All the world is a stage. But what is on that stage these days, at least when it comes to the Great White Way, is increasingly likely to be either based on a movie, boast a movie star as the headliner or both.
“The Audience” recently opened on Broadway to solid reviews as Helen Mirren once again stepping into the sensible shoes of Elizabeth II, the role that won her a 2006 Oscar in “The Queen,” which was also written by Peter Morgan. Directed by Stephen Daldry (“The Hours” and “Billy Elliot,” both the film and musical), the play offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on Her Majesty’s private meetings with a parade of prime ministers through the years.
April 2, David Hare’s “Skylight” – also directed by Daldry — officially arrives with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy as reconnected former lovers (bonus: Mulligan actually makes spaghetti bolognese onstage during each performance).
And next Wednesday brings the glossy musical “Gigi,” the story of a young Parisian girl being groomed to be a high-society courtesan based on Lerner & Loewe’s best-picture Oscar winner from 1958. The stage version, which originally flopped as a Broadway production in 1973, stars Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) in the role made famous on the big screen by Leslie Caron.
The reason behind the growing trend of screen-to-stage transformations? As the song goes in “Cabaret,” which most recently featured Emma Stone in her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles, money makes the world go round. And built-in familiarity, especially in the form of casting a popular celebrity or repurposing a successful movie, ensures even more cash in the ticket-sales coffers,
What does such exposure provide Hollywood types such as Stone or Bradley Cooper, who earned acclaim in a recent revival of “The Elephant Man”? Prestige, for one. But also consider that Stone joined the now-closed production in the midst of Oscar season when the “Birdman” star competed in the supporting-actress category. And Cooper, whose play also just closed, similarly was in the running for an Academy Award as best actor for his work in “American Sniper.” Coincidence? We think not since any positive publicity is valuable no matter what the source when trophies are involved
Also probably not a coincidence: Mirren, Mulligan and Nighy all have current or upcoming films at the multiplex. Nighy is part of the ensemble of “The Second Best Marigold Hotel,” Mirren’s “Woman in Gold” opened this week and Mulligan is the main attraction in the romantic period piece “Far From the Madding Crowd,” due May 1. Treading the boards on a regular basis is just another way to raise their profiles and draw new fans.
With jukebox musicals losing their luster as a novelty, it looks as if the Broadway-ification of movies is a fertile growth industry. Meanwhile, film studios are relying more and more on branding and synergy to make sure their bottom lines remain robust. And theater is becoming a bigger part of that financial equation.
Disney has been turning its lucrative animated features into stage spectacles for years, starting with 1994’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Now, “Beauty and the Beast” is coming back to the big screen in 2017 as a live-action musical with Emma Watson of “Harry Potter” fame as Belle.
Warner Bros., MGM, Sony and Universal are all players in the Broadway game to varying degrees. Twentieth-Century Fox – whose 1997 Searchlight title, “The Full Monty,” was a smash onstage in 2000 — got serious about getting into live-theater productions in 2013 by recruiting producer Kevin McCollum (“Rent,” “Avenue Q”). His task: Turning suitable Fox films whose titles range from Shirley Temple musicals to the “Ice Age” animated franchise to “Moulin Rouge!,” into theater-worthy vehicles.
Which is why composer Alan Menken, known for re-imaging his Disney animated efforts for the stage including the current “Aladdin,” has been tasked with working his magic on a musical interpretation of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” based on Fox’s 1993 Robin Williams comedy classic.
And while The Weinstein Company has been involved with stage shows before, the upcoming musical “Finding Neverland” — the 2004 Oscar-nominated film that told the backstory of how J.M. Barrie came to create his play “Peter Pan” — marks the first time that studio honcho Harvey Weinstein is the lead producer. Opening April 15, the production stars Broadway veteran Matthew Morrison of TV’s “Glee” as Barrie (played by Johnny Depp onscreen) and Kelsey Grammer in the dual role of Barrie’s theatrical producer and Capt. Hook.
And that’s not all folks. Playbill’s roster of upcoming shows is looking more and more like a movie marquee, considering how many recognizable Tinseltown titles and names are featured. Upcoming shows with Hollywood connections include:
”An American in Paris” (opening April 12) – Based on the 1951 best-picture Oscar winner that starred Gene Kelly as a World War II vet starting anew in the City of Lights and featuring George Gershwin tunes.
”The King and I” (opening April 16) – This revival of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical features Ken Watanabe (supporting Oscar nominee for 2003’s “The Last Samurai”) in his Broadway debut as the imperious King of Siam (Yul Brynner’s breakout role on stage and screen) who meets his match in Anna Leonowens, his children’s strong-willed British governess (Broadway fave Kelli O’Hara).
“Doctor Zhivago” (opening April 21) – A musical version of David Lean’s 1965 epic romance set against the backdrop of Russia’s Bolshievik Revolution and based on Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize-winning novel. Directed by Des McNuff (“Jersey Boys”).
”An Act of God” (opening May 5) – Jim Parsons of TV’s “The Big Bang Theory” and currently providing the voice of an alien in the animated feature “Home” returns to Broadway (he was last seen in a 2012 revival of “Harvey”) a bigger star than ever as the Almighty in this one-man show.
“Old Times” (October 6) — The Roundabout Theatre Company revives Harold Pinter’s three-character play with Kelly Reilly, Eve Best and Clive Owen.
“Therese Raquin” (opening Oct. 29) – Keira Knightley makes her Broadway debut as the adulterous title character in a new adaptation based on Emile Zola’s 19th century novel and play.
”China Doll” (opening fall 2015) – Al Pacino returns to Broadway in a two-character play that David Mamet wrote specifically for the star. In their fifth collaboration together, including the 1992 film version of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and HBO’s 2013 Phil Spector bio, the actor plays a retiring billionaire whose life is changed when he takes a phone call.
”Misery” (opening fall 2015) – Bruce Willis makes his Broadway debut as the unlucky writer held captive by a crazed fan in this adaptation of the 1990 movie thriller, based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel, that starred James Caan and won Kathy Bates an Oscar.
”School of Rock – The Musical” (opening Nov. 2) – Andrew Lloyd Webber steps outside of his comfort zone with this stage version of the 2003 Jack Black comedy about an aspiring rock star who pretends to be a substitute at an elementary school and ends up recruiting his students for a band. Adapted by Julian Fellowes (TV’s “Downton Abbey”).
”The Color Purple” (opening Dec. 3) – Jennifer Hudson, Oscar winner for the 2006 movie musical “Dreamgirls,” will step onto the Broadway stage for the first time as blues singer Shug Avery in a revival of the musical based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel.
”The First Wives Club” (target opening 2015-16) – Three middle-age college friends whose heartless husbands have tossed aside for younger women band together to seek revenge. Based on the hit 1996 comedy film that starred Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn.
“Groundhog Day” (bowing spring 2017) — The 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell is becoming a Broadway musical from the “Matilda” team: composer-lyricist Tim Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darlin and costume designer Rob Howell. The film’s co-writer Danny Rubin will write the book. Scott Rudin and Columbia Stage Live are producers.