PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 2-8: Movie Musicals, Musical Movies

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 2-8: Movie Musicals, Musical Movies High Fidelity, the musical adaptation of the cult Nick Hornby novel about a man-child vinyl nut with a relationship problem, was the big opening of the week. It is only the latest Broadway musical to already be known to the public as a popular movie (John Cusack starred in the successful 2000 screen adaptation), and part of a avalanche of film-into-musical adaptations that were put into development after the twin successes of The Producers and Hairspray. Those two cash cows made the movie studios sit up and take notice. Seeing that money could be made converting their old flicks into stage shows, they began rolling out titles from their catalogs.
Will Chase and Jenn Colella in High Fidelity.
Will Chase and Jenn Colella in High Fidelity. Photo by Joan Marcus

Aside from the megahit Spamalot (based on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") few of the resultant shows, however, have matched the success of The Producers or Hairspray, now running five-and-a-half years and four years on Broadway, respectively. The Wedding Singer, produced by Hairspray's Margo Lion, won't have lasted a year when it closes in a few weeks. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ran a solid two years, but without making a profit. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ran to Earth on Broadway in eight months. Disney's Tarzan was received with far less acclaim than its previous film adaptation The Lion King. Even Festen—a London hit and a rare non-musical staging of a film—made a quick exit.

One happy exception to these sad statistics is The Color Purple (yes, it was, like High Fidelity, a book before it was a movie, but it's doubtful either would have reached the stage if not for the notoriety of the screen treatment). This week the show, which was not treated kindly by critics, announced it had recouped its investment. Oprah be praised.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire penned the book, Tom Kitt did music and Amanda Green wrote lyrics for High Fidelity—each making their Broadway musical theatre writing debut. And the reception? Well, they have one thing in common with The Color Purple; the critics didn't love the show.

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That's it for musicals made from movies. Now, on to that far older genre, movies made from musicals. Four years after the success of the film version of Chicago, it looks like Hollywood has finally come up with a successful follow-up. The eagerly awaited DreamWorks/ Paramount film of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls debuted in New York City (in the starry red carpet event to be followed later by public release) Dec. 4 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, and if early reviews are any indication, it's poised to be a hit.

The cast has broad audience appeal. It includes Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, pop sensation Beyoncé Knowles, "American Idol" star Jennifer Hudson, Broadway actress and Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose, and such Hollywood stalwarts as Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover. The movie opens nationwide Christmas day, almost exactly four years after "Chicago" opened in movie houses. It shares one other important thing with "Chicago": Bill Condon. The man wrote the screenplay for both movies, and also sits in the director's chair for "Dreamgirls."

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Harley Granville-Barker's morality play, The Voysey Inheritance, in a new adaptation by David Mamet, opened Dec. 6 at Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company. Fritz Weaver starred as the head of a grand old family with some dark secrets. David Warren directed.

David Cale and Jonathan Kreisberg's play with music, Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky, charting the relationship between two country singers, also opened this week, playing Playwrights Horizons. Critics thought it gently appealing, though a bit heavy in the cliché and sentiment departments.

(Robert Simonson is Playbill.com's senior correspondent.)