We think some of the hit plays and musicals of the 2016-2017 Broadway season are well-suited for the big screen.
The 71st Annual Tony Awards happened this past Sunday, recognizing the best plays and musicals from the past year. Why are we, a film site, paying it notice? Well, stage and screen have always had a tight relationship. The former art form has been sourced for the latter since the very beginning of cinema.
And big names in Hollywood frequently trek east to star in Broadway productions. Also, Kevin Spacey hosted the Tonys this year (and has won a Tony Award, himself), while cinema heavyweights Cate Blanchett, Kevin Kline, Chris Cooper, Danny DeVito, Laura Linney, and Sally Field were among those nominated in the acting categories.
Then there is the frequency of late of non-musical films being adapted into stage musicals. This year, Tim Minchin’s adaptation of “Groundhog Day” was up for Best Musical. Two other film-to-stage productions, “Holiday Inn” and “Anastasia,” were nominated in technical categories. Sometimes those reworked stories even return to the big screen in their new form.
Among all the great shows the Tonys lauded on Sunday, as well as those nominees that went home empty-handed, we see plenty of fresh pickings for potential movies (excluding those, including “The Front Page,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “The Little Foxes,” that have already gone to the cinema before).
Here’s what we think Hollywood should be optioning:
(Winner of Best Direction and Best Lighting Design; Nominated for Best Play)
Paula Vogel’s play — an “evanescent shimmer of a show,” raves Deadline — tells a what-if account of a 1920s Broadway scandal and the play that caused it (Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance”). “Indecent” has been called “haunting” and “lyrical.” The production’s “dreamlike” scenes are a meta-textual approach to the importance of art and its artist, with Asch himself appearing as a pivotal character. Stage actors take on multiple roles in a narrative that skips decades. The play’s themes of persecution and resilience remain exceedingly relevant and timeless through its plot, stage design, and direction.
“Indecent” has all the fixings of an indie darling. Its storyline is reckless, sensual, and thought-provoking while the reportedly meticulous stage direction would undoubtedly deliver onscreen with the right cinematographer. The opportunity to tackle several roles would surely attract many a Hollywood heavyweight, as well.
(Nominated for Best Play and, taking two slots, Best Performance by a Featured Actress)
Speaking of timeliness, one play in this year’s list of nominees seems to have captured the unrest and anger in working class America like no other. The New York Times calls Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” the first work by a major American playwright to address the country’s political climate in the wake of the 2016 presidential election “with empathy and without judgment.”
Set in a bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, the play explores mundanity and the routine in the lives of workers in a factory town. Townspeople convene in the local bar, which they consider a second home, and that’s where all of the action of the play occurs. The narrative takes place in 2008 and flashes back to 2000, worth noting for its modern political consciousness. It highlights socioeconomic struggles and anxieties in all the bar’s patrons and creates an elusive yet explosive piece.
Basically, it would be perfect for any director with a commitment to realism, someone like Kelly Reichhart, Andrea Arnold, or Jeff Nichols. I could definitely see Michael Shannon as Stan the bartender.
(Winner of Best Revival; Nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actor, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Direction)
August Wilson’s “Jitney” finally had its Broadway premiere just this year (it’s played elsewhere in other forms since 1982). Starring Moonlight’s Andre Holland, the ensemble play is the first of Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” — an anthology of stories mostly set in a mythologized version of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. “Jitney” depicts townspeople navigating family drama and tensions in a worn-down station for unlicensed cabs in the African-American neighborhood. Drivers and non-drivers alike are “sharply observed characters who don’t immediately reveal themselves to the naked eye,” according to Variety’s review.
There is a market for screen adaptations of Wilson’s plays, especially after the success of Denzel Washington’s Fences. That particular adaptation gave Viola Davis a clean sweep of Best Supporting Actress awards left, right, and centre last year. Beyond that, Wilson’s voice remains important and resounding in creating multiplicity disguised in the mundane. “Jitney” is a raw, character-driven piece that describes socioeconomic unrest and hardship. But it also happens to be lively, affirming and defiant, celebrating black lives as a potential canvas for heroism.
Nine characters with different intersecting interpersonal relationships is a lot for one film. But someone with the right kinetic energy (Ryan Coogler?) could make it dynamic and iconic while retaining its cultural significance.
“Come from Away”
(Winner of Best Direction; Nominated for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Lighting Design, and Best Cinematography)
This musical sounds like it’s the closest thing to unadulterated love and empathy wrapped up in song and dance, and it’s based on a true story. Set a week after 9/11, “Come from Away” follows the passengers of 38 planes that were ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland. Residents of Gander are immediately committed to helping some 7000 stranded passengers, taking them into their homes and clothing and feeding them. From there, kinship and camaraderie prove to pull people through the worst of times. It’s earnest at its core while retaining a culturally relevant message of acceptance.
It’s a fascinating blend of its sobering real-life implications and unflinching goodness regardless. It might be way too idealistic for some, but it embodies the idea, in the purest sense of the phrase, that not all heroes wear capes. Patty Jenkins would be a great choice of director here, mostly because we know she can craft a vibrant, emotionally nuanced superhero film but also for her wonderful comments about the beauty of sincerity.
(Nominated for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Scenic Design, Best Direction, and Best Choreography)
This started out as a film, but we wouldn’t say no to a musical remake of Groundhog Day. A weatherman finds himself stuck in a time loop while covering an annual Groundhog Day event. He engages in outrageous shenanigans upon finding out he seemingly has all the time in the world before coming to some sobering conclusions after the repetitions go too far.
There’s nothing particularly feel-good about the plot. Phil Connors has to recognize that a penchant for hedonism and wrongdoing reaps no benefits. But it is candidly and cleverly critiqued by Minchin’s hilariously witty musical stylings accompanied by original scribe Danny Rubin’s book. Much praise has also gone towards its star Andy Karl, as well.
There certainly is a need to strike a balance with a character like Phil Connors lest he becomes a truly irredeemable jerk. We know the story with Bill Murray in the role, and while it would be a huge undertaking to fill his shoes, the promise of “eclectic” music brings an undeniable freshness to a potential film remake either way.
“Dear Evan Hansen”
(Winner of Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor, Best Performance by a Featured Actress, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Orchestrations; Nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actor, Best Lighting Design, and Best Direction)
Pasek & Paul’s coming-of-age musical took home six Tonys on Sunday, so of course, it must be included. The titular character is a socially anxious high school senior who accidentally finds fame after a classmate commits suicide and Hansen is mistaken for a close friend. Turmoil ensues as he fabricates a fictional friendship to keep his newfound popularity, all the while knowing it is the wrong thing to do. Despite this initial premise, there is an inkling of hope in “Dear Evan Hansen,” wherein its suffering, needy protagonist is affirmed by the end. Critics have applauded it for its sensitive portrayals of tragedy, and it has become a smash hit.
Inevitably, the show’s lead actor is fundamentally important in a production starring someone so maladjusted, almost more so than most. Much like “Groundhog Day,” “Dear Evan Hansen” is singularly focused on its protagonist, whose internal and external selves attempt to become a logical, likable whole. No fan casts here beyond the fact that Ben Platt seems to be doing something right to be praised so heavily by fans and critics and win the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical.
There may be no shortage of coming-of-age stories in Hollywood, but “Dear Evan Hansen” would definitely add a vector of empathy to the numerous portrayals of mental health out there.
In the Works
Hollywood is actually already ahead of the game with two productions, one based on a new play and the other a long-anticipated adaptation of a 28-year-old musical. They are:
(Winner of Best Play; Nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actor, Best Performance by a Leading Actress, Best Performance by a Featured Actor, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Direction)
J.T. Rogers’ political thriller about the 1990 Israel-Palestine Peace Accords in Oslo took home the Tony for Best Play, and soon it will be hitting the big screen. The Hollywood Reporter announced last year that “Oslo” would be adapted by its original stage team, with Rogers himself penning the script and Bartlett Sher (who was nominated Sunday) directing. “Oslo” was initially conceptualized as a movie before finding its home in the theater anyway. Rogers reportedly has a broader vision of the story beyond the negotiation-room scenes portrayed in the play, particularly when it comes to historically contextualizing its events. Marc Platt (Nine, Into the Woods) is producing.
(Nominated for Best Revival and Best Performance by a Leading Actress)
There have been talks to adapt Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Miss Saigon” for the screen from as early as 2009. Since then, the potential project has experienced varying levels of interest from directors. The success of Tom Hooper’s 2012 Les Misérables movie would have ideally kickstarted production of a “Miss Saigon” film, and Lee Daniels was reportedly keen to adapting the Vietnam War-set musical drama back then. However, that didn’t happen and the project resurfaced last year with Danny Boyle was in talks to direct. Perhaps the new revival’s Tony nominations will help pull it out of development hell once and for all.