Is Broadway Brain-Dead?
Is Broadway Brain-Dead?
Rocky has just opened as a Broadway musical. Yes, he not only swings—he sings! The theatrical version of Sylvester Stallone’s tale received wildly mixed reviews: The Wall Street Journal called it “a knockout hit,” The New York Times referred to it as “leaden” until its climactic fight scene, during which the audience suddenly finds itself ringside. Now, it is up to audiences to decide.
If the recent past is any indication, there is no guarantee that those who loved the little movie will run to see the living spectacle. Nevertheless, everyone is seemingly getting into this film-to-stage act. Even movie mega-impresario Harvey Weinstein is turning one of his films, Finding Neverland, into a stage musical. Visit the Great White Way and you can see not only Rocky, but The Bridges of Madison County, Bullets Over Broadway, Once, Kinky Boots, Matilda, Newsies, The Lion King, and Aladdin. Still to come are Honeymoon in Vegas, Diner, The Bodyguard, Back to The Future, Beaches and so many more.
This adds only more fuel to the accusation that originality and risk on Broadway have virtually disappeared. Discounting the “Jukebox” shows, (Mama Mia, Beautiful, Motown, and Jersey Boys) which are basically box sets surrounded by paltry story lines, the only current original musical is If…Then, starring Idina Menzel. The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder may sound entirely new, but is, in fact, a musicalized reincarnation of the Alec Guinness film Kind Hearts and Coronets. Yes, Wicked endures, but that is 11 years old and basically a spinoff of The Wizard of Oz.
The Jukeboxes, at least, have been mostly successful, at a time when both Broadway attendance and grosses are down about 6 percent from last season. But the playlist isn’t infinite, so theater producers have taken to poring through every studio catalogue for familiar titles. This despite the fact that the track record of popular movies aspiring to become stage staples is … well, rocky. Carrie melted down not once but twice. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Big Fish flopped last season and other recent failures included Catch Me If You Can, High Fidelity, The Wedding Singer, Bonnie and Clyde, Far From Heaven, and Ghost. Little Miss Sunshine just had a ho-hum run off-Broadway. And, of course, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark failed spectacularly.
Still, having watched potential audiences scatter to the much-less-expensive multiplex (not to mention Netflix and the Internet), the theater world’s unhealthy dependence on Hollywood is somewhat understandable. Nervous investors in multi-million-dollar theatrical productions say the kind of written material that used to translate well to stage (when I Am a Camera begat Cabaret, Romeo and Juliet became West Side Story, Pygmalion morphed into My Fair Lady) just isn’t there. Or if it is, generations who have been raised on what they see on their screens just aren’t that into it. (Even the current best-seller lists tell the story: three of the top four books are Monuments Men, 12 Years a Slave, and Lone Survivor) “As contemporary literature has become more internal, the strong narratives over the last decade or so have been in film,” says Tony award-winning producer Margo Lion.