Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 21 October 2020

(p. 1) Introduction

From Show Boat (1936) to The Sound of Music (1965) and from Grease (1978) to Chicago (2002), many of the most beloved film musicals in Hollywood history originated as Broadway shows. Yet in general, the number of screen adaptations of Broadway musicals and operettas is far greater than the number that have met with success, especially both critical and commercial success. This is all the more surprising since Hollywood tended almost (if not quite) exclusively to buy the rights to musicals that had been successful on the stage as a means of guaranteeing a profitable outcome. After all, musicals that had already enjoyed long runs and nationwide productions on the stage ought to have a readymade audience. One might also think that because the authors had puzzled over the individual challenges posed by such properties in their stage incarnations, it ought to be easier to turn them into strong film musicals. But for every West Side Story there were several Finian’s Rainbows, Man of La Manchas, and Carousels: movies that simply did not do justice to the ‘enchanted evenings’1 these works provided in their stage incarnations.

This phenomenon is at the heart of this volume and explains why, with a few exceptions, the book deals with a lot of problematic films. Rather than turning the wheel with a series of chapters on what makes the movies My Fair Lady, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music successful, I have invited twenty-five leading scholars on musicals to contribute articles on some of the deeper issues that are at the heart of Hollywood’s troubled love affair with Broadway, as well as some of the more overlooked stage-to-screen adaptations that have appeared over the last ninety years or so. Thus, instead of a comparison of the screen adaptations of Show Boat, which have been discussed in print before, the volume contains explorations of the different film versions of The Desert Song, Rio Rita, and Annie, each of which pose different questions about the nature of changing media from stage to screen. Movies such as Li’l Abner, Little Shop of Horrors, and Roberta, which may not easily fit into some of the more obvious trends in the Hollywood musical, reveal new insights into the ways in which we might think about the nature of adaptation. Chapters on how biopics and The Carol Burnett Show might be thought of as types of adaptation expand our understanding of the concept, while (p. 2) other chapters examine how stars and technology have had an impact on the ways in which musical theatre works have been transferred to the silver screen. The book’s aim, then, is not to provide an encyclopaedia of Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptations (such volumes already exist) but rather to sharpen the critical discourse on the subject and to share some of the latest scholarship on the topic from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Each of the book’s six sections deals with a broad issue or topic, starting with an introduction to the nature of adaptation. In the opening chapter, I attempt to outline some of the key trends in the history of the screen musical adaptation. Noting how Hollywood initially seemed like an exciting prospect for some of the leading Broadway writers of the 1920s and ’30s, I examine the liberal nature of most of the early stage-to-screen musicals up to On the Town (1949). In those days, Hollywood frequently retained only the title and a song or two from the Broadway shows it bought the film rights to, much to the frustration of the original composers and lyricists. But in the 1950s, a new trend saw an increasing trend from the reasonably faithful Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Kiss Me Kate (the title lost its comma in the film version of 1953) to the reverential adaptations of Oklahoma! (1955), West Side Story (1962), and My Fair Lady (1964). The mixed results of many of the other screen adaptations of the 1960s, including Paint Your Wagon and Hello, Dolly!, led to the near-collapse of the genre, with only a few successful titles such as Cabaret (1972) and Grease (1978) appearing over the next thirty years. But the release of Chicago in 2002 led to an apparent renaissance that has seen one or more screen musicals made each year since, many of which have been movie adaptations of Broadway shows (e.g., Into the Woods, 2014).

Following this, Geoffrey Block’s chapter looks at the adaptation of Jerome Kern’s Roberta from its origins as a novel into first a stage musical and then a film. Block notes that the movie Roberta provides an early and overlooked blueprint for how to adapt stage musicals into screen musicals. For example, he observes that the film achieves a manageable length while allowing audiences to hear ‘most of the score of the stage Roberta, either as a song (sometimes sung by a different character) or as generous orchestral background music,’ plus several new songs. Despite also having to accommodate the specific talents of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (thus making it a double star vehicle as well as a Broadway-Hollywood adaptation), the film’s treatment of the music adds up, in Block’s estimation, to ‘something extraordinary and may illustrate a phenomenon that would not be repeated in a film adaptation of a Broadway stage musical until Bob Fosse’s reimagining of Hal Prince’s Cabaret in 1972.’

In contrast, Raymond Knapp’s chapter looks at how several 1960s films approached the challenge of the screen adaptation, focusing in particular on how, thirty years after the stylized cinematic age of Roberta, Hollywood was turning to film’s documentary, realistic quality. In this context, the musical struggled to fit: idealistic stories such as Camelot, Finian’s Rainbow, and Man of La Mancha encountered some of what Knapp identifies as ‘the difficulties in bringing filmic reality into balance with other elements within musicals that were created with the dynamic and standards of stage-based stylization in mind.’ Contrasting several incongruities between the real and the fantastic (p. 3) in Camelot with the use of darker elements (especially through choreography) in films such as West Side Story, Knapp reveals how the 1960s screen musical adaptation addressed the age of ‘getting real’ in Hollywood.

Martha Shearer’s ensuing chapter also engages with the ways in which film and theatre offer different experiences, contrasting the movie version of On the Town (1949), which is usually praised for its location filming but criticized for its treatment of Bernstein’s score, with that of Bells Are Ringing (1960), which is praised for its retention of Judy Holliday from the Broadway production but criticized for not achieving an imaginative cinematic rendering. Shearer looks at adaptation through three different lenses: ‘how representations of the city are adapted from stage to screen, how those films themselves adapt the city, and how the transformation the city was undergoing required the adaptation of those processes of representation.’ Although location filming provided exciting opportunities for both films, the directors of both movies had to contend with the fact that New York itself was rapidly changing. Shearer reminds us that ‘at a time of New York City’s dramatic transformation, any film or play set there needed to contend with the interrelated questions of how to represent the city and how the experience of the city was changing. … Film adaptations of stage musicals used such divergent aesthetic strategies in ways that were thematically productive, as a means of tentatively, fleetingly resolving that problem. The shakiness of their resolutions indicates the genre’s increasingly apparent incompatibility with the new city, a problem more critical for film because of its direct engagement with the city through location shooting, which increased substantially in the 1960s.’

To conclude the first part of the book, Mark Eden Horowitz delves into the production of the movie adaptation of Into the Woods. Reminding us of the importance of gaining the perspectives of the production teams behind the films, Horowitz exploits interviews with composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, director Rob Marshall, screenwriter James Lapine (also the stage librettist and director), orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and musical director Paul Gemignani, most of whom were also involved in the original Broadway production, to offer insights into the process of putting the ultimate fairy tale on the big screen. The interviews reveal surprising aspects of the movie’s production, such as the fact that the songs were recorded three different ways: a full orchestra track for the singers to rehearse to, a studio recording with the singers and orchestra together, and live on-set recordings. The final soundtrack includes a mixture of these three options, providing a solution to the age-old problem of how to make singing in film musicals appear natural. Horowitz also manages to persuade the creators to disclose why some of the songs were cut, plus other intriguing and poignant insights into changes made for the film adaptation.

Part II of the book deals with politics: both film musicals that deal directly with politics and adaptations that posed political problems for the creators. Jim Lovensheimer opens with a chapter on the curiously overlooked film adaptation of Li’l Abner. Lovensheimer points out that rarely ‘has a Broadway musical been adapted for film that looked [as much] like that original stage version as the 1959 Paramount Pictures version of Li’l Abner. … The film’s sets and costumes reproduced the artificiality of the Broadway (p. 4) sets, which in turn recalled Al Capp’s imaginatively grotesque comic strip on which both were based, and the staging of the film’s musical numbers was unapologetically theatrical and presentational.’ Yet Lovensheimer also reveals that by 1959, Capp’s comic strip had ‘moved away from the overt political satire for which it had become famous.’ Thus the film contains a ‘much deeper social satire than the strip was at that time providing.’

Similarly, Andrew Buchman’s chapter, which follows, looks at the 1979 film version of the stage musical Hair (1968), which had been produced in a very different political climate. Buchman describes the film as ‘a radical rewrite’ but also regards it as ‘remain[ing] faithful to the central ideas within the 1968 Broadway show,’ even returning ‘key elements of the first Off-Broadway production, in 1967.’ Charting the musical’s journey from stage to screen in meticulous detail, Buchman reveals how changing priorities and changing media brought about important shifts in Hair as a work. In particular, the rejection of a draft screenplay by the stage version’s book writers Rado and Ragni in favour of a new text by playwright Michael Weller meant that Hair on the screen was no longer ‘a song cycle, or concept album’ but instead a completely new rendering by director Miloš Forman, who claimed to have ‘read’ ‘political or social themes already present’ in the work. In Buchman’s chapter, Hair becomes a new case study in the ‘fidelity vs. freedom’ debate on musical adaptations.

Different issues challenged the screen adaptation of Finian’s Rainbow, which was one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the 1940s but took more than twenty years to be released as a film. Using archival research, Danielle Birkett reveals the frustrated early attempts to make Finian’s into an animated film musical, partly blighted by the blacklisting of lyricist E. Y. Harburg in 1951. Ex-Disney animator John Hubley was hired to work on the film and created over 400 storyboard sketches, designs, and character drafts for the movie. By 1954, ten key songs were recorded by leading artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong; indeed, in an attempt to make the project as commercial as possible, Sinatra was assigned a part in nearly all the songs. A new prologue was added and changes were made to the story to soften its vigorous political message, but for a mixture of political and financial reasons the production was abruptly closed down; Finian’s Rainbow would not reach the screen until late the following decade.

A slightly unusual set of production circumstances is also revealed by Jonas Westover in his chapter on the movie adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors. The musical was a huge success Off-Broadway and it would have been natural to move it to a larger, Broadway theatre. But David Geffen, who had underwritten the musical’s move from its original, ninety-eight-seat Off-Off-Broadway theatre, the WPA, to the Off-Broadway Orpheum, was now working in the movie industry, developing projects for Warner Bros., thus providing lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken with the unusual opportunity to develop a film adaptation of Little Shop. As we have seen with other successful movie adaptations, the film reconciles a broad understanding of what made the show work on the stage (by not allowing the landscape of the movie to become too large) with the need to accommodate a different medium (songs were dropped and new ones added). The movie was a huge success, showing how the behind-the-scenes decision to (p. 5) move to film rather than a Broadway theatre (as happened with the Off-Broadway Hair, for example) sustained Little Shop’s commercial and critical success.

Paul Laird also delves into contextual issues in his chapter on the film version of Godspell, focusing on ‘a small religious revival in American popular culture in the early 1970s.’ Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, and Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell appeared on stage within months of one another, and Christianity appeared in other aspects of popular culture at the time, including an image of Jesus on the front of Time magazine in 1971. The producers of Godspell, however, realized that the musical was quickly at the height of its cultural moment and they decided to release it as a movie while the stage production was still in its original run in various cities, thus providing a direct competition between stage and screen versions (normally film adaptations are released after the closing of stage versions). Changes were made to the material for the film version and, like On the Town and Bells Are Ringing, there were challenges related to the location filming in New York City. Reactions to the film were polarized, but it remains an important document of ‘a time when Jesus made more than just a cameo appearance in popular culture.’

Other kinds of identity form a unifying theme of the next part of the book. Julianne Lindberg’s chapter on the liberal movie adaptation of Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey situates the musical in the context of postwar America, when traditional forms of gender and domesticity were being challenged and replaced by ‘something more sexually “progressive.”’ In the film, Joey is now a singer rather than a dancer, vulnerable rather than a heel, and he gets the girl in the end. Lindberg explores how the film’s promotion of ‘a set of emerging gender archetypes that defy traditional, middle-class, suburban constructions of masculinity and femininity’ is reflected in a new treatment of the score, which is ‘reworked, repurposed, and in some cases eviscerated in order to promote the ethos of the film.’ A good example is the film’s presentation of the song ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’ (an interpolation from Babes in Arms), which, in Sinatra’s version, ‘emphasize[s] that he is offering his body to her.’ ‘Despite the lyrics,’ Lindberg concludes, ‘it is Joey who plays the part of the “tramp.”’

Sexuality is also a topic of Hannah Robbins’s chapter on the movie Kiss Me Kate, but it is also viewed through the lens of race. Although the film seems on the surface to be a comparatively faithful adaptation of the stage musical, Robbins highlights that it betrays the Broadway material by replacing the two African American characters, Paul and Hattie, with two white characters, Paul and Suzanne. The Broadway Paul’s nondiegetic song ‘Too Darn Hot,’ which explicitly deals with male impotence during hot weather, is reassigned in the movie to Ann Miller, for whom it becomes a diegetic showcase of both her tap-dancing ability and her potent sexuality (she is heavily objectified in the number). Hattie’s ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show,’ meanwhile, is cut apart from a brief piece of orchestral underscoring. In this, the film is a problematic reflection of its time, as is the manipulation of the direction for the briefly popular 3D technology that was used during the making of the film. Robbins concludes that ‘the charisma of Sidney’s adaptation lies in the conviction of our love for the score, the strength of the central performances, and the visual character of the film rather than in its deference to the original Broadway text.’

(p. 6) Megan Woller also focuses on sexuality in the much-maligned film adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, the least popular of the team’s three 1960s film adaptations (My Fair Lady and Camelot are the others), but, in Woller’s view, ‘a fascinating adaptation study.’ Situating the movie in the sexual revolution and second-wave feminism of the 1960s, Woller examines the characterization of Elizabeth and her only song, ‘A Million Miles Away behind the Door,’ as well as her polyandrous marriage to Ben and Pardner. Woller also reflects on ‘not only how adaptations change the source but—due to changing social conventions and expectations—why they must.’ In the case of Paint Your Wagon, the film matches Lerner’s depiction of triangular relationships in My Fair Lady and Camelot; deletes Jennifer and Julio, the principal romantic couple of the stage version; omits the Mexican American perspective represented by Julio; adds the new character Pardner; and places Ben Rumson into a polyandrous relationship with Pardner and Elizabeth. Thanks to the shift from the Production Code to the Ratings System in 1968, Paint Your Wagon could portray a more liberal sexual situation than would have been the case over a decade earlier when the stage version appeared, and the screenplay exploits this possibility in a variety of ways, thereby reflecting its time.

Adaptation is considered with different meanings in Elizabeth Titrington Craft’s chapter on the musical biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. George M. Cohan was still alive when the movie about his life was made, and his influence is seen on how it depicts aspects of his life to suit his own account of it. But Craft also explores how the movie is ‘a self-reflexive backstage musical and how its attention to theatrical authenticity served to deflect scrutiny from the lack of veracity in Cohan’s biography.’ Examples include the changing of details in scenes from the stage musicals George Washington, Jr and I’d Rather Be Right to serve the movie’s hagiographic depiction of Cohan’s life, as memorably played by James Cagney. But on the whole, Craft reveals, ‘fidelity was the byword in the treatment of Cohan’s musical oeuvre and the staging of musical numbers. James Cagney also took great care to capture Cohan’s renowned, distinctive dancing style; his instructor Johnny Boyle had even performed in Cohan shows and staged dances for Cohan.’

Cliff Eisen also unmasks the mixture of the personal and the public in his chapter on Cole Porter’s list songs on stage and screen. In his private life, Porter liked to make lists of things: Eisen uncovers a list made by Porter of things he required to be provided with during the out-of-town tryout of one of his musicals, as well as requests for lists of words and ideas for songs from Can-Can. The list song is a staple of most of Porter’s shows, with key examples including ‘You’re the Top’ and ‘Let’s Do It,’ but their transposition to the screen is not always straightforward. For example, the film adaptation of Kiss Me, Kate moves ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ from a song delivered in front of the curtain to the audience in the theatre (‘literally’ a show stopper) to a song performed in an alleyway ‘to cheer up Fred.’ Eisen proposes that this contextual dramatic change from the general to the specific ‘hints at a fundamental aspect of filmed musicals that is inimical to list songs: their separateness and staticness, their drawing of attention to themselves and to words rather than, primarily, visuals or the narrative of the film, and their potential open-endedness may all work against the notion of what a film does.’

Most film musicals feature a bankable star name and the next part of the volume examines how stars act as an additional consideration when adapting musicals for the (p. 7) screen. Todd Decker opens this section with a chapter on the series of operettas made by MGM for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the 1930s and early 1940s. Describing the series as ‘a sustained exercise in nostalgia’ and ‘prestige product,’ Decker examines the films’ legacy as ‘nostalgic romantic film operettas, richly realized in visual and musical terms and shaped entirely around the two stars’ distinct voices and personas.’ The movies are marked by lavish production values and ‘the recurrent grafting onto these musical films of narrative tropes from more prestige-oriented genres, such as historical epics and period-setting melodramas.’ Regular plot devices, the use of a legitimate singing style, similar character types, approaches to key and tonality in the arrangement of the songs, the preservation of racial whiteness: the films featured consistent elements, a formula that was facilitated by a liberal approach to the source material in all but Bitter Sweet.

Susan Smith offers a complementary analysis of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in her chapter on the MGM adaptation of Brigadoon. On the stage, this musical was designed for singers, but the film version cast Kelly and Charisse, the latter replacing soprano Kathryn Grayson, who was the original choice for the character of Fiona. This necessitated enormous changes to the Broadway material, including the deletion of some of the most vocally demanding songs (‘There but for You Go I’ and ‘From This Day On’) and the reworking of ‘The Heather on the Hill’ and ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ into solos for Tommy (Kelly) rather than duets for Tommy and Fiona. Kelly’s presence also meant that he served, naturally, as the film’s choreographer, replacing Agnes de Mille, whose choreography had been one of the cornerstones of the Broadway production. Because the leads were now dancers, with additional opportunities for them to dance added to the piece, the role of Harry Beaton, which had revolved around the famous Sword Dance on the stage, was reduced and his number cut. Yet Smith also identifies benefits from the casting changes and argues that it is ‘one of MGM’s most underrated musicals, gaining tension and complexity from some of its perceived flaws.’

Coming many decades later, Alan Parker’s film version of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Evita (1996) provides a different case study of how a star’s agency can affect a film musical’s narrative. Richard J. Allen’s chapter on the movie reveals how changes made to the piece for its movie incarnation result in a change of presentation of the title character, played by Madonna. Whereas the stage show depicts Eva as a figure of ‘moral ambiguity,’ the film turns her into ‘a probably well-meaning, mostly sympathetic, inherently romantic heroine’ with a series of ‘newly created flashbacks, scenes, lyrics, and entire songs crafted for the purpose of gaining insight into and empathy for Eva.’ For example, Eva, rather than Peron’s mistress, now sings ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall,’ one of the hit songs from the score, and the ‘Waltz for Evita and Che’ is staged as a romantic duet, without conveying the cynicism of the lyrics. The addition of ‘You Must Love Me’ adds a new insight into ‘her realization that if Peron can still show her such attention and affection when she is dying and no longer of any use to him, then he must love her after all.’ In these and many other ways, Eva is humanized in a way that is not the case in the Broadway original.

My chapter on Barbra Streisand’s first three film musicals considers how her star text affects the adaptation of the three Broadway musicals on which they are based. Although (p. 8) Streisand starred in Funny Girl on the stage, the screen version made significant changes to the musical so that it could be telescoped through her perspective. Most of the other characters’ songs were cut, a ploy that was also used in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever to emphasize Streisand as the star. In both films, as well as in Hello, Dolly!, Streisand was cast opposite men with weak singing voices, empowering her performance musically in each case: a good example of how this works is in the title song of On a Clear Day, where Yves Montand performs the number complete with a simple orchestration and staging, followed by Streisand’s much grander performance. Meanwhile, in Dolly! it was necessary to make changes to the title character in order to draw attention away from the fact that Streisand was much too young for the role; thus she is depicted as a general busybody in ‘Just Leave Everything To Me,’ which replaced ‘I Put My Hand In,’ a song that focuses on Dolly as a matchmaker.

Three chapters in the next part of the book offer comparisons of multiple adaptations of a single work, demonstrating how a work can be fragmented into a web of interrelated cultural items, all of which remain related to the original in different ways. William Everett’s chapter explores the fascinating screen journey of The Desert Song (1926), the Romberg-Hammerstein operetta. Warner Bros. released no less than three full-length screen adaptations of the piece, in 1929, 1943, and 1953, and a television version was broadcast in 1955. Everett’s chapter addresses the work’s ‘shifting relationships, in terms of world politics, depictions of Otherness, and the interplay between reality and fantasy.’ The 1929 version was the ‘first full-length screen adaptation of a Broadway musical with all-synchronized sound’ and it ‘recreate[d] the theatrical original in a nascent medium.’ However, the 1943 version (a story of ‘Nazi machinations in North Africa’) was a piece of ‘home-front propaganda’ and the hero (played by Dennis Morgan) was ‘no longer a former French soldier but rather Paul Hudson, an American pianist who rides off to continue his fight for justice rather than remain with his beloved French chanteuse, Margot (Irene Manning).’ Meanwhile, the 1953 Kathryn Grayson-Gordon MacRae version combined elements of the stage musical and the 1943 movie to create a ‘Cold War’ version of the story for a new political age.

Ian Sapiro also identifies intertextual relationships between different screen adaptations of a work in his chapter on Annie. The 1982, 1999, and 2014 films not only offer different takes on the material; they also contain connections to one another as part of the influence of Annie as a larger cultural text stemming back to the 1924 comic strip. This gives rise in Sapiro’s chapter to an exploration of ‘the re-inventions of Annie rather than … pass[ing] judgement on their respective levels of commercial, cultural or musical merit.’ Sapiro observes how the 1999 Disney version is more influenced by the Broadway original than by the 1982 film, but the 2014 remake combines influences from Broadway and from the 1982 movie, including a chase through Manhattan that closely matches the climactic sequence from 1982; the 1999 version has not had an obvious influence on the 2014 movie, however. In this manner, each film’s reinventions offer ‘just enough of the original narrative and music for a new generation of viewers to recognize and accept it as “their Annie.”’

(p. 9) There are similar contrasts in the movie versions of Rio Rita that form the focus of John Graziano’s chapter. The first adaptation was released in 1929 and rereleased, due to its enormous popularity, in 1932; though largely faithful to the stage version, it contained numerous changes to the script and score, including the addition of a new number. In 1942, MGM bought the screen rights in order to readapt it into a vehicle for the celebrated comic team of Abbott and Costello. This was a much more liberal adaptation: only two of the original songs made it into the film, with a miscellany of other numbers being added, including a new song by Harburg and Arlen and a performance by Kathryn Grayson of the ‘Shadow Song’ from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah. As with The Desert Song, Nazi characters were added to the film from this era: ‘On its own patriotic terms, the 1942 version served its purpose; audiences would be entertained by the antics of its stars, but also be made aware of the secret foreign intruders who were threatening to overthrow the American way of life.’

The concluding part of the book deals with aspects of production, commerce, and technology. Tim Carter’s opening chapter deals with the problematic movie adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel from a number of perspectives, including the team’s reluctance to allow their musicals to be adapted into movies too quickly and particularly the use of the new CinemaScope 55 widescreen process for making the movie; ‘The R&H brand clearly had a role to play in the emergence of new, competing technologies,’ Carter explains. The mid-1950s saw a war of technologies between the major studios, not only because of rivalry within the industry but also because of the decline in cinema audiences caused by the rise of television. Rodgers and Hammerstein were happy to jump on the bandwagon offered by CinemaScope 55 because it also meant a roadshow release to a limited number of theatres in major cities, with longer playing time, souvenir programmes, higher admission rates, and the more proscenium-like screen proportions. Although the film was not a success, Carter’s chapter explains how technology became a huge player in the development of the screen musical in the 1950s.

By contrast, Robynn Stilwell’s chapter examines Hollywood’s great rival, television, in a study of how television adapted the Broadway musical. Rather than looking at conventional stage-to-small-screen adaptations, however, Stilwell focuses on how Carol Burnett’s TV show provided adaptations of another kind, that is, parodies of famous musicals. For example, Stilwell explains how ‘Hold Me, Hamlet’ can be read as a parody/adaptation of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, even retaining the doubling of the onstage/backstage musical format of the latter. Meanwhile, The Wiz is ‘the clearest referent’ for ‘Cinderella Gets It On.’ In Stilwell’s opinion, these Burnett shows ‘approach poesis’ because they ‘take the form of the musical, and they often do comment upon it, but they are also genuine expressions of the form and the creators’ deep love and understanding of it.’

Contemporaneous with the launch of The Carol Burnett Show was the roadshow release of the movie adaptation of Half a Sixpence. Amanda McQueen’s chapter reads it as ‘a product of its immediate industrial context’: it was one of a number of Broadway-Hollywood adaptations that were intended as part of ‘a risk-reduction strategy’; it was (p. 10) spectacular and relatively faithful to its stage version; and it had ‘an unusual and markedly contemporary visual style, akin to that found in the low-budget, youth oriented films of the Hollywood Renaissance.’ Thus, although the movie was no hit, it was not ‘a completely misguided production’: McQueen explains that instead it was intended to address the musical genre’s need to adapt to ‘a new industrial climate in order to prolong its marketability into the 1970s.’

Marketability is also the focus of Dean Adams’s chapter on The Producers and Hairspray, movies based on stage musicals that were originally based on low-budget, largely nonmusical movies. Adams compares the two movie adaptations, noting that in The Producers Susan Stroman ‘restaged her original work for film, and many of the original creative team (including costume designer William Ivey Long) reprised their Broadway visual contributions for film,’ while the producers of Hairspray ‘select[ed] Hollywood professionals instead of the original Broadway creative team to supervise the making of the film.’ In another contrast, the 2005 film of The Producers is 134 minutes long to Hairspray’s 116, and The Producers used its Broadway stars rather than using the latest Hollywood names;2 Hairspray chose movie stars. With these contrasting strategies and their relationship to the audience demographics for cinema today, it is unsurprising that Hairspray was a hit on the screen and that The Producers was a flop.

Allison Robbins’s chapter concludes the volume with a study of ‘Hollywood’s commercial approach to making musicals.’ Focusing on the 1936 movie adaptation of Anything Goes, Robbins looks at its production environment, one in which ‘interpolations were common, song sales mattered more than wit, and risqué content was frowned upon, a combination that proved deadly for Porter’s score.’ Although some of the latter’s songs were retained, the studio’s music department head Nathaniel Finston ‘assigned Leo Robin, Richard Whiting,’ and several others to write some new numbers for the film. In the context of a Hollywood in which studios capitalized on purchasing publishing companies and then copyrighting new songs by (usually, staff) Hollywood songwriters to in-house publishing firms, it is unsurprising that Robbins concludes that faithful film adaptations are ‘unlikely.’ Hollywood was ‘devoted’ to commercial music while Broadway was ‘divorced from it’; and fidelity to ‘Broadway’s canonized songwriters’ ran contrary to ‘the commercial goals of Hollywood’s tunesmiths.’ Such tensions run throughout this book and help to explain the culture behind the unsettling but fascinating phenomenon of the stage-to-screen musical adaptation.

Notes

(1.) Here, I invoke the title of Geoffrey Block’s seminal survey of the Broadway musical. Geoffrey Block, Enchanted Evenings, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

(2.) Matthew Broderick had appeared in a number of Hollywood films but his stage profile was bigger than his movie profile at this point.

Notes:

(1.) Here, I invoke the title of Geoffrey Block’s seminal survey of the Broadway musical. Geoffrey Block, Enchanted Evenings, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

(2.) Matthew Broderick had appeared in a number of Hollywood films but his stage profile was bigger than his movie profile at this point.