gleaming fashion magazine office. A bald man runs across the stage shouting, “Everybody gird your loins!” In the frenetic opening number, chattering women, campy men, and garment racks full of frocks fly about the stage. Actors weep in harmony, only for Andrea to emerge at the top of the stairs. So begins The Devil Wears Prada: the Musical.
Let’s be honest: rom-coms tend to make the best musicals. Considering that the story takes place mainly in the Runway offices, the show would be a great opportunity for a set designer to build a massive, mercurial set. I do not even want to think about how sensational the costumes would be.
There’s something about verbose bildungsromans that just seems to scream musical. Juno would make an excellent show as well. Any piece that involves naturally sharp dialogue and a lot of self-improvement is excellent for the stage. The story of a young girl attempting to make her way in fashion has all the glitter and that Broadway demands.
Imagine the songs Emily would get. Imagine Miranda’s heartbreaking musical number, which would end with her saying, "by all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me," before final pluck of the strings. And we weep. Oh, how we all weep. Maybe there’s a week on Broadway where Meryl reprises the part, and everybody cries with joy. We could even bring Anne Hathaway back, although this time, she'd have to do more than just cry to get critical attention.
Including this is almost cheating, but I don’t care, because if Singin’ In The Rain can be done on stage, so can Funny Face. The 1957 film was The Devil Wears Prada before there was a The Devil Wears Prada. It tells the tale of bookworm Audrey Hepburn as she is swept from New York City to equally chic Paris, where she dons black catsuits, and dances to jazz, and Fred Astaire sweeps her off to get married. And Kay Thompson is amazing in every scene she’s in. We all want to see "Think Pink" done on stage, don’t we? The answer, of course, is yes.
This is a film with massive set pieces that justify a Broadway budget and enough brilliant musical numbers that it's completely and utterly worth doing on stage. Every young actress in the world would fight to be Jo, every character actress would want to be Kay Thompson, and none of them would get it unless they were Sutton Foster. It would have killer costumes and a huge fan base, because everybody loves a ludicrously camp 50s Hollywood musical. Especially one in which there is a scene at a bohemian loft party in Paris that is shattered by an uplifting jazz number.
A film in which a lesbian couple deals with infidelity and their adolescent children does not immediately sound like the basis for a brilliant musical. Then again, neither does a musical in which a woman suffering from depression watches her life spiral into chaos, yet Next To Normal was a runaway success.
We’re not talking about large chorus scenes, a dance in the gym, a love song on a balcony, or anything else that may or may not be in West Side Story. Think small and powerful songs with tight harmonies and vocal ranges that would even make Aaron Tveit’s falsetto tremble with fear.
If nobody’s up to composing a musical on a small scale, that’s fine: we haven’t had a successful jukebox musical in a while. Based on the emotionally hard-hitting dinner table scene in the movie, in which Annette Benning’s entire life seems compressed into one melancholic rendition of "A Case Of You," the musical could definitely be set to a Joni Mitchell score. Julianne Moore’s character (played by Jane Krakowski) would never be without an underscore from "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter," and I have strong ideas about the choreography for Cheyenne Jackson, who, as Mark Ruffalo, will perform "Raised on Robbery" at his organic restaurant.
When Matilda hit the stage, and every human being in the world wished they’d performed "Revolting Children" during their exams, we all had a similar fear: what musical masterpiece could Tim Minchin do next? (For the record, his turn as Judas in an Occupy-themed production of Jesus Christ Superstar doesn't count.)
What we need is another children’s novel with a dry wit and a love of wordplay. Where could we possibly find such a beast? In Lemony Snicket’s wonderful books, which are drier than a strong martini. Maybe sub out Dennis Kelly for Simon Stephens (although either could do deliciously well), and then watch as something beautiful is made. It would be a set designer’s dream, full of gothic spires and ways of making the color black look interesting. It would be a great vehicle for child actors and actresses on Broadway, and most exciting of all, in the hypothetical box set in my mind, it would be the perfect stylistic sequel to John Doyle’s Sweeney Todd revival. There are definitely enough actor/musos out there to create a sizeable cast of children and adults who form the orchestra as well as the ensemble.
Also, this is another case in which we might be able to snare Meryl onto the stage again. And I feel that’s always a crucial selling point.