Reading the Writing

Rent

AUTHOR'S COMMENT
"Like many Rentheads in 2005, I was excited to see Rent finally being turned into a movie, with most of the original Broadway cast intact, and I was optimistic about the film retaining the spirit of the play and being everything I hoped it would be. Sure, the rock opera in its original stage form was flawed (due in no small part to the death of its talented creator Jonathan Larson), but I felt that the medium of film would be the opportunity to trim the fat, and give it a more realistic sheen.

As always, Hollywood let me down. Obviously, as TV Tropes would put it, your mileage may vary, but I felt that the film didn't live up to its potential. And so, having long been dissatisfied with the Chris Columbus version, I decided to do my own adaptation. With the help of a friend on IMDb from the early days of the Rent film fandom, Christopher Lawrence, I essentially went back to the first draft of the screenplay by Stephen Chbosky (dated April 14, 2000), which was crafted for a different version entirely when Miramax owned the option on the film and Spike Lee was set to direct, and crafted a new version of the film based, with some exceptions and additions from other drafts by Columbus and independent filmmaker Glenn Ripps, on that draft. I believe it to be a very effective distillation of the show, true to its spirit, but not skirting the realities in which the material is set.

This was my first effort at fan-writing/editing, and I must say I still consider it one of my best, if only because it took minimal effort on my part (and everyone who I've given it to says they enjoy it immensely). Every writer I've ever known is inherently lazy, and I am no different. The first two pages of atmospheric introduction and technical notes, in particular, owe their progeny to Stephen Chbosky, to whom many thanks for setting the standard and the format."

To view the Rent screenplay, please click here.  The password is "rent" without quotes.

Gypsy

AUTHOR'S COMMENT
"In January 2011, the New York Post reported that Barbra Streisand was in negotiations to produce, direct and star in a new film version of Gypsy. In an interview with the New York Post, the show’s librettist, frequent director, and all-around champion Arthur Laurents said: "We've talked about it a lot, and she knows what she's doing. She has my approval." In a clarifying statement and report in the New York Times, Streisand's spokesperson confirmed that "there have been conversations." By March 12, 2011, however, it seemed the tide had turned – Frank Rizzo of courant.com reported that the film with Streisand "is not going to happen, according to... Arthur Laurents..." It later emerged, typical of Arthur (as anyone who knows him can attest), that the film's original studio, Warner Bros., did not want Arthur to have the typical creative control he demanded on his projects. In May 2011, producer Joel Silver announced that he had concluded a deal with Universal which called for the film to be "substantially similar" to the stage musical, and that Laurents had signed off on the project (confirmed by Laurents’ agent, Jonathan Lomma). Were it not for Arthur's untimely death, he would be involved with Barbra (as she stated in August 2011) in the search for "our team and a writer."

Inspired by Barbra's needs and the needs of film, I decided to write my second ever fan adaptation. I certainly think it's good enough to be made into a film. About the only criticism one can make is that it's too stagy, but any film version (be it the 1962 version with Rosalind Russell, or the 1993 TV movie with Bette Midler) is going to be somewhat stagy by virtue of the show's backstage story. With that in mind, as much of the show is largely the stage script, which plays as well on film (on paper anyway) as it would onstage, and in memory of our "dear" departed librettist of whom Mary Rodgers famously said "Call me when he's dead," my rendition is co-credited to the late Arthur Laurents (1917-2011).

I made some changes—that I feel are for the best—for my idea of the film. Would Arthur Laurents have signed off on them? Not necessarily. But then I'm not noted for caring what the dead think. They are as follows:

  • Barbra is reported to have been courting a star for Herbie (names suggested have included Tom Hanks and Hugh Jackman). As such, it was felt that Herbie’s role needed to be built up to tempt a star of their stature. With that in mind, all of the additional singing which has been given to Herbie in revivals has been incorporated, and a cut song, "Nice She Ain't," has been restored for Herbie to sing. It was only ever cut in the first place because the original Herbie felt he could not memorize the keys and staging in one week before the opening. It's a wonder it hasn't been restored before, now that they have time to incorporate it. Different placements of the number have been reported; I use lyricist Stephen Sondheim's from Finishing the Hat.
  • The "Small World"/"Momma's Talkin' Soft" quartet, cut out of town, has been restored. Not only is it a bigger singing opportunity for Herbie, but it also gives the film audience an opportunity to see just how much the two young girls comprehend their mother's conniving nature. As a bonus, the reference to the song in "Rose's Turn" no longer comes out of nowhere.
  • The "Mr. Goldstone" number (which Sondheim is on record as never having liked because it stopped being funny after the first line) has been cut, except of course for that line. With Hollywood's penchant for removing score material it deems unnecessary, and Sondheim's stated distaste for the song, it is most likely to be removed in the actual film.
  • To soothe the potential damaged ego of a star who loses a big number by giving her a number of at least equivalent value, and to avoid the repetitiveness of the "roll out a headline" vaudeville opener, the original "Madam Rose's Toreadorables" number has been removed, in favor of "Smile, Girls," which was cut out of town.
  • Finally, being able to reproduce a flashy production number on film that Laurents always (somewhat rashly, in my view) claimed could never be reproduced on stage as it had in the original production due to cost, the legendary "Stripper Christmas Tree" segment (incorporating the cut number "Three Wishes for Christmas") at Minsky's Burlesque during Louise's "strip" montage has been restored.

As with my Rent screenplay, I cannot claim credit for all of the ideas. Here, I must give due note to theater fan, critic, and historian John Ellis, who inspired me both to include the much-missed "Stripper Christmas Tree" and to make the bold step that very few directors had ever taken, transforming "Rose's Turn" into a full-fledged strip that symbolizes Rose's breakdown. Although he wrote his own detailed directions for this sequence, he forced me to fly solo. I can't promise that I would do it any better than his, but I can certainly thank him for the idea.

Hope you all enjoy my vision of a film for Gypsy!"

To view the Gypsy screenplay, please click here.  The password is "gypsy" without quotes.

Whistle Down the Wind

AUTHOR'S COMMENT
"Whistle Down the Wind was the musical that first introduced me to the work of Jim Steinman. For those of you who don't know who he is, and there are many of you, Jim Steinman is the Grammy-winning composer and producer behind such hits as "Bat Out of Hell," "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." What is little known about him, other than the fact that he exists, is that he began his career in theater, and his very successful record career was a 22-year-long sideline.

Ever since an early age, when I was exposed to Jesus Christ Superstar, I have been a fan of the musical stylings of Andrew Lloyd Webber. (To haters: go ahead, make my day.) When I was 8, his new musical, Whistle Down the Wind, was hitting the scene in the West End. From the time I read a plot description, it intrigued the hell out of me. The main plot point (no spoilers here) requires massive suspension of disbelief even in its original version (set in Yorkshire), but the Louisiana Bible Belt '59 setting added even the tiniest shred of credibility where before there existed none. When I purchased a copy of the cast recording, I fell in love with the score. It's not one of Lloyd Webber's best, but certainly not his worst; furthermore, in my subjective opinion, these are the best lyrics of Steinman's career. I think his efforts were helped in no small part by Webber's reported insistence on so-called "true rhymes" throughout, which Steinman normally eschews in his other pop and theater songwriting.

You fans of the show who have stumbled across this page will naturally have some questions.  First and foremost, you'll be asking which version was adapted for film.  In truth, I explored all three (and a half) of the major versions:  the Washington, D.C. tryout version (via a dress rehearsal video that may or may not exist courtesy of anonymous friends ), the early Aldwych version (preserved for the most part on the original cast recording), the late Aldwych version (2.5 in my book, the version that played for the vast majority of the original West End run until closing), and the Bill Kenwright version (variants of which have successfully toured the U.K. and played the West End, and less successfully toured the U.S.). The Kenwright version is decried for its massive changes to the material, including added reprises, deleted verses (and sometimes whole songs), and a new song with lyrics by Don Black known as either "The Gang" or "The Tribe," depending on which version you saw, which replaced the darker "Annie Christmas" number.

In the final analysis, after discarding several drafts which included bits pasted together from all of the variants to create a mush-mosh that seemed more promising in my head than on paper (due in no small part to my having to improvise incidents and stage directions based on synopses of the show provided on the web), a happy accident occurred. Webber's Really Useful Group, via StageaMusical.com, their official web portal for licensing Webber shows, released the rights to Whistle to amateur groups in the UK and Ireland for staging, and posted on their website a perusal copy of the vocal score.  This provided me not only with the certain knowledge that the late Aldwych version was the preferred favorite (as it is among the fans), it was the official choice.  The thorough score, with its indications of dialogue and stage directions, also provided me with a new launch pad in developing the screenplay, allowing me to breeze through the work in only a couple of days. I believe this owes itself in part to the fact that the project, long before it ever reached the stage, was initially written with cinema in mind, and much of the conventions of film remained intact both in the stage directions and in the pacing.

Aside from Gypsy, this is one of the few scripts I've done that's hewed almost word-for-word to the original play. The only major deletion was an entr'acte that was no longer necessary as the film required no intermission, and even that found its way into the film after all, as the sung verses from the entr'acte slotted easily into what was once the first act closer. The stage directions, admittedly a little bare in terms of plot, were also enhanced with a little help from the Jim Steinman website Dream Pollution, and specifically their synopsis and lyric quotes page for the show. I can't thank them enough for their help.

This one's for Jim, and for all who love a thoughtful study of childhood innocence and simple faith."

To view the Whistle screenplay, please click here.  The password is "whistle" without quotes.