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« Gravity's screenplay: to nominate or not to nominate? | Main | The Wolf on Link Street »
Tuesday
Dec242013

Stage Door: Why no remake of "Oliver"?

In just one year's time the newest incarnation of Annie will be on movie screens. It'll be the third major filmed version after a handful of Broadway revivals. So why can't its boy counterpart Oliver! get any love? Both are musicals about optimistic orphans who get caught up in a web of criminal activity involving boozy lying scene-stealing adult caretakers (Miss Hannigan and Fagin). Both orphans escape the clutches of criminals to find great happiness / wealth in a proper home in time for the curtain call. The sun'll come out tomorrow, indeed.

I'm on record as being a huge fan of the much maligned Best Picture winner Oliver! (1968)  but the current stage production at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey (running through the 29th if you're interested) is unlikely to provide me with lots of new company. [more]

I'm on record as being a huge fan of Oliver!,  but the current production at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey (running through the 29th if you're interested) is unlikely to provide me with lots of new company. The production, while high spirited and not without strong moments, only points out how hard it is to get the balance right with musicals. Despite the Golden Globes annual insistence that musicals and comedies always go together, they don't. Annie is both but Oliver! is one and not the other. Some characters are "funny" but it's never a comedy. This production  leans hard into largely unfunny comic relief characters especially in the first act. The show most definitely improves as it goes (act one felt under-rehearsed to me) and the second act was strong enough that I wish it had been much longer with no act one groundwork. I mean, we all know the Charles Dickens story. Get to the good stuff! 

I feel terrible thumbs-downing a show at the Paper Mill because I wholeheartedly suggest you try out the theater. I've heard that they do Broadway calibre work the whole time I've lived in NYC but it wasn't until they invited me to a pre-Broadway run of Honeymoon in Vegas (another film-to-stage musical) a few months ago that I made the trip. That one definitely felt Broadway ready: big, expensive, high energy, Broadway ready stunt-casting (hi, Tony Danza) and elevated by a wickedly funny ensemble of skilled stage actors particularly Urinetown's Nancy Opel as a nagging Jewish mother and the single funniest non-verbal chorus girl performance I've ever seen.... oh I wish I had caught her name.

So, I urge you to try out Papermill soon (it's an easy train ride) but I'll forgive you if you skip Oliver!

Besty Morgan and Jose Llana as Nancy & Bill Sykes in "Oliver"

While Papermill's Fagin (David Garrison) is strong, I had trouble relating to their Nancy (Besty Morgan - great stage name!) who absolutely flattened one of the great ballads "As Long As He Needs Me" by singing the whole thing in full belt, missing all the emotional layers and bruised beauty of the character-reveal song in favor of displaying her very big vocal chords. Naturally the audience loved her but if I want to hear people sing loudly to impress, without considering the song, I'll just watch The Voice or American Idol or whatever singing competition is on the telly.

So I may have answered my own question about why people don't consider remaking Oliver! The song score is arguably better than Annie's but it's more depressing and if you try to make it bankable like a comedy or a vocal showcase, you're just going to ruin its delicacy. The other reason nobody talks about remaking it is surely that it's a boy musical and people will go to any lengths to convince little boys that musicals aren't for them (witness Frozen's initial insistence that it was a wacky non-musical farce about a snowman). If there's a third reason you'll surely tell me in the comments.

More Theater/Screen Stuff
Theater Mania if you haven't seen Cyndi Lauper's hit musical Kinky Boots yet (based on the draggy film starring future Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), you should probably get there quick. The original cast is about to depart. Lovely-voiced Stark Sands (the gay son in Die Mommy Die!) is leaving and so is Annaleigh Ashford who was Tony-nominated for her hilarious work as the key shoe factory girl. When I wrote about the Tony's this past summer I was raving about Ashford but somehow I hadn't made the connection that my personal bliss on the Boots stage was also on Master of Sex and I was loving her there, too. Fan for life after these two performances!
Playbill Hugh Jackman has dropped out of the new musical Houdini which had planned a Broadway run (surely around his star bankability)
Theater Mania Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie in Dreamgirls is performing at 54 Below (love that place) this weekend. She thanks YouTube for her newfound relevancy... no mention of Jennifer Hudson. 

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