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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  • Irma la Douce
    Doing IRMA LA DOUCE as a movie by completely removing the songs was a very weird choice.
  • Irma la Douce
    Taking the musical IRMA LA DOUCE and doing it as a film without the songs was certainly an odd choice.
  • 42nd Street
    The 42nd Street movie cut the tap numbers from the stage show - the large group tap routines were AMAZING on stage; I wanted my money back when I bought the movie version and all were cut. Surely they could have found people who could tap dance.
    • A New Party Game
      Lou, You've a great list, but I'd add the decision to cut Jud's song, "Lonely Room", from "Oklahoma!" Without that number, we don't develop any tragic sympathy for the guy, so he remains a greasy farmhand, whose hobbies include French postcards and leering at Laurie. On the upside, for years we suffered with Jack Warner's decision to cut "Cool Conservative Men" from "1776". The videotapes all had the awkward cut. Fortunately, the editor assigned to cut the song from the film secreted the section in the Warners morgue, and it was recovered and restored for the laserdisc and DVD prints. Without that song, Dickinson and the conservatives don't really receive a voice in the story, giving us a break from the obnoxious and disliked John Adams. I'd also add the abrupt loss of "Super Heroes" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" prints. Not that the song adds a great deal to close of the story, but the jumpcut is terrible.
    • Reality Check, Please!
      The 1980 stage show 42ND STREET is (loosely)based on the nearly 50 YEAR OLD 1933 film version. To reiterate: THE MOVIE CAME FIRST! There was NO PREVIOUS STAGE SHOW to eliminate numbers from. In fact, to bolster the 90 minute movie's slender plot into an over two hour stage musical, the authors ADDED SONGS FROM OTHER FILMS. How ANYONE could watch an OLD black and white film from the '30s and think it was made from the modern stage show they saw is really unbelievable.
      • ON THE TOWN
        The decision to not use most of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green score was made by STUDIO HEAD LOUIS B. MAYER, who, ironically, had the studio invest in the stage version. But when he saw the show, he mostly HATED the score. The incredible irony: Kelly and Sinatra had starred in ANCHORS AWEIGH a few years earlier, also about soldiers on leave in New York. Without most of its original songs, ON THE TOWN became virtually -with a few plot point differences - a remake of ANCHORS AWEIGH. In the years that followed, when asked about the film, Bernstein dryly commented, "I NEVER wrote a song called "On The Town!"
      • NOT "For Meeeee !"
        Cutting the classic hit song "Together Wherever We Go" from "Gypsy". Yes, it's added to the DVD, but it's incomplete, and the cinematography is horrid ! The rest of the film is so great, they thought 3 more minutes was too long ???
        • Cuts
          Cutting "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" from "How to Succeed in Business" or "English Teacher", "American Boy" and "Spanish Rose" from "Bye Bye Birdie" Top billed Janet Leigh doesn't even get a solo, just a few lines in 3 songs. Cutting the hit "I Love Paris" from "Can-Can" and "A Man Doesn't Know" From "Damn Yankees"
        • Billy's death
          I must be the only one who feels this way but the film of Carousel gets it right. Billy dies accidentally in a foolish bid to make some money for his family for which you can feel sympathy. His sudden suicide is completely out of character. He might be momentarily humiliated but this is a strong defiant man who feels that if anyone gets in his way they can go to hell. Billy's suicide is cowardly(which he is anything but) and diminishes his love for his wife and child and makes his death anything but tragic. Also physically it is very difficult to just stand there and suddenly plunge a knife so deeply into yourself that it kills you though not impossible. I'm sure it was changed for the censors but they got it right.
        • Huh?
          I assume you are joking.
        • correcting posters
          Richard, Not all readers have your depth of knowledge. And I'm glad you are chiming in to help educate them. But no reason to be insulting regarding the 42nd St. comment. Thanks for reading, Lou
        • Musical Disasters
          Pal Joey: deadly dull, a crime considering the talent involved ... Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, just for starters. How could anything starring the likes of them be so boring? Quite the achievement, that. Guys & Dolls, Mame, and Annie: also terrible.
        • Grease
          One of the fun aspects of the original Bwy production was having the show open with a high-school reunion and having the alma mater song sung by the "good kids". Then the other kids are mentioned as we remember them "just the way they used to be." Chaos ensues as the greasers do their own rendition of the song. That one opening set the tone for the entire show. "Grease is the Word" is a terrible song that is outside the feeling of the original. In addition, the thrust of the show was to parody the songs of that era. But the movie didn't see the parody in them. It made an homage to them. Oh, making Sandy an Australian? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Oh, and every "kid" who was supposed to be in high school looked around 30. Moving Greased Lightning to Danny's character made no sense. Was it that Jeff Conaway couldn't sing or did Travolta just want to take over the whole movie?
          • Together
            I think that the cutting of "Together, Wherever We Go" may have been simply because they were unable to find a way to make it work musically. It's one thing to have Rose's songs sung in the basement when they're solos. It's another to make it work for a trio. That's really what is disastrous about the version that exists. You have Russell singing in the basement, but Wood cannot sing down there so she sings up an octave from where Russell is singing. That sounds odd in itself, but it's also too high for her and she sounds terrible. She might have sounded fine in the original key. I don't know that a real solution could have been found to make it work musically. Wood may have had it written into her contract this time that she couldn't be dubbed. Even if they had dubbed her, it would have been painfully obvious this time that they were dubbing her for the one number. In addition, it would have required re-recording the whole number with Wood and Malden. And there is reason to believe that they kept secret from Russell that they ended up calling in Lisa Kirk to dub her. On the issued soundtrack recording, it was done in a really short version as a solo for Kirk, adding to the suspicion that it was cut because they couldn't make it work musically as a trio under the circumstances. Kirk could have sung it in the original key, but then it clearly would not have been Russell. Whatever else is wrong with the movie, Kirk was a good vocal match for Russell because she could sing down here. As for the cinematography of that number on the DVD, do you mean the color, Frank? If that's when you meant, it's because the color is faded. That's how it was in the only copy they could find of the number. Perhaps they could have restored it in some way, but it would have meant spending more money
          • Correction
            They didn't cut the tap numbers in the film. The film "42nd Street" came first. They ADDED songs and dances from other Warners movies of the 30s when Merrick created the stage version.
          • Sandee re:Grease
            Why is it "wrong" to make Sandy Australiam? Also, why does it "not make sense" to have Danny sing Greased Lightning? Make your argument.
          • Les Miserables
            I realize I'm in the minority here, but the singing that ruined the movie for me was not Russell Crowe's, Hugh Jackman's. I certainly won't defend Mr. Crowe's Javert, but Mr. Jackman's harsh nasally caterwaul destroyed my idea of Jean Valjean's character whenever he sang (which was quite a bit, of course). This was most evident during "Bring Him Home", which was just painful. I know Russell Crowe has been the more popular whipping boy, but to me, Hugh Jackman was the number one problem with that movie.
          • Jersey Boys?
            A question raised from the relatively poor take for the "Jersey Boys" film (and from "Rent" for that matter), is whether Hollywood is actually smart in ditching Broadway actors in favor of box-office-draw stars. Anybody?
          • Rent
            One of my favorite stage musicals is "Rent", but when they made it into a film, even with most of the original cast intact, it lost something, especially when a lot of the lines that should be sung were simply spoken - it sounded trite that way. Scenes were cut odd and changed in a way that made me want to yell at the screen.
          • Class from Chicago
            One of the funniest songs ever -- "Class," which comes toward the end of "Chicago." Cut from the movie version. If you get the DVD, you can see the deleted scene with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah. Wonderful.

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