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When Hollywood botches Broadway

June 26, 2014
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There has been much Internet chatter over the last week about what will/won’t be included in the all-star movie version of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” that's due at the end of the year. 

Will Rapunzel live? Will The Baker’s Wife have a dalliance with Cinderella’s Prince? What songs will/won’t be cut when Meryl Streep et. al take on Sondheim's most-produced show?

I've got mixed feelings about what I'm hearing.

On the one hand, so what if the film gets botched? Two recorded versions exist of the intact show already exist—the original Broadway production and the open-air production recorded at London’s Regent’s Park. Whatever Hollywood does to “Into the Woods” won’t impact those. Your beloved show is readily available for viewing any time.

On the other hand, Hollywood has a long record of crimes committed against Broadway shows.  (You may have some to add to the list. Feel free to post them, below)

10. DITCHING “THE MUSIC AND THE MIRROR” FROM “A CHORUS LINE”

When down-on-her-luck Cassie begs her former partner/now would-be director to give her a part, the geniuses behind the 1985 film version replaced the show-stopping “Music and the Mirror” with something called “Let Me Dance for You.” “I…I am a dancer! I have come home!” she pleads and even makes reference to “the girl in the mirror” reminding us of the far superior original song. If you must, you can find the scene—where we barely see Alyson Reed’s feet—here.

9. TOSSING  OUT MOST OF THE “ON THE TOWN” SCORE

I love Gene Kelly. But it’s difficult to forgive him for tossing out most of Leonard Bernstein’s score—including “Lonely Town” —from his shot-on-location version. (Although Betty Garrett helps make up for some of the loss.) Admittedly, the flick turned out fine, but still I long for what might have been.

8. REPLACING “GUYS AND DOLLS” SONGS WITH INFERIOR SUBS

Why, oh, why did someone decided that “Pet Me, Poppa” is a better choice than “A Bushel and a Peck”? And where are “More I Cannot Wish You” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Marry the Man Today”? Of course, if you're going to cast Sinatra as Nathan instead of Sky, you are already off on the wrong foot.

7. THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF BILLY BIGELOW

There’s a big difference between falling on your own knife and taking your own life. In “Carousel,” that decision is crucial to everything that follows. In the movie, the former accidental replaces the latter action.

6. GRINDING EVERYTHING TO A DEAD HALT IN “ANNIE”

Oh, there are other problems here, too. But it’s deeply dumb to stop the show for the interminable “Let’s Go to the Movies” section (replacing "NYC")—including a lengthy clip from that kid-favorite, “Camille.” Switching the time from Christmas to Independence Day didn’t do the movie any favors either. I could go on...

5. CUTTING “MAMA, I’M A BIG GIRL NOW” FROM “HAIRSPRAY”

This one may seem minor, but to me it throws off the balance. The creators of the “Hairspray” musical mistakenly seem to believe that we care as much about the adults as we do about the kids. Sorry. Chopping this charming, catchy character-anchoring song from the beginning of the show helps tip the scales in the wrong direction. More Tracy and more Penny would have meant more re-watchings.

4. ANIMATING “THE KING AND I”

The Rodgers and Hammerstein organization is notoriously controlling about its musical theater properties—which makes it even more baffling how this awful 1999 full-length animated film ever got the green light. Spoiler alert: there are more wacky elephants and racist caricatures in the movie. And the King, rather than dying at the end, gets to dance with Anna. Perhaps there's a positive side: The movie's box office failure may have saved us from seeing an upbeat animated version of "Carousel" complete with dancing clams.

3. EVERYTHING ABOUT “MAME”

...including the cinematography that made it look like a significant part of the budget went for Vaseline to smear on the lens

2. NOT FIGURING OUT A BETTER ENDING FOR “SWEET CHARITY”

The musical “Sweet Charity” is a mess with some strong songs and a compelling character. The movie has the same problem but with a different, equally unsatisfying ending.

1. CASTNG RUSSELL CROWE AS JAVERT IN “LES MISERABLES”

Stars, in their multitude, aren’t the way to cast a vocally demanding, sung-through epic musical. And whenever Crowe adds his voice to the mix, it’s impossible not to cringe. Were this a walk on—or a light piece a la “Mamma Mia!”—it would almost be forgivable. But Javert gives “Les Miserables” its dramatic counterweight. Without a strongly voiced inspector, there’s nothing for Jean Valjean to push against. Seriously: Wouldn’t you watch the DVD more often if Javert had a voice that soared? And while I think that the “Sweeney Todd” movie stands up on its own, I do miss hearing the roaring from the likes of Len Cariou or George Hearn rather than the whisper of Johnny Depp. See also: Lee Marvin, Daniel Day-Lewis, Pierce Brosnan, and Richard Harris.

Got any to add?

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