If it seems that there’s a musical revival going on again in the world of mainstream entertainment, you may be looking in the wrong place where you thought it would happen. While the Broadway stage is on fire again lately with original musicals and Tony-winning revivals, television is where the revival of old musical classics is getting equal attention and audiences. NBC, plus producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, seem to be creating a new powerful machine of creating top-notch revivals of classic stage musicals. And while some audiences thought this meant seeing stage versions of the movie versions, it turns out audiences are essentially seeing something new in the original stage productions.
With “Sound of Music, Live!” last year and now “Peter Pan” (plus “The Music Man”) on the future NBC agenda, the enthusiasm there leaves the movie theater screen feeling a little empty. The musical revival there went into more erratic mode ever since “Chicago” won for best picture at the Oscars in 2002. There hasn’t been one musical smash on the big screen since then, despite a number of tries. In the meantime, shows like “Glee” and “Smash” seemed to set off a more comfortable place where Generation Y can get into a musical (or at least segments of music) on their own TV screen.
This may be why Playbill was recently predicting the big screen adaptation of “Jersey Boys” is likely to come out with low box office after it releases this June. But why is that happening, especially when it seems the big-screen musical is still trying to make a comeback with other projects?
Are Musicals More Interactive Experiences?
While you can place “Frozen” in the category of big-screen musical successes, it had one element that might explain why other musicals don’t seem to do as well in movie theaters. After the initial run of “Frozen” in mainstream theaters, it ended up being turned into a sing-along version in alternative theaters while in second run. This interactive experience brought back the communal feeling musicals used to give audiences, especially in sing-along releases of “The Sound of Music” that still shows up in theaters.
Families who watch “Frozen” now want to sing along loudly to “Let it Go” and all the other now iconic songs in the movie. At home on Blu-ray, just about every family with kids are doing that on a daily basis for likely time indefinite. If it played again in mainstream theaters, it might be more challenging since not every audience member is going to love having others sing around them.
It might not be much different with live-action musicals such as “Jersey Boys.” When everyone hears those familiar Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons songs, the tendency to want to sing along is almost by instinct. After all, those songs have been assimilated as much as a Beatles or Beach Boys song has by several generations. So when “Jersey Boys” plays in movie theaters, audiences may feel restrictive in not wanting to turn it into a near interactive experience.
Don’t be surprised to see “Jersey Boys” do better on Blu-ray when it hits there later in the year. In fact, it’s surprising director Clint Eastwood didn’t just make a deal to have the movie play on cable or even network TV where it likely would have been a ratings bonanza. Regardless, because Eastwood is a real stickler for the cinema experience, it seems to explain away why he needed to make it for the big screen.
If “Jersey Boys” doesn’t do well, what does it spell out for the big screen musical? We still have yet to see the movie adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” that’s going to release later this year. Other movie musicals are still being rumored to be on the agenda, though audiences just don’t seem to want to sit idly in their seats anymore to watch musicals without becoming a part of it. TV now allows this in the privacy of everyone’s living room, plus the immediacy and excitement of being live like a real Broadway show. With NBC starting this, Fox is soon going to copy it with their upcoming revival of “Grease.”
Nobody seems to mind this TV renaissance is all about classic musicals everyone remembers. It brings a family experience to musicals where everyone now watches something at the same time together for perhaps the only time of the year. Also, it brings on a few endorphins in everyone rather than feeling shocked and depressed after watching yet another compelling cable or network drama.