Rocky: The Musical. Really?
Producer Bill Taylor says even the show's creators didn't buy the idea at first. "If you speak to all of the authors and all of the creative team, their instinctive reaction, when first hearing about Rocky becoming a musical, ranges from incredulity to plain crazy," he says.
For many years, the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood went one way: from stage to screen. But in the past couple of decades, some of the biggest Broadway hits have been adapted from films — think Hairspray or Kinky Boots. So, it's not surprising that four of the big new musicals opening this spring are based on movies.
It's not without its challenges, though. Think about it: Who but Stallone could pull off "Yo, Adrian"? Taylor says Rocky presents a kind of double-edged sword: There's a built-in audience of people who love the film, but they also have expectations.
"You have to honor, I think, the integrity of what the original film is, but not be constrained by it," Taylor explains. Still, he pretty much had to use Bill Conti's iconic theme, and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" is in there, too. But the rest of the songs are by Tony Award-winners, Lynn Ahrens and Steven Flaherty.
Can Rocky: The Musical — which turns the Winter Garden Theatre into a boxing ring — win over the film's fans? Broadway's a tough business — only one out of every four shows succeeds. So it helps if producers can present something that already has a brand attached, no matter how iconic.
Stacey Mindich says that's one reason she decided to produce the musical version of The Bridges of Madison County. "I think when you are looking at a novel that sold 50 million copies worldwide and a film that grossed, you know, $180 million — which was quite a lot for 1995 — ... that you can't say no."
The show opened in February to generally positive reviews, but even with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman and a score by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown, it's still struggling to build an audience.
The Bridges of Madison County both adheres to and diverges from the book and movie. Mindich says Norman and Brown shifted the story's emphasis for the stage.
"Their original take on this is from the woman's point-of-view, which is rather different from the experiences of reading the book or seeing the movie, because she created this story from Francesca Johnson's point of view, not Robert Kincaid's."
If one company has experience in adapting films to the stage, it's Disney — it hit pay dirt with The Lion King, but flopped with The Little Mermaid and Tarzan. The Hollywood behemoth has now turned to its 1992 animated film, Aladdin, as the source of a new stage show.
Creating flying carpets isn't too hard to do these days on Broadway, but making a blue genie who magically morphs into different shapes and sizes might prove a bit more difficult. On top of that, the character was voiced by Robin Williams.
Director Casey Nicholaw says the film only had four and a half songs — the stage version has been fleshed out with songs the original writers — Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman — wrote, but didn't make the movie. He says Disney has been very supportive of these, and other changes.
"It's their property, you know, so they're protective of it, in a good way," Nicholaw says with a laugh. "They're completely encouraging about taking it and making it theatrical, as opposed to, 'We just want to put the movie onstage.' You know? They're saying, 'let's make it theater-worthy.'"
The challenge is a little tougher when the original creator didn't want a typical Broadway musical. Letty Aronson is producing of the upcoming Broadway version of Bullets over Broadway, based on the film created by her brother, Woody Allen. "He didn't want to do it himself, but he hates to turn it over to someone," she says. "And he doesn't love the composed music. ... He likes the real music."
Aronson and co-producer Julian Schlossberg say Allen would only adapt Bullets if he could use period music from the 1920s. So instead of hiring a composer and lyricist to come up with new songs, they had to negotiate rights to old ones. It's a challenge, they say, figuring out who owns the rights and dealing with estates.
Bullets over Broadway started previews last night, but whether it — or any of these other new shows — is the one of four that succeeds is up to audiences.