OK, it’s quiz time. Nothing of much interest is going on over the next few weeks, and people are awfully tricky to track down. (I always resented the first Friday each summer when I’d open up the New York Times and find that the theatre column was on hiatus until the fall. Now I’m starting to empathize with that crew a bit.) So I thought I’d give the column over to you guys, pick your brains and see what you think about plays becoming movies and vice versa.
Some of these questions are really short, while others require a bit of explanation. Feel free to answer as many or as few as you’d like, but make sure to respond by Aug. 8 if you want to see your responses in the next column. If I get enough responses, I’ll tabulate some sort of percentages; if not, I’ll just print some of my favorite answers.
1. Name the single most egregious piece of stage-to-screen casting ever. (Examples: Peter O’Toole for Richard Kiley in “Man of La Mancha,” Michelle Pfeiffer for Kathy Bates in “Frankie and Johnny”)
2. Name the single smartest piece of stage-to-screen casting ever. (Please don’t list people who recreated their stage role.)
3. What director has moved most comfortably between the two media? 4. Do movie adaptations by definition pale in comparison to their stage antecedents? If so, why? If not, name examples.
5. Which adaptation best takes advantage of “opening up” the story for the screen?
6. What existing film could best be turned into a Broadway musical? (By no means does the original need to be a musical.)
7. What playwright or composer translates most comfortably to the screen?
8. What playwright or composer translates least comfortably to the screen?
9. Why haven’t film musicals fared well in the last several years? What will it take to get them back on track? Have the TV movie musicals of recent years (“Cinderella,” “Gypsy,” etc.) supplanted them for good? Why do they fare so much better than film musicals?
10. Does the presence of movie stars help or hinder adaptations?
11. What early (i.e., pre-Hollywood) play or musical do you most wish had been captured on film?
12. Are you tempted to clap at the end of songs in film musicals? Do you? If not, why do the directors always leave two or three seconds of silence at the end of the songs? 13. What play or musical in the last, say, 20 years is screaming out for a movie version? (Examples: Angels in America, Sweeney Todd, Metro)
13a. Who would star in this film? Who would direct it? Would the playwright or composer (if they’re still alive) have to do any rewrites?
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has already made its way to video. Actually, this isn’t the Kevin Kline-Michelle Pfeiffer debacle of a few months ago. No, this has an even better background: It stems from an acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production. Adrian Noble directs and adapts from the original; the cast may not be nearly as starry as the recent Hollywood version, but most of the leads have made it back to New York since filming this in 1996. Finbar Lynch (Not About Nightingales) plays Puck, with Alex Jennings (the RSC Hamlet at BAM) as Oberon and Lindsay Duncan (Ashes to Ashes) as Titania. This “Midsummer” was actually released in the United Kingdom previously, but here it’s a straight-to-video release, presumably to avoid being confused with the recent film.
Cutting-Room Floor: “The Iron Giant,” opening Aug. 6, may look like a fairly typical boy-meets-robot fantasy cartoon, but it has an incredible pedigree. Based on a 1968 children’s book by the late poet Ted Hughes, it spawned a rock album and subsequent London musical by none other than Pete Townshend. Townshend and Des McAnuff, his Tommy collaborator, began working on a stage adaptation before Warner Bros. secured the rights to the story. They both have producing credits on the film, although no Townshend music remains ... Several familiar faces play Watergate functionaries in the revisionist comedy “Dick,” due out Aug. 4, most notably Saul Rubinek as Henry Kissinger ... Remember to submit your quiz responses by Aug. 8.
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theater critic for Back Stage.