'It's a Wonderful Life' to be given the 'Jerry Springer' treatment

It is regularly voted one of the world's favourite films and was number four in Channel 4's poll of tear-jerkers last weekend, with its heart-warming story of a good-hearted man who is saved at a moment of crisis by the community he has selflessly served.

It is regularly voted one of the world's favourite films and was number four in Channel 4's poll of tear-jerkers last weekend, with its heart-warming story of a good-hearted man who is saved at a moment of crisis by the community he has selflessly served.

Now It's a Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra movie starring James Stewart, is being turned into a £7m West End musical by Jon Thoday, the producer behind Jerry Springer - The Opera, and Steve Brown, the writer of the award-winning musical, Spend Spend Spend.

There is as yet no cast, no theatre and no opening date for the venture. But since the two men dreamt up the idea 19 years ago and spent years battling for the rights to put the story on the stage, they are intent on getting it right.

The first major step forward to a premiere came yesterday when, after just a week of rehearsals, a cast of two dozen singers staged a workshop of the music in London for a select audience of theatre owners, potential investors and friends such as the comedian Harry Hill.

Asked afterwards whether he thought he had a West End hit on his hands, Mr Brown said: "I just wish there was another word for 'West End hit'. But I do think we have a show that a lot of people will want to go and see for a long period of time. [Even now] I don't think there are any glaring mistakes."

The idea came to them in 1986, before Mr Thoday had founded Avalon, the comedy management company that made his name. He was encouraged to see a musical based on the 1960 film, Elmer Gantry, written by Mr Brown for the Chichester Festival. "I really loved it and it got really good reviews and I thought maybe we could do this in the West End. This was when I was trying to be a theatre producer," Mr Thoday said.

The plans foundered because of problems with the rights, so they began casting for a similar subject and struck upon the 1946 Capra movie, which was itself based on a short story, The Greatest Gift by Philip van Doren Stern. "At that time I was 25 and no one would sell me the rights, but I carried on over the years," Mr Thoday said. "Then Steve wrote Spend Spend Spend which won awards, and once that happened, things started to free up."

Spend Spend Spend, the true story of Viv Nicholson, a pools winner, opened in 1999. It won two Olivier awards and the Evening Standard award for best musical. Stephen Sondheim expressed his admiration for the work.

With greater clout than before, Mr Thoday bought the rights to The Greatest Gift from Van Doren Stern's family, to make it impossible for anyone else to write the musical, and mounted another bid for the film rights so they could use the title. The film rights, which were owned at one stage by the television mogul Aaron Spelling, were now in the hands of Paramount which agreed to hand them over five years ago.

Over the past couple of years, the musical has come to life in the hands of Mr Brown working with the librettist, Matthew Francis. Earlier drafts were performed by students in workshops last summer before its unveiling to the small, select audience yesterday.

The reaction seemed largely favourable, although as one member of the audience pointed out privately, it was a story that could scarcely fail. "[The film] is such a brand," he said.

The aim is to stage the work as a full-scale blockbuster show, even including the swimming pool into which the hero, George Bailey, and his future wife, Mary, fall during a dance.

"It will be a huge show," Mr Thoday said. "This is just the beginning of raising the money, though people seem very excited about it. But we need to make sure the show is right first. If a show is good, it ought to work just sung through. If you go and see Oklahoma! sung by amateurs, it's still a good show."

Although It's a Wonderful Life is much-loved, Mr Thoday feels sure it will provoke nothing like the ire and controversy that surrounded Jerry Springer. "There's not a single swear word and it won't upset anybody. It's got a fan base but people will be wondering how it might be as a musical," he said.

It will be hard to shake off the shadow of the original. Paul Thornley, the actor who took the lead role of George Bailey in yesterday's workshop, admitted that when he told his friends what he was doing this week, they all asked "Are you Jimmy Stewart?". But he said: "It's something new that serves the original story well."


Saturday Night Fever

The movie (1977) made John Travolta a star but soon seemed horribly out of fashion. The soundtrackfound a new home two years ago in a stage musical. It is now back in the West End after a popular UK tour.


It was a film (1980) that became a television series before being a stage musical which has run in the West End for a decade.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Originally a musical film (1968) based on the Ian Fleming story. Adrian Noble, who took a sabbatical from the Royal Shakespeare Company to direct the London stage version, garnered glowing reviews.

The Producers

The Mel Brooks film (1968) was a huge success when adapted as a Broadway musical. The show has had a similar reception in London.

The Lion King

Many thought Disney mad when itput its animated story (1994) of African animals onthe stage. But it was a success on Broadway in 1997, and later in London.

The Full Monty

The film (1997) of unemployed strippers was a surprise world hitand was turned into a highly acclaimed musical in the US. The London transfer was less successful.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London