“Let Gloomy Gus be critical / But we’ll be Pollyannalytical.” Recognise that lyric? If you do, you’re allowed musicals specialist preening, since it was never sung. The music was by Harold Arlen, the lyric was by Ira Gershwin and it was a second refrain for Lose That Long Face, one of Judy Garland’s numbers in the second – and finest – of the four films of A Star Is Born.
Garland tells everyone to stop feeling glum: “All is stuff and nonsense / you can overcome / A long face gets you nowhere.”
For those of us marooned in the theatreless present fervently wishing for the return of musicals, it’s hard to have anything but a long face. Even those lucky enough not be directly affected by shutdown, the combination of the extended closure of Hamilton, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins and beyond and news of redundancies at Delfont Mackintosh Theatres and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd is not good.
Add to that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s disclosure that culture secretary Oliver Dowden has been considering the idea that musicals could return without singing and you have a recipe for depression. I cannot offer much in the way of what Gershwin’s lyric terms “this panacea idea” but there is some good future musical theatre news, albeit not on stage.
I’m talking big-screen. Steps may be slow and tentative but parts of the movie industry are nudging back into production. Despite the fact that – movie-wise – Cats turned out to be a dog, multiplex audiences can expect adaptations of everything from In The Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda (also set to direct a version of Jonathan ‘Rent’ Larson’s Tick, Tick... Boom!) to Porgy and Bess, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid, via Jason Robert Brown’s 13, planned versions of Wicked, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen and a Guys and Dolls remake from 20th Century Studios.
That studio should have been readying the October 23 release of its big-screen version of Sheffield Theatres’ West End hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, about a 16-year-old Sheffield boy who dreams of becoming a drag queen. But with prospects of autumn reopening currently between slim and zero, they’ve shunted the release date to January 22, 2021.
The cast includes Sarah Lancashire, Sharon Horgan, Shobna Gulati and Richard E Grant as former drag queen Loco Chanelle. The title role will be played by newcomer Max Harwood. Anyone lamenting the loss of John McCrea who created the title role and more recently appeared in the knockout BBC crime drama Giri / Haji can relax: he’s now playing the younger Loco. It’s a rarity with transfers but the film retains the majority of the original team. Jonathan Butterell directs Dan Gillespie Sells’ score and the screenplay is by the original lyricist and bookwriter Tom MacRae.
The last of these is attached to another announced transfer. The trail has gone quiet lately but MacRae was the screenwriter of the adaptation of Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Rob Ashford – director of knockout Donmar stagings of Parade, Anna Christie and A Streetcar Named Desire and choreographer of Frozen on stage – signed on to direct Glenn Close, who won her third Tony for her performance in the mid-1990s, recently returning to it for Lonny Price’s semi-staged English National Opera production.
Price began his musicals career as an actor in 1981. His show bombed, closing in two weeks. Most flops are forgotten, but this one was written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth and directed by Hal Prince. It was Merrily We Roll Along, now being filmed by Richard Linklater. As with his masterly Boyhood, the movie is being shot in real time, following its characters across almost two decades.
It won’t, therefore, be appearing soon. But screened Sondheim is becoming – if not quite commonplace – a near regular occurrence.
First up is Steven Spielberg’s revamp of West Side Story, with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, scheduled to open in the US on December 18. That said, leading man Ansel Elgort has just been hit with claims of sexual assault dating back to 2014. He has denied the charges but they may affect the release of a film about young love.
Much further off are a screen version of Follies with Dominic Cooke – director of the National Theatre revival – at the helm, and a remake of Gypsy. We were promised a version with Barbra Streisand, but given that she’s 78 and would have been playing the mother of young children, it’s perhaps a mercy that she pulled out. It’s now in the hands of writer-director Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of the TV series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Faced with these riches, I’m open to suggestions for the collective noun to describe the outbreak of musical transfers: a carousel? An encore? An encampment?