ZAMM.COM: Broadway Boys

 
By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com




Broadway "Boys":  The line between Hollywood and Broadway is blurring as movies morph into stage plays and plays turn into films.

Between the recent movie driven Tony Awards and Clint Eastwood's big screen version of Jersey Boys opening Friday at about 3,000 theatres, it's clear that stage-film mash-ups are a popular Hollyway entertainment genre.


Movies and the theatre have been intertwined since the Hollywood's early days when filmmakers looking for movie material turned to successful stage plays. At the time, theatre stars looked down on the upstart movie business and refused to work in films. The fledgling studios responded by creating their own movie stars, who originally weren't even identified on the screen or in publicity by name so as to keep them from becoming famous and demanding more money. Needless to say, it didn't take long for that to change. By then, stage actors decided working in movies wasn't anything to be ashamed of and they might as well take Hollywood's money.

Hollywood's affection over the years for Broadway plays was driven in part by the fact that like best-selling novels, another favorite source of movie material, plays revolved around well developed characters and plotlines. Plays that had done well on Broadway also had great promotional value because film audiences around the world that knew of them but didn't have the opportunity to see them could now see them on the screen wherever they lived.

The connection between movies and theatre material goes back to the very first feature film shot in Hollywood--the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company's 1914 romantic action drama The Squaw Man.

Directed by Oscar Apfel & Cecil B. DeMille (whose nearly 90 directing credits include the 1923 and 1956 productions of The Ten Commandments), the Famous Players - Lasky Corp. release starred Dustin Farnum, Monroe Salisbury and Winifred Kingston. So many plays were turned into movies over the following decades that it would take a book to focus on them. One, however, that can't be overlooked here is many moviegoers' all-time favorite film--Warner Bros.' 1942 romantic drama Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Its screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch was based on an unproduced stage play, Everybody Comes to Rick's, by Murray Burnett & Joan Alison.

Warner Bros. paid $20,000 for the movie rights, a record at the time for an unproduced play. Today, an unproduced play would be a tough sell to a movie studio. Stage hits like Jersey Boys are what Hollywood is looking for.

Boys, an R-rated musical biographical drama from Warner Bros., Ratpac Entertainment and GK Films, is directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring are John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza and Christopher Walken.

Eastwood's take on the Tony Award-winning stage musical revolves around four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who became the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. It's the first big movie role for Young, who plays the group's leader, Frankie Valli.

Boys is tracking best with 25-plus men and women, who either fondly recall The Four Seasons' hit records or who saw the hit stage musical, which opened on Broadway in 2005. Since then, it's had two North American National Tours as well as productions in London, Las Vegas, Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, Singapore, South Africa, The Netherlands and other global markets. The play won four 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It also won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Making the most of June 8's Tony Awards telecast to promote the movie version of Boys, Eastwood was on hand to present the night's two directing awards--for a musical to Darko Tresnjak for A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder and for a play to Kenny Leon for A Raisin in the Sun. In both cases, there's a clear crossover between Hollywood and Broadway.

Murder's based on the 1949 classic crime comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, directed by Robert Hamer (School for Scoundrels), which starred Dennis Price, Alec Guinness and Valerie Hobson. Other Tony wins for Murder include: best book of a musical (Robert L. Freedman) and costume design of a musical (Linda Cho).

Raisin originated as a stage play by Lorraine Hansberry that opened on Broadway in 1959 and for which Hansberry was Tony nominated. The play was turned into a 1961 movie directed by Daniel Petrie, which starred Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee (who just passed away June 11 at age 91).

Other Tony wins for Raisin include: best revival of a play and featured actress in a play (Sophie Okonedo).

In 2008, Raisin was produced as a TV movie directed by Kenny Leon, who went on to direct the 2012 TV production of Steel Magnolias and just won the Tony for directing the current Broadway revival of the play. Leon's TV production starred Sean Combs, Sanaa Lathan and Audra McDonald. Along the way, Raisin also had a Broadway revival in 2004, a 1973 musical stage production and a 1989 television production. It's a property that's crossed over every which way for the past five decades.

Those were not the only Hollyway titles being talked about on the Tony telecast. There also was, for instance, the musical Bullets Over Broadway, which unfortunately had six noms but no wins. Written by Woody Allen and directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (The Producers), it's based on Allen's popular 1994 crime comedy of the same name, which starred John Cusack, Diane Wiest and Jennifer Tilly. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and had one win--Wiest for Best Supporting Actress.

The Tony for best musical revival went to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on the 2001 comedy drama movie of the same name. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, it starred Mitchell, Miriam Shor and Stephen Trask. The play also won the Tony for lead actress in a musical (Jessie Mueller), lead actor in a musical (Neil Patrick Harris), featured actress in a musical (Lena Hall) and lighting design on a musical (Kevin Adams).

Another multiple Tony winner was the musical The Bridges of Madison County, based on the 1995 romantic drama of the same name. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it starred Eastwood, Meryl Streep and Annie Corley. Streep received a Best Actress Oscar nom.

The musical won Tonys for original score (Jason Robert Brown) and orchestrations (Brown), Another Hollyway winner at the Tonys was the musical Aladdin, based on Disney's 1992 animated comedy adventure of the same name. Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker, directors of Disney's 1989 animated blockbuster The Little Mermaid, it starred the voices of Scott Weinger, Robin Williams and Linda Larkin. It was nominated for five Oscars and won for Original Song and Original Score. The play won the Tony for featured actor in a musical (James Monroe Iglehart). Also in the Tony ring with Hollywood roots was the musical Rocky, based on the 1976 classic movie drama of the same name. The film was directed by John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid), written by Sylvester Stallone and starred Stallone, Talia Shire and Burt Young. Rocky had 10 Oscar noms and three wins--Best Picture, Director and Film Editing. The play, which was written by Thomas Meehan & Stallone and directed by Alex Timbers, won the Tony for best scenic design of a musical (Christopher Barreca).

Still playing on Broadway is the musical Newsies, which won 2012 Tonys for original score and choreography. It's based on Disney's 1992 drama of the same name, which was directed by Kenny Ortega and starred Christian Bale, Bill Pullman and Robert Duvall.

Another long-running Broadway musical with a strong Hollywood connection is Les Miserables, which opened in London in October 1985 and arrived on Broadway in March 1987. It ran there until May 2003, closing after 6,680 performances. Les Miz was nominated for 12 Tonys and won eight, including best musical and original score. A Broadway revival played from 2006  through 2008.

The show returned to Broadway in March 2014, having received tremendous new awareness from the success of Universal Pictures and Relativity Media's movie musical version that opened in December 2012 and wound up grossing $148.8 million in domestic theatres.

Directed by Tom Hooper, it starred Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. The film received eight Oscar nods and won three--Supporting Actress (Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling and Sound Mixing. The current revival received three Tony noms, including best musical revival, but had no wins.

Another landmark Broadway musical with movie roots that's still playing is The Lion King, based on Disney's 1994 animated adventure of the same name. Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, it starred the voices of Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones. The film, which grossed $422.8 million in domestic theatres, received four Oscar noms, winning for Original Song and Original Score.

The musical opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre in November 1997 and in June 2006 moved to the Minskoff Theatre, where it's still playing. It's sold over $1 billion of tickets, making it Broadway's highest grossing production ever.

Lion won Tonys in 1998 for best musical, direction (Julie Taymor), choreography, scenic design for a musical, costume design for a musical and lighting design for a musical.

Bottom line: For the most part, Hollyway titles have done well over the years with moviegoers and Broadway audiences. Jersey Boys will be hoping to see box office lightning strike again.

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