Okay all you young hot shots. It’s time to pitch your next project to the same old unimpressed suits. Sure, you’ve got a half-completed script by some wannabe indie icon who used to be stripper but now supports liberal causes while continuing to cook up more mindless pop culture reference strewn dialogue. There’s also that lame J-Horror remake you’ve been mulling over. The scary movie ship may have already sailed (guess that ‘gorno’ project is out as well), but there’s probably some gullible teens left out there willing to give more of their disposable text messaging money. A-listers aren’t returning your calls, and the current controversies like the War in Iraq and Britney’s battle with media mental illness have proven to be box office poison. So what do you do? How do you get your foot in the door and your lips locked on some studio’s keister before they claim you’re washed up and should be scripting reality TV instead?
Here’s an idea - ROCK IT! That’s right, the big screen musical is still reestablishing its must-see legs, and if you can’t find the perfect guitar-oriented project among the current crop of smelly greasepaint and roaring crowds, perhaps a look back at theater’s sketchy past might help. There are lots of undiscovered prospects among the Andrew Lloyd Webber revivals and jukebox jive of the Footloose/Xanadu zeitgeist. Since SE&L is never one to close its eyes toward any entertainment possibility, we gladly submit the following six shows for your consideration. Some were minor hits. Most were outright flops. But what’s clear about each and every one is that they were way before their time - and one or two may still be waiting for said era to finally arrive. Yet with the right approach, and the proper salesmanship, you’ll be rolling in development dough in no time. And don’t forget our finder’s fee. In this business, nothing is free.
The Lieutenant (1975)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Gene Curty, Nitra Scharfman and Chuck Strand
The Pitch: It’s Stephen Sondheim meets the Seventh Circle of Hell!
What better way to set tongues wagging and critics complaining than this, an actual opera (meaning no linking dialogue) centering on the horrendous events of the 1968 My Lai Massacre. That’s right, the forward thinking efforts of these first (and last) time musical makers believed that ‘70s audiences were ready for a show featuring the senseless slaughter of hundreds of Vietnamese women and children, all set within the infamous trial of Lieutenant William Calley and 13 other officers. With song titles such as “Kill”, “Something’s Gone Wrong”, and “The Conscious of a Nation”, this was some high minded stuff, especially for a public still reeling from Watergate and the generational divide the war created. Opening and closing in a record eight days (after nine performances and seven previews), now may be right for such a revisionist work. If Sweeny Todd can heartlessly slit throats while singing, why can’t misguided US troops mow down innocent civilians while carelessly crooning? Seems reasonable enough.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jon English
The Pitch: It’s 300 meshed with Les Miserables!
It started off as a joke. Back in 1982, English was writing songs for his 12th album, Some People. Inspired by the mythical legends of the Trojan War (and the recent Ultravox hit “Vienna”), the musician decided, on a lark, to write a tune for the hero of the classic Greek tales. When DJs played the song however, they misinterpreted it as a shout out to the famous French capital. Thus began a long gestation that saw English finally finish his epic exercise, record a star studded soundtrack album (including contributions from the London Symphony Orchestra) and chalk up some impressive sales. Warner Brothers dropped the CD from its catalog, anyway. Several stagings in Australia later, and Paris now seems poised to be a lost genre gem. Just imagine Zak Snyder revisiting his Spring 2007 success with Gerard Butler back as the title character (he was the Phantom in the film version, you know) and it’s a possible muscle musical extravaganza.
Music by Galt MacDermot, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni
Pitch: It’s the Book of Genesis jerryrigged into a Peace and Love paradigm - Kerouac style?
Conceived as a major multimedia presentation and featuring the work of Hair pair MacDermot and Ragni, this story of the road trip journeys of the title Everyman was highly anticipated by New York elitists. After all, while it seems dated and quite dopey today, the duo’s previous effort (with help from James Rado) was the seismic shock the staid Broadway musical had desperately needed. But from the very logistical foundations of the show (once described as a ‘circus taking place in a primeval forest’) to the disastrous previews, the ‘happening’ was constantly taken off the boards and reworked - unsuccessfully, one might add. It ran for only 16 performances. While not as lambasted as MacDermot’s folly of a follow-up (a futuristic mess entitled Via Galactica) it’s clear that Ragni’s approach was too technologically sophisticated for an 8-track and analog mentality. Thanks to our newfound addiction to the digital domain, this could be resurrected as the late author/composer intended.
Book by Lawrence D. Cohen, Lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and Music by Michael Gore
Pitch: It’s the Hairspray of Horror!
It remains one of the most notorious flops in the annals of Broadway, a show so misguided that a cult of devotees practically sprang up somewhere around Act II. Adapting Stephen King’s novel about an outcast teenager with telekinetic powers is not the worst idea for a major musical, but the interpretative approach seemed antithetical to what late ‘80s audiences wanted. After all, they were lining up in droves to see people dressed like cats! The cast contained some stage powerhouses, with Betty Buckley prominent as the religious fanatic mother of the title character, and Debbie Allen handled the complicated choreography. But for many in the audience for the five total performances, the leap of logic - and faith - required to accept the onstage situations was just too great. Yet as Marc Shaiman has shown, it’s possible to take a straight film, rework it for song and dance, and then bring it back for another shot of cinematic glory. Maybe Pitchford and Gore can give him a ring.
Book, Lyrics, and Music by Lionel Bart
Pitch: It’s Merchant/Ivory meets All This And World War II!
His Oliver! remains one of the great stage experiences of all time, a perfect amalgamation of man, melody, and material. So when Bart decided to turn his mannered musical hall attention to one of the greatest tragedies ever to beset Britain (the Nazi bombing of London and the surrounds) it seemed like the perfect subject for the slightly insane maverick. After all, this was an award winning composer who couldn’t read music and had to whistle all his ideas to a stenographer. Taking the standard star-crossed lovers storyline (featuring two feuding families, one Jewish, one Cockney) and superimposing it onto massive stage recreations of Victoria Station, Petticoat Lane, and the Bank Underground required a great deal of that patented Bart chutzpah. While UK audiences loved it, keeping the show on the boards for 568 performances, costs and perceived American indifference toward the subject matter kept it from our shores. With its built in spectacle and Bart’s tunes, this has massive mainstream movie potential.
Kronborg: 1582/Rockabye Hamlet/ Somethin’ Rockin’ in Denmark (1976)
Book, Lyrics, and Music by Cliff Jones
Pitch: It’s the Greatest Tragedy of All Time as a Full Blown Rock Concert!
Commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (where it later appeared as part of a radio series) Cliff Jones’ cobbled together take on the archetypal melancholy Dane sounds like a Jurassic Park level horrendous idea. Yet apparently our neighbors in the Great White North just couldn’t get enough of it. After several successful stagings and tours, Broadway vet Gower Champion brought the show to a Bicentennial batty New York. Closing after only seven performances, it was clear that audiences were more interested in celebrating the USA than sitting through a baffling take on the Bard. Jones has revived the show several times, changing the title to suit the situation. With such songs as “Don’t Unmask Your Beauty to the Moon”, “He Got It in the Ear”, and “The Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Boogie”, the camp factor alone should guarantee a certain susceptible demographic. Besides, all you have to do is convince school-age adolescents that this be-bopping update will replace having to read the actual play, and they’ll line up in droves.