When I talked about the Hollywood adaptation of the musical Hairspray last year, I mentioned how the producers should write the book on making movie musicals. Honestly, this is something I’ve thought much about long before Hairspray last summer, and since they haven’t written a book on the subject, I’m taking it upon myself to do it for them, one chapter (or idea) at a time.
Chapter 1 is about the concept. Hollywood analysts used to say that modern audiences wouldn’t buy musicals because audiences have become too sophisticated. I said it then, and I’ll say it again—Nonsense!
Let’s face it, there’s nothing “sophisticated” about the run-of-the-mill torture movies or action flicks. It takes as much willing suspense of disbelief to watch Transformers, I Am Legend, and Iron Man as it does to watch a musical. I would believe that Judy Garland saves the day by singing in Summer Stock as much as I can believe that Edward Norton turns into a giant green man.
This is evidenced by the great successes of Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, and Mamma Mia!, the latter of which is probably one of the corniest, most un-sophisticated musicals of them all.
The key, however, is all in how it is done. Up until Hairspray, no one ever would have thought that the traditional singing musical would work again, which explains a few of the problems with the Dreamgirls adaptation, which attempted to hide its musical roots until the characters had to inevitably sing something outside of the concert setting.
What those analysts should have said is that audiences were too sophisticated for musicals the way they were usually done in the 1930s-1950s. It’s simply a matter of updating the style, which means breaking away from the movie musical’s Broadway roots.
the Broadway Mouth
September 30, 2008