Presenting the two directing prizes on Sunday night’s Tony Awards, Clint Eastwood, who was on the show because he has directed the film version of the Tony winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys (6/20), summed it all up for me. “It seems like producers and directors from the stage and from movies are always looking for good new material, and sometimes they don’t find it. Sometimes they have to take it from one another with The Bridges Of Madison Country (Eastwood starred in and directed the film) or Bullets Over Broadway going to musical plays, and I’m proud to say that we’re bringing Jersey Boys to the movies and that will be after nine successful years on Broadway,” he said in introductory remarks. It was an understatement as most of the evening’s winners, spread among a larger number of shows than usual, have deep ties to Hollywood and that included Bridges which picked up a couple of key Tonys for its composer Jason Robert Brown, despite closing last month. There’s also Rocky (Best Scenic Design of a Musical), Aladdin (Best Featured Actor in a Musical), as well as the two big musical winners of the evening (each with four victories), A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love And Murder (winner of Best Musical and which is derived from the 1949 Alec Guiness film Kind Hearts And Coronets), and Hedwig And The Angry Inch (winner of four including Best Revival of a Musical and which is making its Broadway debut after Off Broadway and a film version). Even A Raisin In The Sun, which took Best Revival Of A Play and two other awards, has been made twice into movies.
The 2014 Tony Awards got things hopping (literally) with another tip of the hat to Hollywood, as host Hugh Jackman did a four-minute exhaustive opening number in which he hopped throughout Radio City Music Hall (an homage — acknowledged in a two second fleeting film clip — to Bobby Van’s memorable pogo-stick number in the not-too-well-known 1953 MGM musical Small Town Girl). And later there was indie movie maestro Harvey Weinstein smiling in the audience after Jennifer Hudson socked home a beautiful rendition of a song from his upcoming Broadway hopeful, a musical version of the film Finding Neverland. It will try out in Cambridge, Massachusettes, although this very high-profile tryout was pretty impressive on its own terms of seeing Hollywood influence creep into Broadway’s biggest night.
My colleague Jeremy Gerard, who covers the New York theatre scene for Deadline, spoke to Weinsteinabout it earlier. And I brought it up with The Weinstein Company’s COO David Glasser who was on a Produced By panel called “Stage Presence: The Hollywood-Broadway Connection” that I was happy to moderate Sunday afternoon on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank. It also featured movie, Broadway, TV and Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, along with Endgame Entertainment Company Chairman and CEO James D. Stern who not only produces a lot of movies (An Education, Looper), he also is big on Broadway with numerous productions derived from movies like The Producers and Hairspray, both past Tony winners. The panel, which ended just as the Tonys were getting underway in NYC, was a lively one that played to a packed house as the finale of the two day conference presented by the Producers Guild Of America. It was perfect timing, although coincidental. And driving onto the lot, you couldn’t miss the giant billboard for Warners’ Jersey Boys, one of three major studio musicals hitting the screen this year including Sony’s Annie remake and Disney’s Into The Woods, both holiday releases. Warners also didn’t miss the opportunity to buy ad time during the Tony show to promote Jersey Boys in addition to the Eastwood appearance.
It seemed quite appropriate to see the Hollywood/Broadway connection so vividly and prominently displayed Sunday on both coasts. And it’s no accident. As Stern said, it’s nothing new, but I do think it is becoming something of an epidemic. Broadway is really relying quite a bit on movies to sell tickets. And that’s not just in finding material for new shows, it’s also in keeping long-running shows going. Stern said it was the movie Chicago (the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar in 34 years) which was released by Miramax in 2002 and executive produced by Zadan and Meron that really wiped away the stigma that a movie would kill business for a still-running Broadway show. Chicago‘s still playing eight shows a week and so are Phantom Of The Opera, Rock Of Ages, Mamma Mia! and others who have seen their film versions come and go. With DVDs and an afterlife on cable, they almost act as commercials for the live shows.
Zadan said despite the success of Chicago, it was still hard to get big screen Broadway adapatations greenlit. “We did a tour of all the studios after that and they all praised the movie and what it did. But when we asked if they would have made the movie they all said ‘no’,” he said. Harvey Weinstein had it in development for several years before they were finally able to crack the code on how to make it (Rob Marshall directed and Bill Condon wrote the screenplay). He said it has never gotten easier, but they are long-distance runners in this field and always seem to find a way. The pair is now teaming again with Weinstein on a film version of last year’s Best Musical Revival Tony winner, Pippin, which like Chicago was originally directed on Broadway by Bob Fosse who revolutionalized movie musical Broadway transfers with his Oscar winning Cabaret in 1972. Glasser said they are just starting to develop it but that Zadan and Meron have good ideas on where to take it.
Glasser talked about how much more difficult it can be to get a straight play produced as a movie these days. The Weinstein Company did it with August: Osage County last year, but it was a tricky proposition in getting a three and a half hour play down to two hours. Doubt was another recent example, although both starred Meryl Streep. It’s much harder without hugely bankable names like Streep or Julia Roberts. Zadan and Meron got A Raisin In The Sun produced on ABC in 2008 with its Broadway star Sean Combs. Straight plays used to be a staple of Hollywood fare but somewhere along the line that changed. Meron thinks the title as a way of pre-selling it is all-important. Perhaps that’s why a property like Annie keeps finding new life. The new film version starring Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhane Wallis is the third time around including an ABC TV version directed by Marshall and produced by Zadan and Meron. In between have been successful Broadway revivals of the show so they all seem to feed off each other. The producing pair has also hit paydirt with live tv musicals after the smash , and surprising, ratings success of NBC’s The Sound Of Music last December starring Carrie Underwood. Peter Pan Live is next and network President Robert Greenblatt has also ordered up a new version of The Music Man (Greenblatt is a Broadway lover who was a producer on Gentlemen’s Guild To Love And Murder). Fox has ordered a live broadcast of Grease. These are ALL well known titles.
In comparing the movie business to Broadway, Stern said unequivocally that staging a show is a much bigger financial risk. And you never know where the winners will come from. Before this year, the last two Best Musical Tony winners, Once and Kinky Boots, were derived from tiny independent Sundance movies. But Zadan says the rewards are obviously great. The biggest continuing financial success for Universal Pictures is not a movie, but rather a stage production of Wicked which celebrated its 10th anniversary on Broadway with a special performance on the Tonys Sunday. A film version is inevitable but still seems to be in its nascent stages. With the kind of money the show is pulling in around the world who needs to rush? Meron says every studio now has someone in charge of combing their vaults for material that could be turned into big Broadway shows. Of course Disney, whose latest hit is Aladdin, and who will be bringing Frozen the Great White Way eventually, has made it a cottage industry. And now they have just announced that Beauty And The Beast will become a live action film directed by Condon after first seeing life as an animated musical feature and then in a Broadway version.
Zadan said he and Meron were criticized for all the musical numbers they put into the two Academy Awards broadcasts they have produced (they are signed for the 2015 show already). “Yet when you look at the ratings, the spike in audience was the biggest for those moments, over anything else on the shows,” he said. Ratings have in fact been up for both their shows. On their 2013 Oscar broadcast, they brought the entire cast of the Best Picture nominee Les Miserables on to sing from the stirring score, just like the Tonys did last night with the cast of the nominated revival of Les Mis. Further evidence of that Hollywood-Broadway connection. I suspect you can expect more next year, although the producers offered up no scoops quite yet. But with at least three big new movie musicals as likely contenders, don’t be surprised to be see more of that connection vividly showcased on the movies’ biggest night just like we saw on Broadway’s big moment in the spotlight Sunday.
One questioner in the Produced By audience asked the panel if they expect episodic TV shows to become fodder for Broadway like The Walking Dead. I would actually like to see a different AMC show, Breaking Bad, turned into a big musical. After all, brand new Tony winner Bryan Cranston could even star. “I’m Gonna Wash That Meth Right Outta My Hair,” anyone?