UPDATED, 2:21 PM: Our pal, Temple Hill’s Wyck Godfrey, is among our commenters pointing out that 2001’s Moulin Rouge was an original musical, so maybe it’s only 14 years that Hollywood has neglected this genre. Others tell me Moulin Rouge must be discounted because it features standards previously performed by the likes of Madonna and Labelle.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE: As Hugh Jackman garners strong reviews for the Jez Butterworth stage play The River, Fox is going through the budgeting process and is expected to start making deals with talent for a summer start in New York on The Greatest Showman On Earth. Believe it or not, when Jackman begins playing the role of master showman PT Barnum in New York next summer, it will mark the first original live action movie musical made by a studio since 1992 brought Disney’s Newsies. To put it in context, Christian Bale is about to open for Fox as Moses in Exodus: Gods And Kings. Newsies was one of Bale’s first prepubescent performances; he’s come a long way from slinging newspapers to dispersing The Ten Commandments.
The musical is one that Fox has had on low simmer with Jackman and director Michael Gracie. The current draft of the screenplay is by Jonathan Tropper, who will be the writer polishing and working through production. Drafts have been written by Oscar-winning scribe Bill Condon, (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Chicago), and also by The Big C’s Jenny Bicks and Jordan Roberts, whose most recent credit is the box office hit Big Hero 6. Gracey is best known for his dance-filled commercials and for creating one of the original flash mob videos. The original songs are by Justin Paul & Benj Pasek (who were Tony-nominated for The Christmas Story), Bonnie McKee, Jake Shear and Brian Lapin. Producing is Laurence Mark, who teamed with Condon on the musical Dreamgirls. They are working from the draft by Condon, who opens tonight on Broadway in the revival of Side Show, which he co-wrote and directs.
The film will tell the story of Barnum’s invention of show business, and his ultimate invention of the three-ring circus. While it is hard to fathom that Hollywood hasn’t done an original live action musical in over 20 years, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera and Jackman’s last tuner, Les Miserables, were adaptations of stage plays. You can’t count High School Musical because it originated on the Disney Channel and the feature release was a sequel. The closest would be Moulin Rouge or even Once, but that’s not a burst into song musical, nor was Inside Llewyn Davis. The only thriving original movie musicals are animated.
I’m told this film cautiously heads for the start gate after much deliberation by Fox brass. It certainly helps that the film has a charismatic booster in Jackman, who holds a position of clout in one of the studio’s prized franchises, because of his recurring role as X-Men staple Wolverine.
This is good news for those film people who’ve hoped forever for a movie musicals renaissance. Some of them are scratching their heads and fearing the worst though for the collision course facing the next two major studio musicals, Into The Woods and Annie as those films chase the holiday buck next month. Annie opens December 19, and the star studded adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods comes less than a week later on Christmas Day. Though the demos are different, it doesn’t seem possible that one film won’t dent the box office of the other.
“How long has it been since a studio slotted a musical,” asked one. “And they had no alternative but to pit two of them head to head?”