Roddy Doyle Bringing ‘The Commitments’ To The London Stage

Jukebox musicals are more often than not, by their very nature, terrible and indicative of a theatre entity incapable of coming up with new ideas. But The Commitments, one of the greatest musical films of all time (and based on a novel by one of Ireland’s greatest living writers, Roddy Doyle), is not one of those cases. Which is why the announcement that it is being adapted for the stage in London’s West End and premiering this fall, produces some conflicting feelings.

There’s always that nagging doubt that it will be done justice from its prose or film versions or it will lose its real shine under the gleam of an overbudget stage production. But, the music stands the test of time, the story is solid for the stage (working-class Irish dreamer starts a soul band) and perhaps most comforting of all, Doyle himself has written the new musical. It’s been more than two decades since the film version came out, and Doyle, after a long break from Jimmy Rabbitte and the gang, found himself inspired by the likes of Jersey Boys and the use of music in better, more successful jukebox musicals to bring The Commitments to the West End, as he told Reuters. The show will premiere at the Palace Theatre in London on September 21st. And with the page still being Doyle’s first love, he’s bringing back the character of Rabbitte—though not the whole band, he clarifies—in a new novel called The Guts, which will hit bookstores in August. 

And without further adieu, there was really no other way to end this post than with Andrew Strong, who was only 16 years old when he was cast in the original film, ripping into Otis Redding’s "Try A Little Tenderness" and pulling out something red and beating and just about perfect. If the stage version of The Commitments can capture that kind of magic, then everything will be pretty okay. Listen below. 

[via Reuters]

We’ll Never Be Able to Get ‘Matilda’ Tickets

Matilda, the brand-new Broadway musical imported from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon (and later on London’s West End) and based on the Roald Dahl classic, has been buzzed about in New York for months, and last night’s opening night brought much praise from critics all over the country. Ben Brantley’s review in the New York Times begins with the word "rejoice," which, you know, is a pretty solid start, and the show has gotten great reviews in pretty much every other publication. (Of course, the show’s PR team knew that would happen.) So, basically, good luck finding tickets at a reasonable price. Now for the good news: maybe you can finally get into Book of Mormon?

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Andrew Lloyd Webber Is Planning a ‘School of Rock’ Musical

The School of Rock, the Jack Black comedy directed by Richard Linklater and written by Enlightened creator Mike White, would probably make a terrific musical. I mean, it’s a comedy, it’s got precocious kids, and it’s prime for a pop-rock score. Of course, when you get Andrew Lloyd Webber in the mix, things get a little tricky. The British musical theater titan has acquired the rights to bring the movie to the stage, and while he’s no stranger to a good old rock opera (see: Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita), he also has the tendency to write pretty crappy pop musicals. There is a reason, after all, that Love Never Dies, the sequel to his record-smashing Phantom of the Opera, never made it to Broadway. Of course, Lloyd Webber hasn’t determined if he’ll actually write any new songs; “There may be songs for me in it," he told CBC radio, "but it’s obviously got songs in it as it stands.” Ah yes, because Broadway needs another jukebox musical.

[via EW]

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Forget ‘Hard Body’: Here Are Six Documentaries That Would Make Great Broadway Musicals

S. R. Bindler’s 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body became a cult favorite, and its depiction of the desperation attached to striving for the American Dream is still poignant and relevant sixteen years later. Naturally, the movie has become a Broadway musical, with a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright and music and lyrics by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio. (Yes, that Trey Anastasio.) The musical is surprisingly watchable, featuring stellar performances and enjoyable songs that come as close to anything you might catch on a pop-country radio station. But it did make me think: what are some other musicals that could be turned into Broadway musicals? 

Click through to see my top six choices!

Jesus Camp

The Broadway community loves singing kids, and how else could you get a musical about lovin’ Jesus produced on Broadway? Fill it with a rock score like in Jesus Christ Superstar or make it goofy and weird like Godspell, but you’d definitely have New York audiences swaying with devotion by the curtain call.

Buena Vista Social Club

This is almost too easy. The music is already there for the taking! This would be quite a groovy little jukebox musical.

Capturing the Friedmans

On the plus side: fun ’70s costumes! The downside: a signing pedophile. 

Murderball

A musical about wheelchair-bound rugby players? Call Andrew Lloyd Webber, because we’ve got a new Starlight Express on our hands.

Winged Migration

Combining the amazing puppetry in The Lion King and the death-defying flying effects in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark would be a great way for Julie Taymor to say "fuck you" to all of her critics.

Grizzly Man

I know a real bear is out of the question, but it’d definitely be a good marketing tool considering the press surrounding the cat in the recent production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I think you’d need it, since this one would have a really dark finale. 

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What You Need To Know About Broadway’s New ‘Pippin’ Revival

We all want to live an extraordinary life. It’s challenging when things like taxes, delayed subway trains, and burnt coffee exist, but we try. Starting March 23rd, Broadway’s 31st longest-running show Pippin is returning to Broadway since its 1977 close, and bringing with it a whole new surge of inspiration to live an extraordinary life – which means you’re totally not off the hook this year. Having just returned from the open press rehearsal, here are a couple of things to  know about the show ahead of time.

1. Since Stephen Schwartz (composer/lyricist of Wicked) is the man behind Pippin’s music, please do expect to walk in already knowing the show’s ‘70s pop anthem “Corner Of The Sky,” and/or singing it on your way out.

2. Pippin, played by Matthew James Thomas (former Spider-Man in Turn Off the Dark), resembles a bit of a 20-something, very attractive Peter Pan, which is slightly disconcerting, but somehow condoned when he sings and takes his shirt off.

3. The dance moves choreographed by the show’s original director/legend Bob Fosse are well-preserved and impeccably performed by the animated Patina Miller (starred in Sister Act), who’s the show’s "Leading Player" character.

4. Since the title character’s quest for an extraordinary life is told by a performance troupe, you will see lots of the following: dancers doing flips through hula hoops, human pyramids, Patina swaying across the stage mid-hula hooping, and impossibly-toned abs.

Previews begin March 23rd at the Music Box Theatre. Pippin opens April 25th.

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Special Production of ‘Cats’ to Feature 3,000 Performers

I hope you’ve all upped your stock in pancake makeup and yak fur, because there are some people in England who have completely lost their damn minds. Stagecoach Theatre Arts, a U.K.-based part-time theater arts school with locations and programs across the globe, is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. In an attempt to make an already bad idea even weirder, the people in charge of the production are going to stuff as many damn people dressed as cats onto one stage as possible.

According to Playbill, the production, taking place on March 24 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham,  will be the largest staging of Cats. Well, no duh.

Thousands of performers, ages 7-18, from Stagecoach schools nationally and internationally will take part in the event.

The main cast will comprise 50 specially selected dancers and 500 singers in a grand choir from 13 Stagecoach schools. An additional 2,500 young performers from 47 schools throughout the U.K., Malta, Germany and Ireland have been allocated a selection of the Cats score "to bring their own individual creative dances to life within the vast arena," according to press notes. These students will be supported by a virtual choir of international students from Stagecoach schools in Canada, Germany, Gibraltar, Ireland, South Africa, Spain and the U.S., visible on large screens.

The orchestra will be led by conductor Paul Leddington Wright.

In a statement composer Andrew Lloyd Weber said, "I’m absolutely thrilled that so many young people will be able to take part in this very special performance of Cats. Happy 25th Birthday Stagecoach and thank you for giving your students the opportunity to perform the show in such a spectacular way."

Now, the first musical I ever saw was Cats, and it blew my mind, mostly because I was about twelve years old and I had never seen adults in spandex before, much less spandex-wearing adults bending and jumping all over a stage. Lots of camel toes and humps, is what I am saying, and it opened my eyes to things I wasn’t sure I wanted to see. So you can imagine why the thought of 3,000 children doing such a thing makes me uncomfy. On top of that nightmare parade, it’s Cats. Cats is terrible. Cats is a mess. Cats is hilariously, ridiculously stupid. And that’s when adults perform in it.

Basically, this is too many jellicles for one place. 

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Pop-Culture Parody Musicals Are as Meta as We Get

Growing up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, I had really weird taste in music. Sure, I liked whatever the Top 40 pop hits were, but I also belted out showtunes, and I had every word memorized of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song parodies. Through his ode to food “Eat It,” I learned how badass young Michael Jackson was. Likewise, I would never have known what “MacArthur Park” without the cheeky "Jurassic Park.”

In a 2003 interview with NPR, Yankovic mused on how his fellow artists would respond as he prepped each album of song parodies. “At this point I’ve got a bit of a track record,” he said. “So people realize that when ‘Weird Al’ wants to go parody, it’s not meant to make them look bad… it’s meant to be a tribute.”

While it seems as if “Weird Al” has hung up the accordion for the time being, there are plenty of creative teams who have adopted that same motivation of writing silly lyrics to poke fun at pop culture and elevated it to the next logical incarnation—the musical. In the past few years, more and more pop culture parody musicals have popped up on the Internet, in universities, and even off-Broadway. They’ve launched the careers of stars like Darren Criss (who played the starring role in A Very Potter Musical), and even famous folks like Joss Whedon (with Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) have joined in.

Pop culture has passed into an incredibly self-reflective and meta phase. We can’t watch a TV show or political debate without immediately reacting through GIF form and then scrutinizing our reaction. We’re compelled to interrogate the highbrow and especially the lowbrow works that capture our attention. But it gets boring and one-dimensional to use the same medium that we’re discussing in our analysis. We’re constantly turning our opinions over and over, seeking out the smart new angle that someone hasn’t thought of. Enter this new breed of musical.

We’re lucky that many of these productions have tested the waters in New York City, where you can stage an outrageous parody for even just a weekend. In the past year, I’ve taken in four shows that probe the boundaries of good taste and challenge the books, actors, and even religious institutions they mock. Last Christmas, I joined the throngs of theatergoers laughing so hard they were crying at Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon. Since the, I’ve also giggled my way through song-and-dance parodies of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, its offspring Fifty Shades of Grey, and the ‘90s thriller The Silence of the Lambs.

Whether each show’s attack is sweet or snarky, there is indeed that sense of tribute that Yankovic mentioned—cheeky nods to the genre of musical theater itself, or a hat tip to the impact Clarice Starling or Anastasia Steele has had on pop culture. In fact, 50 Shades! The Musical pokes fun less at Ana’s whirlwind romance with Christian Grey, and more at the way Americans have gobbled up E.L. James’ erotic fanfiction.

“I think anything that is so popular that everyone knows about it, you can start to home in on certain details,” said Emily Dorezas, one of the 50 Shades co-writers. “That’s why, as soon as the presidential election starts, everybody can laugh at the same things about the different candidates. Fifty Shades of Grey is just this brand that doesn’t go away. Even if you know nothing about it, you know everything about it. Part of what we’re doing is making fun of the phenomenon of it. [Audiences] can laugh at that because they’ve seen it in their house, with their wives and girlfriends.”

Twilight: The Musical employs a similar shorthand: They’re betting on audiences’ familiarity with the movies so that they can skewer not only Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, but also Robert Pattinson’s insanely dramatic delivery and Kristen Stewart’s penchant for lip biting. The more layers you can work through, the better you’re rewarded, like when Edward and Bella’s literary contemporaries Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger pop in to declare a wizards-versus-vampires war.

When you’re addressing the young adult fiction booms of the past fifteen years, of course you have to poke fun at the consumers who waited in line at midnight for the new books and movies. But how do you mock a solid film classic from the ‘90s that’s entirely straight-faced and even rather terrifying? You make it self-aware.

What most struck me about Silence! The Musical (which has existed online and onstage since 2002) is that it follows the movie beat-for-beat. I was especially aware because I had watched the film for the first time just a few weeks prior. Aside from the addition of a lamb chorus—paralleling the ancient Greek chorus and performing the same duty of commenting on the action onstage—the musical starts and ends where the movie does. Watching it, you’re delightfully surprised to realize that it is kind of ridiculous to start a movie with Jodie Foster huffing and puffing through the woods near Quantico, and that most of Anthony Hopkins’ dialogue is snarky one-liners. The cast turns even the most innocuous phrasing into a punchline; currently, Pamela Bob amps up Clarice’s unfortunate lisp to an art form.

The decision to do a shot-for-shot spoof had less to do with the movie itself and more with how co-writers Jon and Al Kaplan write all of their parodies. “We’re very detail-oriented,” the brothers said of what began as a collection of songs and evolved into a screenplay. “We focus on details and blow them up. It’s meant to be a love letter to the movie; we want to tailor it to people who are big fans.” It helped that Hunter Bell, who wrote the book for the stage show, and original director Christopher Gattelli had the same M.O.: “They love the movie and wanted to focus on the details—sometimes different details [from us].”

To be fair, the brothers were wary of audience reaction to some of the songs. But when the original movie brings Lecter and Clarice together after another inmate comments on her vagina, how can you not give Lecter a love song called “If I Could Smell Her Cunt”? However, it wasn’t until Book of Mormon opened in 2010 that the Kaplans felt more secure about their bawdier musical numbers.

“I think we’re proudest of Lecter’s song,” the Kaplans said. “It’s not the typical song you would expect from him, the ‘liver and fava beans’ number. It’s the moment where the audience really has to buy into the concept or not buy into it. It has to be well performed; Lecter has to really sell it as a love song. We’re also proud of Buffalo Bill’s song ‘I’d Fuck Me’ because it came late in the game. We felt like we had already written our Buffalo Bill songs.”

”I’d Fuck Me” represents perhaps the closest adherence to the source material. Our audience was on the edge of their seats during this swirly burlesque number because we all knew the iconic sequence from the film and were waiting with bated breath to see if David Ayers would attempt the infamous dick tuck. When he did, that prompted the most cheers out of any point in the show. Honestly, we wouldn’t have respected the creative team if they hadn’t included that moment.

Each of these shows has unlocked a new take on the source material through the medium of the musical. The visual nature of a stage show has been most beneficial for 50 Shades! The Musical. One of the book’s most ludicrous elements was Anastasia’s “inner goddess,” the subconscious manifestation of her repressed horniness. Sadly, she was absent from the New York production, but Dorezas said that she showed up in Chicago in “a scene with Christian and Anastasia, [where] the inner goddess comes in and basks to have this whole moment to herself,” and that she’ll appear in future iterations.

Some of the most fun that the 50 Shades! The Musical cast and creative team had was subverting the audience’s expectations of the characters’ appearances. For the past year or more, fansites have cast achingly smoldering types like Ian Somerhalder and Alexis Bledel for Christian and Ana, but what makes Chris Grace and Amber Petty’s portrayals so refreshing is that neither are stereotypical beauties. They play up the comedic contrast between the prose and their onstage looks and behavior.

“It was totally a conscious decision,” Dorezas confirmed. “I don’t think anybody’s gonna be 100 percent satisfied with whatever Christian Grey they choose [for the movie]. We just wanted to go the complete opposite direction, but Chris plays it so sexy, and he owns it! There’s a certain point where it’s like, ‘This is our Christian Grey, and everyone in the audience is sold on it.’

”It’s always my favorite when he walks onstage for the first time, ‘cause you see the audience pointing at each other like, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t what you said!’ I know they think Ryan Gosling is gonna come out there. I think in Chris’ mind, he thinks he’s Ryan Gosling. And Amber as Anastasia—she’s so funny. We wanted it to be more of a wink at these characters, not the actual characters. I think if we went for super hot and sexy, we’d lose funny.”

Similarly, the writers grappled with the first draft because if they gave in to the temptation to absolutely skewer James’s admittedly ridiculous novel, they wouldn’t be able to keep an audience. “I think the first round, we felt like there was just too much punch and not enough heart to it,” Dorezas said, citing their shared experience in the comedy world. “We wanted the audience to want these two people to be together outside of a bondage/S&M situation.”

The parody can’t just be about the content; the creative teams must also consider conventions of musical theater itself. One of the first big laughs in The Book of Mormon is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a seemingly joyous African chant that brings to mind The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” but actually translates to “Fuck You, God.” Mocking religion was one thing, but dragging the esteemed medium of musical theater into the mix? That’s when audiences realized that no one was safe.

In the New York production of 50 Shades! The Musical, the inner goddess got sacrificed in favor of a big, Les Miserables-esque ensemble number. “We just had to find another place for the inner goddess, ‘cause we all were like, ‘Ah, we want this moment where everyone’s having doubt and not sure what to do,’” Dorezas said. “There’s a nod to Phantom of the Opera in the show, as well. We definitely put little things in there that even if you’re not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, if you’re a fan of musicals you’ll appreciate the moments as well. If some of the moments are too insidery—you don’t know who Jose is when he walks in, you don’t know Christian is against type—there’s still something for you.”

The Kaplan brothers’ nods to musical theater occur more in the fabric of the musical’s choreography: “It’s just integrating little homages here and there. There’s A Chorus Line in ‘In the Dark with a Maniac,’ [with] the dance move that Clarice does before she shoots Buffalo Bill. There’s also [elements from] The King and I.”

Now, a lot of the musical theater greats are dead and can’t defend themselves against this mockery. But how about the creators of the books and movies parodied? Despite the hard-R nature of Silence! The Musical, the Kaplans said that several of the people involved with the movie found it uproariously funny.

For one, director Jonathan Demme decided to celebrate his twenty-year crew reunion by going to the show. “We sat behind them, and they were laughing their heads off,” the Kaplans said. “It was a real kick… We thought he was gonna be a really serious guy, just sitting there scowling, but he’s got a real sense of humor.” They can’t vouch for Jodie Foster’s reaction, since she attended a different show. However, “Anthony Heald, who played Dr. Chilton, was very enthusiastic, said he would love to play his character in a future reincarnation of the show. Anthony Hopkins, as far as we know, hasn’t gone.”

”We did look toward Silence! The Musical a little bit in terms of what they were able to get away with,” Dorezas said. Because the original production of 50 Shades! The Musical debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they’ve been caught up with UK copyright laws, combined with the reaction from James’ people. “For the UK opportunities that we are currently discussing, we could change some things around with the show that would make it fall under safe parameters,” Dorezas said. “If the parody laws change in our favor, then we would not have to do that. We have an idea of what we can do, but we’re kind of waiting to see how it changes.”

Musical parody reinvigorates seemingly played-out stories because it’s such an unexpected medium. It’s likely that the first time you saw Clarice Starling or read about Christian Grey, you never dreamed that either would break into song. These pop culture parody musicals crack these seemingly solemn characters and give them the added dimensions to ensure their endurance in the zeitgeist, whether they’re twenty or two years old. As the Kaplans confessed, “We never thought we’d be talking about this eleven years after the fact.”

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‘Les Misérables’ Is Coming Back to Broadway

Now that there’s a new generation of pre-teen girls and gays who hate Cosette because of the fairly awful movie version of Les Misérables, it’s the perfect time to bring the musical back to Broadway, don’t you think? Sure, the original show closed less than ten years ago and has already been revived once already, but, you guys, why waste all of our time with a revival of some other stupid musical or—dare I say it—something new when we can just pay money to see the same old crap all over again?! Oh, but now producer Cameron Mackintosh is going to get really high-concept on us. This time, the production will be inspired by paintings by Les Misérables author Victor Hugo. You know, those paintings that we’re all aware of. And hopefully, like the people behind the movie version, these crackerjack Broadway producers will hire some actors who, you know, aren’t good at singing. That’ll be fresh! 

[via Playbill]

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‘The Last Five Years’ Is Somehow Going to Be Made Into a Movie

Nothing causes more simultaneous glee and horror than the news of a new movie musical, especially when the source material is a musical that I love. That’s why I’m a little conflicted about the announcement that Richard LaGravenese, director of the recent Beautiful Creatures, is planning a big-screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s beloved The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years is a popular choice for regional theaters and universities, as the show is a two-personal musical chronicling the relationship between Jamie, a writer, and his actress wife, Cathy. The musical’s scenes alternate between the pair’s solo scenes, with Cathy’s being told in reverse as their marriage breaks up and Jamie’s chronological version from their first meeting. The couple share one song—when their stories meet in the middle—and the musical is an intimate portrayal of love and loss as well as an exercise in storytelling. It works brilliantly on stage, but I can’t imagine how well a two-person musical will fare for movie audiences.

Of course, the show features some fantastic songs with a slight pop, singer-songwriter sensibility rather than the orchestral fare (which is why it’s never actually been produced on Broadway). Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick is signed on to star as Cathy, which is promising; she’s shown her singing talents previously in last year’s Pitch Perfect and in Camp

LaGravenese reveals some details of the film to Broadway.com:

“Anna Kendrick is attached to play [Cathy], and I’m looking for [Jamie] now,” LaGravenese said of the film, which tells the story of a young couple who falls in (and out of) love. “It’s like a $2 million budget. It’s really tiny and small. It will be shot on digital with a 22-day schedule. It’s a really small thing, so we’ll see.” For LaGravenese, The Last Five Years material won’t need much tweaking for the big screen. “It’s all sung, so it’s already written,” he noted.

For New Yorkers who can’t wait for The Last Five Years: The Movie, a revival of the show will begin March 7 at Second Stage Theatre. A new production certainly won’t hurt the chances of a film version’s appeal. Meanwhile, here’s a bootleg clip of Sherie Rene Scott singing "I Could Do Better Than That" from the original off-Broadway production:

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