EXCLUSIVE: Talk about a plum project. In a pitch sold to Amblin Partners, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are attached to develop an original musical based on the book Everything Is Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age Of Industrial Musicals. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman — the duo behind the music for NBC’s Smash and the Broadway musical version of John Waters’ Hairspray and many other productions — are on board to write the score.
Marc Platt, the king of the Hollywood musical with credits that reach from Grease Live! to the Oscar front-runner La La Land, is aboard to produce with his company’s Adam Siegel. Writing the script is playwright Steven Levenson, who wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen, the recently opened Broadway musical starring Platt’s son Ben. He also is a writer-producer on the acclaimed Showtime series Masters Of Sex.
All deals are currently being negotiated.
The book Everything is Coming Up Profits by Steve Young and Mike Murphy reveals how corporate America employed Broadway talent to take part in industrial shows from the 1950s to the 1980s to help motivate sales forces and educate employees on products. Some of those musical shows were actually recorded for posterity and the subject matter lends itself to some great humor as some of these actors had to play inanimate objects (and would fight for those roles) or get overly excited about diesel engines, bathtubs or selling tires while they dreamed of being “somebody.”
Companies that employed the talent ranged from American Standard, G.E., Exxon, J.C. Penney, Westinghouse, Coca-Cola, Phillips Petroleum, Lucite and Ford Motor Co. They would act and sing either with original songs or song parodies. While some of the productions were total flops, like Westinghouse’s 79 Fever, others were high-quality productions such as Diesel Dazzle and American Standard’s The Bathrooms Are Coming.
The songwriting duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb did one of the better ones called Go Fly A Kite for General Electric only two weeks before opening Caberet on Broadway.
And, this still goes on. Corporations are still employing stage actors for presentations and fly them all over the country to play act so employees and sales staff can learn communication skills suited to all situations. The actors collect the real money from those jobs while continuing their little-paying but serious stage performances upon their return.
Shaiman and Wittman, whose credits also include the Broadway-bound London hit Charlie And The Chocolate Factory — The Musical, are also working with Platt on Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The new, original musical will go through the Amblin Entertainment label for Universal Pictures via Amblin Partners’ deal with the studio. This is not the first time the filmmakers have paired; Steven Spielberg, Matt Charman and Platt worked together on the Tom Hanks Cold War-starrer Bridge Of Spies and are also teaming on a feature about legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite.
Ferrell and Wiig are repped by UTA. Levenson is repped by WME and Shaiman and Wittman by CAA, with Kraft-Engel Management also managing Shaiman.