Broadway battle for the soul of The Red Shoes

WHEN Jule Styne, the composer of 'Funny Girl' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', started work several years ago on a musical version of the Forties British cult film of The Red Shoes ballet, he thought of changing the title, but could not come up with anything better. Now, with the show opening on Thursday, the wags of Broadway have named it 'The Pink Slips' because so many of the principals have left, been fired or have dropped out.

Turning a popular film into a musical is a notoriously tricky act, with many recorded failures, but The Red Shoes seems to have had more than its share of upsets, even before the first night. Backstage dramas have delayed the opening for two weeks, and a modest advance ticket sale against the dollars 8m ( pounds 5.4m) investment does not bode well for this season's most expensive new Broadway show.

If the backers are nervous, fans of the 1947 film, which brought international fame to Moira Shearer, may be downright apoplectic. Almost everyone who has seen it remembers it as deeply moving.

They can quote the suave dictatorial impresario, modelled on Diaghilev, who asks the novice dancer: 'Why do you want to dance?' And they know her instant reply: 'Why do you want to live?' In the story, the impresario helps her pirouette to the top of the troupe, and she falls in love with the composer of her greatest triumph, the ballet of The Red Shoes. Torn between the demands of the obsessive impresario and her lover, she commits suicide.

Updating the film and reinterpreting the roles were bound to cause trouble. The women on the production team rejected the pathetic image of a woman so indecisive about two men that she kills herself; nor were they happy about the idea of women giving themselves entirely to art. The men on the team felt that the role of the impresario and his power struggle were more important than the plight of the poor ballerina.

As the battle was joined, the first to be dumped was the director, Susan Schulman, who, according to the word on the Great White Way, tried to revise the original from a feminist viewpoint. The males rose in revolt. She was replaced by Stanley Donen, the legendary Hollywood director of such golden oldies as Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Apparently, like other veterans in the creative team, Donen wanted to make the impresario more important than the ballerina.

As if this were not enough melodrama, there followed the demotion of the Pulitzer-winning lyricist / libretticist, Marsha Norman, in favour of Styne's old lyric-writing pal, Bob Merrill, who lives in Los Angeles. Merrill has a bad back and hates to travel, so he has never seen the show; he phones in copy like a newspaper reporter. Norman says that only one song of hers is in the final version, and her story-line has ended up 'in the sub-text'.

Three featured actors have been fired, including the male lead, Roger Rees, who was to have played the impresario. His ambiguous exit line was: 'We all care about The Red Shoes too much to make a size 11 squeeze into a size 9.'

Those still on stage or back- stage pretend to be unruffled. Styne says: 'So we brought in another lyricist. Do you know how many directors, actors and songwriters have been fired over the years from great shows and not-so-great shows. The bottom line is, do they work?'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea