Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, stars of the Irish film Once, perform as The Swell Season at a tour stop in Houston, 2007. Photo by gisele13.
Opening for Broadway preview on February 28th is a musical adaptation of the Academy Award winning Irish film Once. For those not familiar with the movie, Once tells the story of two people, simply named “Guy” and “Girl,” who meet on the streets of Dublin and end up falling in love. Their romantic chemistry really comes through when they decide to record an album together.
Spoiler alert: Guy and Girl don’t stay together, but the score from the motion picture more than makes up for the absence of a picture perfect happy ending. The movie was immensely popular, especially for a film that only took $150,000 to make and where most of the scenes were improvised between Glen Hansard (Guy) and Marketa Irglova (Girl).
After raking in over $2 million in the box office after its premiere at Sundance, director John Carney hopes to bring that success to the stage. Whether or not the film from 2007 will translate to Broadway in 2012, however, may be a tall order. As one review from The New York Times aptly put it, “Musicals… are a different animal from films, even films that spend half their time singing. Subtlety, for instance, has never been considered an asset in musicals. Whimsy, on the other hand, is often allowed to run wild.”
Despite the justified skepticism, a movie so driven by music like Once does seem like a good candidate for a full-fledged musical. The song “Falling Slowly” from the original motion picture resonated so well with audiences that it won an Academy Award in 2008 for Best Original Song, so why not bring the captivating score to life on stage? Granted, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti (playing Guy and Girl for the Broadway production, respectively) have some major shoes to fill as audiences have come to love the movie Once and will expect much of its onstage counterpart. Yet such is the danger in making any popular motion picture into a staged musical, and Once: The Musical is just one in a long line of films adapted to shine under the lights of Broadway.
In anticipation of the musical’s Broadway preview, we’ve compiled a list of the best and worst attempts made to transition from the silver screen to Broadway.
The 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon tells the story of the ultimate underdog: a blonde sorority girl from California who sets her sights on Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend. The kicker? She gets in. (What, like it’s hard?) The movie was a success, and the musical strutted on stage in April 2007. Despite lukewarm responses from reviewers who advised “flossing between songs” for the show’s admittedly over the top positivity, the show grossed over a million dollars by June 2007. However, that momentum couldn’t carry, despite an MTV reality show to find the next new female lead to play Elle, and the show closed in 2008. Luckily, MTV taped a recording of the Broadway show, and fans of the Legally Blonde franchise would be better off DVR-ing that than watching Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde. Trust us.
Okay, so the upbeat ’80s musical starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse to an uninspired album artist named Sonny was not about to get nominated for major awards, except maybe for a Razzie or two… or six, but its weakness as a movie actually translated to surprising success as a musical. While the 1980 dance movie received Razzie nominations for Worst Screenplay and Worst Original Song, the 2007 Broadway musical received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
In this case, the camp and glitz that made Xanadu the movie such a disaster eventually translated into a well-received Broadway musical. The show opened July of 2007 and is still running, but interested patrons of the arts should remember that it’s no Kevin Spacey in Richard III.
The Wedding Singer
Also capitalizing on ’80s nostalgia was the 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer. Robbie Hart, a wedding singer from New Jersey, gets left at the alter and then falls for the bride-to-be at his next gig. As one of the last of Adam Sandler’s good movies, it was an instant hit. So when fellow comedian Stephen Lynch donned the cheesy ’80s tuxedo in 2006, the hope was that the singing comedian could mirror the movie’s success. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, even for Best Musical. Unlike Xanadu, however, critics pointed out the show suffered from the same kind of premature nostalgia we’ve seen in the endless drove of VH1’s I Love the ___’s series. The millennial nostalgia for the ’90s movie about life in the ’80s was just too much, too soon, and the show that opened in April 2006 closed by New Years Eve of that year.
The Wedding Singer: The Musical enlisted the help of Vegas impersonators to reproduce famous cameos like Billy Idol’s in the final scene of the movie, but how cool would it have been had they sprung for the real thing?
Hairspray the movie, originally debuted in 1988 and starred Ricky Lake as Tracy Turnblad, a teenager living in the ’60s who gets a chance to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a popular dance show a la American Bandstand. With her big hair and personality, she proves that people of all shapes, sizes, and colors can be on The Corny Collins Show. If a movie can make the civil rights movement into a toe-tapper while still driving home the message, then it seemed the musical that opened in 2002 was a natural next step. Hairspray: The Musical won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Musical, and went on to win seven others until it closed in 2009 after grossing over $265 million during its six and a half year run.
Critics raved wishing that every show and even life should be more like Hairspray. If that means living in Baltimore with Harvey Feirstein is our mom, though, that might be incentive to fork over the $52.50 to go see the show instead.
Monty Python’s Spamalot
Monty Python and the Holy Grail premiered in 1974, and the absurd British comedy remains a fixture in contemporary pop culture. The movie had everything: knights who “rode on horseback” (by running alongside a manservant clapping coconuts together), knights who said “Ni!” and then said “Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z’nourrwringmm”… Oh, and a killer rabbit. The musical Spamalot took the absurdity, the coconuts, the rabbit, and added a musical score, opening in 2005 to positive reviews across the board. Stars like Tim Curry appeared in the original cast and the show ran until January 2009.
The British sensation translated to an American hit, and Spamalot won three Tony Awards out of 14 nominations, including Best Musical. The show grossed almost $1 million in its final season (that’s a lot of coconuts) and attendance shot to 100% and packed the house for it’s closing night. This is a particularly impressive number since the ticket master demanded each theatergoer to tell him the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. African or European?
Once: The Musical already has a few things going for them: no roller skates or death-defying stunts (that we know of…). Still, it does not have the same over-the-top theatricality that made Spamalot and Hairspray so successful in their transition from silver screen to stage. The movie originally premiered in 2007, so it might not be too soon to make a musical of it, especially since it draws on no particular era for inspiration. In fact, the strengths of Once as a movie are that it does the opposite of camp and glitz, drawing on raw emotion and carefully crafted music as the movie’s driving force. A primary concern, then, is that a Broadway musical may overwhelm the delicate feel of the original film. Fans of the movie, however, would have to be crazy to pass up an opportunity to hear live renditions of such a fantastic movie score, at least once.