The musical Jersey Boys, with a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, documents the rise and fall of New Jersey-born 1960s pop group The Four Seasons. The sharp narrative, broken down into four “seasons” each narrated by a member of the band, illuminates many of the darker nuances of a band we only knew in song. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 2006, and is now a feature film opening June 20 directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie stays true to the Broadway legacy: Brickman and Elice wrote the screenplay, and original star John Lloyd Young reprises his Tony-winning role as Frankie Valli.
John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago gives “razzle dazzle” in abundance while slyly pointing out how it often distracts us from the truth. Directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, the 1975 original Broadway production featured Jerry Orbach as smooth crooning lawyer Billy Flynn and Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon as murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, respectively, who aspire not just to win their freedom but a place in the spotlight. Rob Marshall’s film adaptation starring Richard Gere (Billy), Catherine Zeta Jones (Velma), and Renee Zellweger (Roxie), won six Oscars including Best Picture in 2003. The long-running 1996 revival is currently at the Ambassador Theatre.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the revolution has never been so catchy. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s songs roll off the tongue and have long been the anthems of Broadway lovers. The extremely popular show drew the attention of The King’s Speechdirector Tim Hopper, who mounted an all-star film adaptation with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway in 2012. Much was made of the fact that the actors all sang live (versus in the studio with the performance dubbed in editing), keeping true to the musical vibe. The movie won three Oscars (including one for Hathaway as the doomed Fantine).
Rock of Ages
This heavy-metal musical is a valentine to all-things ‘80s and the dreams of future rock stars who take the midnight train going — well, usually to California. Featuring songs by Styx, Journey and Bon Jovi sung by Broadway powerhouses has proven to be a successful formula since the show opened in April 2009. Adam Shankman (Glee, Hairspray) directed the 2012 movie adaptation, which starred Diego Boneta and Dancing with the Stars’ Julianne Hough as the central couple chasing their dreams on the L.A. rock scene, as well as big names like Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Bryan Cranston. Plus, Tom Cruise took a turn as mega-star Stacee Jax. Though the movie didn’t earn Oscar nominations like many others on this list, it was guilty pleasure fun, just like the musical itself.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Before he directed The Graduate, legendary director Mike Nichols made his feature directorial debut in 1966 with the film adaptation of Edward Albee’s play about marital strife. On screen the dueling married couple was played with visceral fury by real-life married Hollywood powerhouses Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who filled the mighty large shoes of theater legends Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen. Nichols’ deft direction and Haskell Wexler’s terrifyingly intimate camera work capture the vitality of the original play in a way few other movie adaptations have managed to do. The movie won five Oscars, including a Lead Actress statue for Taylor. The original staging won the 1963 Tony for Best Play. The work sees frequent Broadway stagings, including a revival in the 2012-2013 season.
August: Osage County
Opening at the Imperial Theatre in 2007, Tracy Letts’ sprawling play of family dysfunction felt like the modern answer to the great American plays of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets. The Pulitzer committee agreed, awarding the play with the awards for Drama in 2008. Balancing biting wit with wholehearted sentiment, August vividly illustrated how an average family deals with loss and estrangement while struggling for individual identity. The screen adaptation was released in December 2013, with a venerable collection of Hollywood A-listers filling the roles. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts both landed Oscar nominations as the battling mother and daughter in a cast that also included Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Rent caused nothing less than a sensation when it opened Off-Broadway in January 1996 (quickly transferring to Broadway that April). This was partly due to the sudden death of its young composer, Jonathan Larson, and the sense of urgency it gave to songs like “Seasons of Love.” The show also spoke to the world at that moment, with songs teeming with a giddy appreciation for life even as they document the AIDS epidemic that plagued a community of artists on the Lower East Side. Like August: Osage County above, the show won the Pulitzer for Drama in 1996 (a rare feat for a musical). The show also made stars out of the then-unknown cast members Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp. Christopher Columbus’ 2005 film brought them back together (despite the actors having aged nine years). They were still able to belt out the rock operas tunes with abandon, keeping the show’s pedigree intact.
When a lot of people think of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical Cabaret, they think of Liza Minnelli, who played American ex-pat singer Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film (she also won the Oscar for her role, one of the film’s eight). But the musical first existed on stage. Harold Prince’s original production appeared at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1966 and went on to play 1165 performances. Joel Grey originated the role of the Master of Ceremonies, who lures audiences into hedonistic delight, and reprised it for the film (he won the Tony and the Oscar for the role). The show was revived in 1998, with Alan Cumming as the Emcee and Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall on board as director and choreographer.
West Side Story
If there’s a musical more indelible to movie audiences than Cabaret, it’s West Side Story, the ultimate doomed love affair loosely based on Shakespeare’s original ill-fated lovers Romeo and Juliet. Jerome Robbins directed the original Broadway production, which opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1957, and co-directed (with Robert Wise) the film in 1961, which starred Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood and won ten Oscars. His choreography is so much a fabric of the story that it was not only used in both the original production and film, but has been re-created for all subsequent Broadway revivals.
Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s darkly charming musical Into the Woods, explores just how “Grimm” a fairytale can be. Many characters from classic children’s stories appear, from Little Red Riding Hood to Jack (as in Jack and the Beanstalk). The show gives a slight nod to surrealism in the second act, when the narrator dies, throwing the character’s existences into disarray. The musical premiered at the Martin Beck (renamed the Al Hirschfeld in 2003) in 1989, was revived at the Broadhurst in 2002, and most recently in a Shakespeare in the Park production in 2012. A film version is now in the can, directed by Rob Marshall and starring Jonny Depp as the Wolf, Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife, Meryl Streep as The Witch and Anna Kendrick as Cinderella.