Theatre Thursdays: Movie Musical Do-Overs

One of the ways I often pass time is by thinking about film adaptations of my favorite musicals. Usually I’m imagining musicals that haven’t yet made it to the silver screen, but sometimes I think about those musicals which have been adapted for film but could use another go. With the much-anticipated Annie remake starring Quvenzhané Wallis only months away, this topic has moved to the forefront of my thoughts. Here are three of my top picks for movie musical remakes.

#3: A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line BannerI’ve never seen A Chorus Line on stage, but I received the documentary Every Little Step as a gift and loved what it portrayed of the show. After watching the documentary I quickly bought the movie. I was simply underwhelmed. What seemed like an interesting and extremely passionate story about a group of dancers going through an extensive audition became a flat story focused on an individual dancer, Cassie, and her relationship with the director running the audition.

One of the most telling examples of how the movie turned this unique show into a standard love story is the treatment of the song “What I Did for Love”. On stage, it’s the answer to the question “If today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” and is prompted by one of the dancers injuring himself and having to drop out of the audition.

In the movie, however, the song is sung as a solo by Cassie and seems to refer to her relationship with the director rather than anything about dance.

In a remake, I would like to see the focus be put back on the dancers and their passion, rather than on an invented romance between director and dancer. Though Cassie and the director do have a relationship with each other in the original musical, it doesn’t seem to be given nearly as much weight and I’m not even sure it was a romantic relationship originally. I’d like to see the film capture the earnestness and slight desperation of an audition. There was a notable lack of tension in the film, due in large part to the frequent scenes which cut away from the audition, that could really be improved upon in a remake.

2. West Side Story

West Side Story- LogoWest Side Story is a musical theatre masterpiece. In my opinion though, the film version falls far short of this honor. I believe I’m in the minority here, as I know many people love the movie dearly and it is “the most lauded movie musical ever made” but no matter how many times I view it, I just can’t find a way to enjoy it.

I first saw West Side Story in my high school literature class when we read Romeo and Juliet. At the time I was not nearly as big a fan of musicals as I am now and I had no interest in the movie. For years I avoided the stage show until one day I saw the 2009 Broadway revival because a performer I loved was playing Tony. I was utterly shocked by how much I loved the show! Sometime later I watched the movie again, thinking that now I could finally appreciate it, but found it just as uninteresting as before.

West Side Story remake really only needs two things to already be a marked improvement over the original. Number one, actual Puerto Ricans playing the Puerto Ricans, and number two, a cast that actually sings their parts. I know, I know, “Madness!” you say but I am certain it can be done. With word of a remake already making rounds, I have my hopes set high for this one.

1. The Wiz

The Wiz- LogoI don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed in a movie musical than I was in The Wiz. I saw a high school production of the show when I was very young and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen. I was always a huge The Wizard of Oz fan and loved seeing different adaptations of the story. One day I was thrilled to come across a VHS of the movie at my local library and begged my mom to let me get it even though I wasn’t usually allowed to get movies instead of books. She allowed me and I couldn’t wait to get home and see the movie version of the play I had enjoyed so much.

I quickly went from a soaring emotional high to a soul-crushing low.

Very little in this movie makes sense, beginning with the lead role, Dorothy. Dorothy is meant to be a young girl who is thrust into a strange, wondrous world on her own and finds friends and strength of self which help her return home. In the movie, Diana Ross plays Dorothy at 34 and unfortunately nothing about the character is rewritten. Ross has to act like a scared child for the majority of the film for no other reason than the fact that she’s playing a part which written for someone in a completely different stage of development.

My biggest problem with the movie is the presentation of the land of Oz. Oz was meant to be a beautiful, wondrous, and frightening world full of fantastical creatures everywhere. The Oz of The Wiz film is desolate and empty. Everywhere Dorothy and company turn they are met with emptiness or hostility. One of the most powerful themes of the story is that Dorothy’s sense of home comes from the love of the people around her, regardless of how dull her surroundings may seem. Making Oz such a bleak wasteland doesn’t give her the chance to learn what’s truly important to her, instead it just presents the idea that she was better off at home because everything’s even worse here.

In listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the musical and looking at photos from the show, I don’t get the impression that this was the creative team’s intention. The Oz on stage was still fantastical and joyful, but Dorothy still learned that there was only one “Home” for her.

These original movies aren’t abominable by any means, but they are some that I feel really owe more to their source than they ended up giving. They have such excellent material to work with and ended up doing a disservice to their potential.

Did I miss any glaring examples? What would your list look like?