Monday, August 06, 2007

Hairspray

I think for my next movie project I’d like to develop a white version of THE WIZ. Movies become musicals then become movies of the musicals. Why not a movie of the movie of the musical of the movie?

Backing up one step we have HAIRSPRAY. Less warped (and delicious) than the original John Waters movie, and greater in scope than the 2002 Tony winning musical, HAIRSPRAY: the current movie is better in some cases than its predecessors and not as good in others.

Overall though, it’s infectious fun. Bouncy, catchy early 60's tunes. (Where are Bobby Rydell & Lesley Gore when we need them?) And unlike RENT, you don’t cringe when people break into song. (Of course that could be because they sing about waking up in Baltimore not getting AIDS.) What the movie lacks is the excitement of seeing it live and really getting swept up in the music. On the other hand, I saw the film at a WGA screening so I was the youngest person there by 40 years. Maybe your theater-going experience will be different.

The two big problems with adapting musicals for the bigscreen are how do you open it up, and who do you cast? Director Adam Shankman and screenwriter Leslie Dixon did a great job clearing the first hurdle. Since the piece was so stylized to begin with you have no trouble buying dance numbers in the street. It’s not like the film of WEST SIDE STORY where these bad ass gang members are all prancing around and pirouetting in urban war zones. And expanding the Allison Janney character was inspired. She stole every scene she was in.

Casting the adaptation was only partially successful. Hollywood always likes to cast movie stars instead of the Broadway performers. (So what if Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn can’t sing? Neither could Clint Eastwood but that didn’t stop him from crooning in PAINT YOUR WAGON.)

But with a youth oriented show, calling CAA makes sense. When they cast the RENT movie with the original off-Broadway cast they all looked 40 (which is because most probably are). Marissa Jaret Winokur, who won a Tony playing the lead, Tracy is now in her mid-30’s. Too old I'm afraid to still play 17. Even Tyne Daly decided not to apply.

Newcomer, Nikki Blonsky was terrific! You fear her future in the business will be playing wacky friends to pretty actresses not as talented but in her one starring role she shined. In general, all the kids were fine. Although, Andrew Rannells who played Link in the Broadway production I saw blew the doors off of Zach Efron.

Amanda Bynes proved it is possible to turn in a good performance without battling drug and alcohol addiction. Who knew?? And Christopher Walken was his usual superb strange self. Currently on Broadway, Jerry Mathers is playing that part. No. I’m not joking. Could you ever in a million years conceive that Beaver Cleaver and Christopher Walken would be playing the same role?

Queen Latifa was fine but not as good as Doris Troy on Broadway. And I’m told she was not as good as Mary Bond Davis who originated the role. If they made the movie today, Jennifer Hudson would play the part. Sure she’s too way young but she has an Oscar. Let's just say she's the right age for the marketing department.

I still can’t get over Clint Eastwood singing in PAINT YOUR WAGON. What were they and he thinking???

Now the bad news: John Travolta. The joke wears thin in like… a minute. And what you’re left with is a guy who can’t sing, has no real flair for comedy, and probably didn't need a fat suit. Here is where Hollywood sacrificed quality for name value. Harvey Fierstein made every line hysterical. The best you can say about John Travolta is that he's a good sport.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michelle Pheiffer was so painfully thin that I didn’t know whether to laugh at her jokes or call 911. It’s hard to enjoy a performance when you’re concerned for an actor’s safety.

But the bottom line is HAIRSPRAY is well worth seeing. Which version is up to you. Personally, I prefer the Broadway production. And after Jerry Mathers leaves maybe he'll be replaced by Don Imus.

Wait a sec -- instead of re-working THE WIZ, maybe I should focus on FROST/NIXON. First it was a TV show turned into a play and now will be a movie. I could turn the movie into a musical and then we could get another movie and maybe if we're lucky, a TV show based on the movie based on the musical based on the movie based on the play based on the TV show.

31 comments :

Nat said...

I own a page of original art from the (never released in the US) comic book adaptation of the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band... in fact, it's from a scene with some Mr. Kite material. Which means I have a piece of a comic adapting a film which adapted a song which adapted a poster.
Adaptation... it's what makes evolution work.

Anonymous said...

myself, I was a little disturbed by the fact that Amanda Bynes, whose character is supposed to be as whitebread as they come, kept showing up tanner and tanner with each progressive scene. If the movie was longer (or they kept in the best number, Mama I'm a big girl now) she surely would have ended the movie darker than Latifah.

Sebastian said...

Every scene with John Travolta is just totally off.

This is the first time in years I would be glad if they just dubbed the whole movie here in germany complete with all songs so that the german voice of Travolta would sing.

He's totally misplaced. His voice doesn't sound like a woman's voice at all, you can always hear it's him even when you listen with your eyes closed and when you open them you see this horribly done line under his chin which seems so totally off - even a fat woman does not have THAT kind of double chin. I can't honestly understand why anybody in their right mind would say that THIS abomination was a good fat suit. FRIENDS packed Courtney Cox-Arquette in such a marvelous fat suit that I have to agree that it can only be that Travolta's body is simply not made for being made fat in any way. He's not fat himself, you could see that on Letterman but I guess he's simply to tall. Every song with him makes me cringe and honestly I couldn't watch the whole movie it was just too grotesque. And all that with such a great cast not including him.

Oh and about Amanda Bynes... yeah she's a gem. She tends to change her appearance without really thinking about continuity. Between season 3 and 4 of "What I like about you" she gained about 20 pounds with two scenes playing right after one another. But you can't blame her. Kevin James gained about 40lbs while filming in Brooklyn and didn't have a good explanation when they were doing interiors in the studio later :-)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Wait a sec -- instead of re-working THE WIZ, maybe I should focus on FROST/NIXON.

Featuring the supine vocals of Richard Nixon's head. ;)

The Crutnacker said...

Remaking the Wiz with white people? Ken, are you forgetting Michael Jackson was in the original?

Is John Travolta really a marketable name these days? I've always looked at him as the first generation of $cientology Superstar. Cruise is the next generation. They're going to keep working on them until they get them right.

To be fair though, it IS probably next to impossible to find someone who is fat, gay, and can sing show tunes anywhere in Hollywood or on Broadway.

Anonymous said...

Saw it last weekend with my 6-year-old daughter and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Sadly agree with some of the comments about Travolta. Looked like a man who was there for the money.

Michael said...

Ken, if you want to write the book I'll write the songs. We can even urbanize it and make it some of the pieces rap. Nixon and Frost pulling gansta poses. It could be big. Quick, call your agent!

A. Scott said...

Just one comment: The Allison Janney character wasn't added. That role is in the musical (with the stage actress triple cast as Penny's mom, the gym teacher, and the prison matron).

Anonymous said...

Couple points: the Allison Janney character is in the original John Waters flick, not simply the musical. And to be precise: the John Waters film was in fact based on a wonderful essay he wrote, "Ladies and Gentleman....the Nicest Kids in Town," which was originally published in Baltimore and can be found in his book "Crackpot." Highly recommended--he is in my opinion a better writer than a filmaker, and I love the original movie....

Emily Blake said...

I'm very confused by this post. You mentioned so many musicals and so many actors in different roles I'm not familiar with that I have no idea what you're talking about.

I guess I just don't belong with the musical crowd. I feel left out.

floretbroccoli said...

If "Nixon in China" can be an opera, surely "Frost/Nixon" can be a musical.

I did enjoy watching John Travolta dance.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I usually agree with you Ken, but I saw HAIRSPRAY and was unimpressed. I kept thinking of CHICAGO, one of the truly great musicals, and HAIRSPRAY just didn't work for me at all. Yes, the songs are bright and up, but they all sound the same. And frankly, I thought the choreography was uninspired. And as for Travolta ... he's not much of an actor, has a poor voice, and, dare I say, not much of a dancer.
If you want to see a GREAT musical, just rent CHICAGO and watch it again and again!

estiv said...

I guess I just don't belong with the musical crowd. I feel left out.

Well hey there, kiddo, you know that's a dirty rotten shame. Aw, now you're making me feel all down. Hey! I know what'll buck you up! And me too! Let's dance!
Cue orchestra. Backdrop rises to reveal glittering fountains and sequined showgirls with grins bigger than their costumes. All the things that seemed so troubling—love gone wrong, good people outcast from society for arbitrary reasons, generalized feelings of hopelessness—simply…evaporate. As the rest of the cast filters onstage to join in, the music rises into a triumphant blare. Once again, the world seems like a good place. Curtain.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And what you’re left with is a guy who can’t sing,

Very harsh, Ken. Haven't you heard Travolta's magnificent '70s single "Let Her In"? If not, get thee to YouTube to listen. (I'd advise against watching the cheesey slide show that accompanies it; I couldn't find footage of Travolta singing it on American Bandstand.)

Anonymous said...

Love the Clint Eastwood-Paint Your Wagon reference, probably the worst singing ever in a movie, but still a great movie. One of my favorite Lee Marvin performances.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Title suggestion for one of the songs in "Frost/Nixon: The Musical":

"I Resigned Because..."

Anonymous said...

Another song for pre-resignation...

"I'm not going."

D. McEwan said...

"Where are Bobby Rydell & Lesley Gore when we need them?"

Old folks homes.

AUNTIE MAME pioneered the route. First a novel, then a Broadway play, then a movie, then a Broadway musical, then - GULP - a movie of the musical of the movie of the play of the book starring Lucy. John Travolta would have been BETTER!

I really enjoyed the musical movie of HAIRSPRAY, having seen the original flim when it came out (And several times subsequently.), and having seen the stage musical in Los Angeles with Bruce Vilanch. (And Sebastian, I assure you that Bruce's voice, and Harvey's on the Broadway CD, also in no way sound like a woman's. Harvey's doesn't even sound like a human's.)

I was jarred right off by the first shot: A panorama of Baltimore rooftops in 1962 in a movie ABOUT a TV show, and THERE ARE NO TV AERIALS! That shot should be a FOREST of TV antennaes. We see ONE set of rabbit ears sitting on the Turnblad TV, which would not have brought in much of a picture. Ken, you remember as well as I that urban jungle of TV aerials that was America in 1962.

I thought Christopher Walken stole the picture. He's always a joy when he dances.

The man who played Seaweed is a total dreamboat. I'm in love, and may have to kill Amanda Bynes if she comes between us.

Everyone discusses how well/badly Travolta plays Divine's old role. But no one mentions who well/badly Paul Dooley plays Divine's OTHER old role, as he was also the station owner in the original. Paul should really try claiming he was wearing a fat suit too.

I want to see the forthcoming musicals of FEMAIL TROUBLE & PINK FLAMINGOES. I can't wait to watch John Travolta eat dog shit and then sing! The song will be called SHIT-EATING GRIN.

So are you saying that waking up in Baltimore is a better experience than finding you have AIDS? Because I've heard it both ways, and I've only had one of the two experiences myself.

D. McEwan said...

FEMAIL TROUBLE??? AWK!
I meant FEMALE TROUBLE of course.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I think of this as Travolta's outing movie. He started wearing girl's clothes as a kid and has come full circle. Also, he's a no-talent asshole.

jbryant said...

Yeah, if Harvey Weinstein had played the lead, they would've needed a whole back story about that time Edna gargled razor blades.

The Crutnacker said...

John Travolta is Tom Cruise without the aggression. And if what is said about his oldest child is true, he's a complete a-hole.

jbryant said...

Sheesh, obviously in my little joke above about gargling razor blades, I meant Harvey Fierstein, not Weinstein.

D. McEwan said...

But if Harvey Weinstein HAD played her, he wouldn't need the fat suit. He already wears MiraMAXimum.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Anyone concerned with Clint Eastwood's crooning has obviously forgotten Sean Connery in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

And if you think you can handle the cognitive dissonance of something that makes those audio-visual catastrophes seem like Mario Lanza, sit down for a few minutes with William Shatner's Rocket Man. Just thinking about it, words fail....

Instead of your Frost/Nixon project, how about a mime production of Nixon in China? Performed in text messages.

Better still, a sitcom of M Butterfly. With Jerry Mathers as the (faux) Beaver.

D. McEwan said...

"Jerry Mathers as the (faux) Beaver."

So funny. Made me laugh hard.

However, I still have a DVD of DARBY O'GILL, and there is nothing wrong with Sir Sean's singing. Quite the contrary; he has a beautiful, rich, full baritone voice, not unlike Howard Keel's. Connery is a good singer, unlike Eastwood, who manages to snarl songs through gritted teeth. And HE wasn't the worst singer in PAINT YOUR WAGON. That honor goes to Lee Marvin: a deep, bass foghorn perrenially beneath the pitch.

Connery began his career in the chorus of SOUTH PACIFIC in London's West End, and you don't land work in a West End musical if you're a lousy singer. (Except in leads, of course.)

At one point, when Richard Burton fell ill or died or something, anyway he had to drop out of a revival of CAMELOT that was going to run at the Huntington Hartford in Hollywood. They had Sean Connery and Richard Harris to choose from for a replacement, and they took Harris, because he'd starred in the HORRIBLE movie of CAMELOT. How I wish they'd chosen Connery instead, who could have sung the songs.

jbryant said...

Two other Lee Marvin Musical Moments come to mind: "Happy Birthday" in Cat Ballou, and "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas" on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show.

The Crutnacker said...

Shatner's Rocket Man was done brilliantly by Stewie on Family Guy.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Leo Marvin said...

... and Chris Elliott on Letterman.

Check it out:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=56g2gNdWxxw

Reel Fanatic said...

Out of love for both Waters' movie and the Broadway musical, I just can't bring myself to watch this one .. Plus, John Travolta looks like a retarded burn victim (with apologies to mentally challenged people and burn victims everywhere) ..