7 Musicals You Didn't Know Were Based on Movies, and James Bond.
The 71st Tony Awards are this Sunday and New York's all a flutter. In a year that snubbed Amélie and Anastasia you might be tempted to think our recent trend of staging Hollywood's dreams from a decade ago is fading. It could be, but I doubt it.
Still, the relationship between stage adaptions and their silver screen sources isn't always sordid.
So here are 7 musicals you didn’t know were remakes of much older movies, and James Bond.
Beauty and the Beast -> Belle et le Bete
This year’s spin on the class tale was a box office smash. Actually, it’s the 10th highest grossing film humanity’s ever made. But did you know that both this version, and the Tony-winning stage musical are directly based on an animated version from 1991. A film that was the first cartoon to be nominated for Best Picture? Yes, of course you did I’m screwing with you.
It’s the 1946 “Belle et le Bete" that I’m getting at. Made by french playwright turned primordial auteur Jean Cocteau. A “tradition of quality” picture made in the odd years following the fall of Nazi-occupied France, “Belle et le Bete" follows much the same structure as Walt’s versions. There’s no singing, and Gaston’s a bit more interesting but all in all, it’s Belle up there on the (actually) silver screen. Cocteau is a master of practical effects however and it’s this, more than perhaps anything else that makes his version stunning.
In our recent interview with Tony-nominee Charles Busch, he cited 2017’s version as an example of how, with the exponential evolution of CGI tech, our movies seem increasingly realistic and thus farther and farther from their theatrical roots, even the fairy stories. Cocteau’s version’s got no danger of that, it’s all theatre, all imagination, all magic, and just as wonderful as the 90’s telling we all still think of every time we wander into a bookstore with a baguette.
*There’s also the 2014 rendition starring Spectre Bond Girl Lea Seydoux. (She’s so much more than that but, we all saw that one.) It’s closer to Cocteau’s than Disney but whatever.
You can watch it on Filmstruck.
Sweet Charity -> The Nights of Cabiria
The 1969 Fosse picture was a thing most of the people around you’re parents thanksgiving dinner table have seen even if you haven’t. The stage musical that’s based on is something you knew about though. Seen this season off-Broadway from The New Group, it won a Tony once too.
That said, those are both based on Federico Fellini’s 1957 Oscar-winner “The Night’s of Cabiria". This one already made our list of 12 Movies Millennials Would Love But Have Never Seen, and is just as relevant here. The story of a hooker with a heart of gold whose got more innocence and hope in her little finger than any Disney princess. Fosse’s version made her a Times Square dance hall girl, and as you can imagine, there’s not much singing in the original.
The original follows the heart achingly optimistic and trusting Cabiria as she moves through the seediest parts of post-war Rome and is continually duped and robbed by would be boyfriends. Until at last, she’s left weeping on a cliff, her finance having just run off with all she had in the world.
Then, in what actually might be my favorite scene in like, all of film, she stands up and begins to walk down a forest road, still crying. Suddenly, out of the trees, a mass of young party goers emerge with instruments and alcohol and joy. Despair turns to hope, just as tearfully, and the credits roll.
In a wonderful twist of history. Fellini’s original stars his wife Giulietta Masina and Fosse’s stars his Mrs, Gwen Verdon. I dare you not to be all about Cabiria.
You can grab it here.
Casino Royal I, II, & III
Ok so you may know about this. That in classic 60’s James Bond fashion, the rights were a mess. Based on Ian Flemming’s very first Bond novel it’s been filmed three times. The one your thinking of and another version, with Woody Allen.
Allen’s is of course a straight up comedy. Think of it as the Weird Al Yancovic/Wayne Brothers version of Bond. It’s way better, way funnier, way more 60’s and far more culturally relevant than I ever hoped. It even turns 50 this year. Watch. It.
As to the third one, the very first Bond ever put on film was a CBS anthology show in the vain of the Twilight Zone. They did it before anyone else. And 007’s damn Yankee.
True, Bond hasn’t hit the great white way…yet. A Bond musical has been in development since 2015 however, so consider this a bit of fore warning.
Hairspray -> Hairspray
You saw it with Travolta, you saw it with live with Martin Short, you saw it sweep the Tony’s in 2003. But the incredible camp hit that could began life as something, perhaps even stranger. A John Water’s movie.
If you don’t know John Water’s but do live in New York, he’s the reason the legendary Strand bookstore paints the words “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ‘em!” on every surface. If you’ve never been to the Strand, he’s a master of indie camp cinema. A bit of an America Almodovar meets Roger Corman, Water’s work is utterly unique.
His Hairspray is not a musical, but is certainly more perfectly off-putting, and co-stars Ben Stiller’s dad Jerry and Divine. It’s also the reason you’ve heard of Ricki Lake.
Much the same story as the big musical, Tracy Turnblad’s a “pleasantly-plump” teenager in 60’s Baltimore who fights for local TV dance show stardom while combating racism and helping her man played mom get woke to the 60’s.
A cult and queer film touchstone, you won’t long for James Marsden once. Though I did love his Corney Collins.
Water’s next film, Cry-Baby starring Johnny Depp, also became a tony-nominated musical in the early 2000’s, and to my mind is the “Grease,” we deserved.
Little Shop of Horrors -> Little Shop of Horrors
The movie musical of Little Shop’s a wonderful bit of camp starring Rick Moranis of Ghostbuster’s fame and directed by Frank “Yoda/Big Bird/Ms. Piggy/EverybodyElseEver” Oz. That film’s based on an off-broadway musical. The Tony-nominated version came later.
But before that it was a black and white 1960 B-movie my master of the genre, the actual Roger Corman. Notably featuring a pre-fame Jack Nicholson as a deranged dental patient the plotlines stick pretty close.
All of them follow Skid Row Florist Seymour Krelborn who comes upon an talking alien plant. Immortalized by Frank Oz’s puppet, the Audrey Two (named after Krelborn’s overly hot and overly earnest love) has the power to bring Krelborn anything he wants, as long as he supplies the plant with human blood.
Shot in two days for $28,000 it couldn’t be more Corman. There are deranged dentists, busty brunettes, and a lot of Jewish in-jokes. It’s a delight. With perhaps a little more focus on the plant’s alien background than in subsequent versions the original’s a gem of camp-faux horror.
Seriously guys, check it. It's on Amazon.
You’ve got mail -> She Loves Me -> In The Good Old Summertime ->The Shop Around the Corner ->Parfumerie
Tony-Winner “She Loves Me” was back up again last season, doing well, but never as well as it’s most famous off-spring, “You’ve Got Mail.”
Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, AOL. What could be better? Nora Ephron (who I am falling for all over again in Good Girls Revolt) wrote and directed the Rom-Com. It’s one of those 90’s movies that only gets better with time. As I write this I’m sitting at in the center of like 5 points on the “You’ve Got Mail,” walking tour that, for some reason, I’ve ventured on. It’s a modern classic, I guess.
The play both are based on, isn’t quite that. Mostly cause it’s not modern. Miklós László’s Parfumerie hit the Budapest theatre scene in 1937 and tells the story of the employees of a small Budapest gift shop, notably a set of bickering co-workers who don’t realize they’re pen pals.
By 1940 it was a Earnest Lubitsch picture by the name of “The Shop Around the Corner”. Margret Sullivan and Jimmy Stewart star as the unsuspecting lovers this time in a small leather shop.
By the end of that decade it was “In the Good Old Summertime,” a musical vehicle for Judy Garland this time set in Chicago.
By ’63 it was hit Broadway as “She Loved Me”, then revived again last year and earned the “distinction” of being the first Broadway show ever to be live-streamed.
And that’s how we got the 1998 ode to America On Line.
It's on Amazon too.
Sweeny Todd/Phantom -> Phantom/The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Everybody body knows that Sweeny Todd and Phantom of the Opera were Broadway smashes before the were blockbusters starring Johnny Depp and Gerard Butler respectively. Many of you know the two were penned by rival Musical Theatre kingpins Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. What’s less easy to know is that both are based on much older Victorian stories, and thus, rather older pre-war movies.
I saw Tim Burton’s “Sweeny Todd” the night it opened in my hometown, before they ran it an usher came into the theatre to announce that “this is a musical, so there will be singing.” People walked out at that. I suppose that’s why they had him say it. If you, somehow, are one of those people. Come on man.
Phantom was first put on celluloid in 1925 as a silent picture of the same name staring Lon Chaney as the Phantom beneath makeup of his own design.
Sweeney Todd got to the big screen in 1936 under the name “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
The Phantom’s tragedy seems set in stone and will be familiar to any one who knows any version. Still, the silent film is luscious, the score makes every moment magic, the editing trims any possibility of drag, and the chandelier’s still baller.
However it took Sondheim’s gold touch and Hugh Wheelers libretto to make Todd sympathetic. In the original he’s a near straight up monster. Played by a man born for the role, Tod Slaughter. He’s charming, and clever, and funny. But when we meet him he’s been at his murderous game for some time, simply in it for the money.
Joanna is not his daughter, and he himself fulfills the Judge Turpin creep function of tryna hit that. But Toby’s adorable and Mrs. Lovett right there. Even the Beedle makes an appearance.
It’s not great, the camera doesn’t move much, plot points are breezed past, but the performances a good.
Oddly, we never once see Todd cut a throat He talks a lot about throats, and I suppose we’re to assume it happens off camera. His primary method though seems to be tipping people out of his mechanized chair see that they hit their heads in the cellar below.
Similarly, it’s never once said that Mrs. Lovett bakes the bodies into pies. There’s a bit of mystery about how she disposes of them and some comic close ups of the pies, but nothing explicit. It’s in the fabric of the film though. The story was so well known that I guess the team felt it didn’t need to say it outright. Which kinda makes it creepier.
Something’s are set in stone though, Toby, the chair, the sailors, Todd’s strange hair do. In the design more than maybe anything you can see Sondheim’s production drawing directly from the film.
Both are pretty much worthwhile bits of early twentieth century theatrical studio horror. Phantom’s much better. Neither are musicals.
There was also the 1997 TV Movie starring Ben Kingsley…according to google.
Check Amazon if Youtube isn't working.
So re-watch the one you know tonight, stream the soundtrack to the musical on the way to the get some wine tomorrow, and watch some faces that were probably dead long before you were born. That’s the magic of the movies. You’ll dazzle all you’re theatre friends with your film knowledge at their Tony party this Sunday.
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