News Article

The Movie's the Thing

From ''Tommy'' to ''Beauty and the Beast,'' some upcoming stage shows are borrowed from the big screen

As if by divine order, Broadway hits have always seemed destined to become movies, from Guys and Dolls (1955) to last year's film versions of Prelude to a Kiss, Glengarry Glen Ross, and A Few Good Men. But now the trend is running the other way; the musical muses appear to be calling on Hollywood for ideas.

The same reasoning lurks behind both trends: Name Recognition. Although Neil Simon's musical The Goodbye Girl was trounced by the critics (including us — see review), it's still sitting pretty on $10 million in advance ticket sales — no small thanks to fans of the popular 1977 film. On the other hand, My Favorite Year, a musical remake of the rousing 1982 movie, bombed loudly at Lincoln Center this past winter, and last season's Nick and Nora, based on the Thin Man flicks of the 1930s and 1940s, sank like a lead olive in a martini.

But did that stop anyone? Nosiree. Here are five more upcoming shows with past lives on the big screen:

TOMMY (opens April 22) Ken Russell's film version of this odd tale, about a boy rendered deaf, mute, and blind after seeing dear old Dad murdered by Mum's lover, was released in 1975. But the British rock group the Who told it first in album form in 1969 and performed it in concert. Actually, this musical takes its cues more from the concert version than from the film. ''It makes a natural stage musical because it began on stage,'' says the Who's Pete Townshend, who doesn't appear in the show but worked on the adaptation. Word of mouth is favorable.

KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (opens May 3) Chita Rivera stars in the dual role of the wickedly seductive Spider Woman and a '40s movie queen in this musical version of the same 1979 Manuel Puig novel that inspired the 1985 movie starring William Hurt and Raul Julia, as unlikely prison cellmates in South America, and Sonia Braga in the title role. In the musical, director Harold Prince (Phantom of the Opera) fills the stage with lavish depictions of the Hurt character's movie fantasies. Playwright Terrence McNally, who wrote the book the musical's based on, finds Kiss of the Spider Woman perfect stage material: ''I think because it makes such an appeal to the imagination, it could also be a ballet or an opera.'' Will it work? Well, they love it in London, where it has been playing since October.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (opens June 29 in London; due on Broadway in fall 1994) Patti LuPone plays silent-film star Norma Desmond in a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical — his first since 1990's Aspects of Love — based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson. Prognosis? LuPone is rarely less than brilliant, and when isn't a Lloyd Webber creation a hit?

THE RED SHOES (opens in October) The musical version of this 1948 British film, which starred Moira Shearer as a ballerina torn between two men, has impressive genes at least — the music and lyrics are by Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl) and Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden).

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (due spring 1994) Even as an animated movie, Disney's '91 Oscar winner outshone most Broadway shows with its music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. And should Angela Lansbury re-create her teapot live, it could be the challenge of her career.

Originally posted Apr 16, 1993 Published in issue #166 Apr 16, 1993 Order article reprints
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