Keep calm and carry on singing, Hollywood style

As in the 1930s, tough economic times mean more musicals on the cinema screen

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The Independent Culture

Blockbuster films will be alive with the sound of music, as Hollywood this year brings a bumper crop of musicals to the big screen. Studios are rushing to release titles familiar to theatre audiences – along with remakes of existing film musicals and original scripts – and A-list actors are lining up to show off their singing talents.

Industry commentators say Hollywood's renewed interest is in large part a feature of the economic downturn, when such productions historically fare well, and the fact that studios favour established brands.

The movie of Les Misérables – the world's longest-running musical – starts filming next month with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Tom Cruise tackles his first musical in June's Rock of Ages, adapted from the 1980s-themed Broadway and West End show.

Matt Weaver, producer of Rock of Ages, said Cruise – better known for action blockbusters – was "incredible". He added that although Hairspray and Mamma Mia! – the highest-grossing movie musical worldwide – had done well in recent years, it would be naive to ignore the effect of the hit TV show Glee in boosting interest in musicals. The producer said opening off-Broadway in October 2008 during one of the "darkest times" had actually helped the stage version of Rock of Ages because it was a "feel-good" show.

"Hollywood generally provided good cheer during the 1930s to an audience that really needed it, and maybe the same sort of thinking is going on," said the film critic Barry Norman.

Helen O'Hara of Empire magazine said musicals had always gone through surges and dips in popularity, but that the latest interest was part of a current general Hollywood trend for "safe havens". "They're anxious to go for recognisable brand names. The economy being what it is, the pressure's really on the studios to keep the money coming in," she said.

The West End had record sales in 2011, with £329m of the £528m taken coming from musicals. Broadway attendances and gross were up more than 5 per cent in the 2010/11 season.


Hollywood actor Will Smith is reportedly teaming up with rapper Jay-Z, who sampled the musical's tune "It's a Hard Knock Life" in one of his tracks, over plans to remake this classic. Smith's pop singer daughter Willow, who released the single "Whip My Hair", will star in the title role. Sony Pictures Entertainment is developing the film, with Smith's Overbrook Entertainment and Jay-Z producing. The 1977 musical, which had already been made into a film in 1982 (starring Aileen Quinn), is being revived on Broadway this autumn.

Les Misérables

More than 60 million people have seen the world's longest-running stage musical in 42 countries; from this December, they can watch the film. Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King's Speech, will oversee a cast including Hollywood A-listers Hugh Jackman (playing Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert) and Anne Hathaway (Fantine). The British actress Samantha Barks, who appeared in the BBC talent show I'd Do Anything and is currently starring as Nancy in Oliver! at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, will play Eponine.

Rock of Ages

Adapted from the 1980s anthems musical of the same name, currently playing in London's West End with TV presenter Justin Lee Collins and 2005 X Factor winner Shayne Ward, this Sunset Strip "rock'n'romance" is told through the hits of rock bands including Journey, Foreigner and Bon Jovi. Released in June, the star-studded cast includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, musicals regular Julianne Hough, singer Mary J Blige, Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won an Oscar in 2002 for Chicago.


This release – which would have been Whitney Houston's movie comeback – is a remake of the 1976 film of the same name inspired by the Supremes. The movie, also starring singer Cee Lo Green and former American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, follows three sisters in a singing group dealing with the consequences of fame and drugs. Forbes reports executive producer Howard Rosenman is planning to convert the film, set for release in the US in August and UK in October, into a Broadway show.

Joyful Noise

Country music legend Dolly Parton teams up with Queen Latifah, who appeared in hit Hollywood musical films Chicago and Hairspray, for this original story of arguments among a small-town choir attempting to win the National Joyful Noise Competition. The cast performs gospel, pop, country, rock and R&B songs from artists including Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, along with original tunes by Parton. The film opened in the US last month.

Dorothy of Oz

Broadway and Glee star Lea Michele voices Dorothy in this summer's animated musical based on Roger Stanton Baum's books, which continue his great-grandfather L Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dorothy returns to Kansas to find it devastated by the tornado that transported her to Oz. Bryan Adams has provided songs, with Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi and Frasier star Kelsey Grammer among the cast. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Wizard of Oz, based on the 1939 film, is playing in the West End.

Dirty Dancing

Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and so she is plotting a return to the big screen in summer 2013. Lionsgate has lined up Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the original 1987 chick flick, to direct a remake but there are no details as to who will portray the roles made famous by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Since the original film, the story has been adapted into a successful stage musical, which is currently touring the UK following a West End run.

Into the Woods

Walt Disney Studios is developing an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, which was revived at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London in 2010. James Lapine, who wrote the stage musical with Sondheim, will adapt it for the cinema, with Rob Marshall, who helmed the 2002 Oscar winner Chicago and 2009 musical film Nine, as director. The plot weaves together the plots of several favourite fairy tales into an original story about a baker and his wife trying to have a child.