The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Rate of Progress: Coming very, very soon! (What was once Act One of the play is COMPLETE as of Feb. 25! It met with collaborator approval, and we will begin work on Act Two shortly.)
Hair is one of my favorite shows ever, and it was Hair that indirectly gave me my start in the real-world entertainment industry (its original producer, Michael Butler, introduced me to my colleagues after meeting me in an online Hair discussion group). The musical that brought rock to Broadway would naturally be a force in my life as a fan of musicals. Like the authors Ragni and Rado, I had always felt the 1979 film version missed the boat on the spirit, message, and potential of the original play, and so a fan adaptation aimed at recreating the feel (and especially the text) of the play was never too far from my sights.
This has been ongoing since before the creation of the site, and was in development while my renditions of Gypsy, Jekyll, and Whistle were being created. Initially, it took a more literal approach, as documented in a (regrettably now rather infrequent) blog I kept on the development of its screenplay (one part of the writing process that I will never undertake again; it's quite impossible, for me at least, to both write a screenplay and maintain a blog accurately charting its development, the latter only making the former much harder to complete than it already is).
Friend and fellow Hair fan Renee Markowicz (alias "Renee-chan" on FanFiction.net) has been a wonderful collaborator on this project. As first collaborations go, this one couldn't be better! She's the idea woman; I'm just the guy writing it down. And I wouldn't have it any other way! A latecomer to the process, another Hair fan named Valter Alves, came in at the last minute; he liked what he saw, but brought several new ideas to the table. His suggestions were on the mark, and I have taken extra time to incorporate them. Not unlike my experience with Rent, I have also been lucky enough to be vouchsafed copies of two earlier versions of the film script, one an unused draft by Colin Higgins (Harold and Maude, 9 to 5) and one a draft closer to the film's final version by Michael Weller, who received screen credit. Both had a lot of useful ideas that were certainly worth the pinching.
A Musical Comedy
Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler, in a new version by John Caird
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman, John LaTouche, Dorothy Parker & Stephen Sondheim
Rate of Progress: Soon-ish (Last worked on it Dec. 7, 2011; hope to return to it after more progress is made on Hair)
Ever since reading about it in the Craig Zadan book Sondheim & Co., I've always been quietly fascinated by Candide. Prolonged study of the piece and its numerous versions led me to believe that after all of the fussing and scampering about on stage, pasting various versions of the score together with varying degrees of book involvement on the part of Hellman, Wheeler, and Caird, maybe film was the ideal venue to sort out the problems of Candide plot-wise, and create a version that satisfied a Hollywood audience (or at least a version that would be as satisfying to a commercial audience as one could possibly make Voltaire's satirical attacks on the Catholic Church and the bland optimism of the philosopher Leibnitz).
As a starting point, I decided that the score had to serve the plot needs of Voltaire's original novella. In assessing the three librettos (Hellman, Wheeler, and Caird), I settled on Caird's as the closest to Voltaire, and ergo my ideal launch pad for a screenplay. However, the next problem was piecing together the absurd events of Candide in a way that an audience could appreciate. It would take a very talented adaptor and director indeed to portray these events in real-time; Voltaire's novella is only 87 pages long, and every page takes us to a different country and every paragraph contains some new adventure. Picaresque and episodic are two words that describe it; sheer (brilliant) madness are two (three) more. A live-action film along the lines of Tim Burton's Big Fish would be fitting indeed; unfortunately, the show is saddled with songs, which, while they are beautiful and work onstage, would slow down the progress of such a live-action film. On the other hand, songs are endemic to the making of animation, and Disney's "new wave" in the late Eighties and early Nineties proved the animation world is ready and capable of creating cartoons on the scale of Broadway musicals, with content just as suited for adults as for children. What better way to display the absurdity and genius of Candide than through the format of Western animation? As such, while formal screenplays are often eschewed in the world of cartoons, the eventual screenplay has been designed with an animated format in mind.
Unsure where to begin, I did what every good adaptor does, and looked to see what was out there. Sure enough, another writer, Colin Cohen, had developed his own screenplay
based on the novella, at times hewing word for word (unintentionally) to Caird's version of the book, which used portions of the novel in its narration. In reading it, I felt large parts of Cohen's script were suited both to animation (spoiler alert: witness Candide's snowballing trip to Wald-berghoff-trarbdikdorff after being banished from the Baron's castle) and as a guide toward developing my own screenplay. As such, Cohen receives co-author credit on this screenplay for his valuable contributions.
In the earliest draft, some scenery and mis-en-scene has also been pulled from Hugh Wheeler's libretto. It was very cinematic, and lent itself well to the screenplay. In all reality, it's safe to say that aside from playing script editor, this script is equal parts Wheeler, Caird, and Cohen, with some editing and nips/tucks by yours truly. But it will certainly be a sight to see. Let us hope this version provides us with the best of all possible worlds for Candide!
A Musical Thriller
From a version by Christopher Bond
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Rate of Progress: Eh... soon (Last touched it Jan. 18, 2012; sooner than Candide's last progress date, but not high on my list of priorities)
This is another case not unlike Rent (finished) and Hair (above), where I felt the film missed the boat by a long shot. In this case, unlike Hair but like Rent (to the extent that Jonathan Larson's family was happy with the final product), the creator, Stephen Sondheim, loves what Tim Burton did to his baby. This is just one more instance where Mr. Sondheim and I disagree.
In his book, Finishing the Hat, Sondheim describes Sweeney as a "movie for the stage," and waxes eloquent about his love for Bernard Herrmann, which is reflected in the show's score. Listening to numbers such as "There's No Place Like London" and "By the Sea" reminds this critic, among others, of the MGM film musicals of the 1940s and 50s. To me, Sweeney has always felt like a classic chiller (a la the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, not to be confused with the musical elsewhere on this site) crossed with an MGM musical, as scored by Bernard Herrmann, a lurid Hammer film with equally terrifying and humorous elements. Burton cut the humor (and the vocal ensemble) completely.
This will be my approach, closer to the play than the final film, while incorporating the screenwriting work of John Logan (from a draft made available at Oscar consideration time by Paramount executives) and Zachary Klyle, who appears to have begun and abandoned an adaptation
of the original Christopher Bond play upon which Sondheim's musical was based. How much or how little will be derived from both remains to be seen, but I can promise that it will be truer to Sondheim and Wheeler than Logan and Burton. And to me, that's a good thing.
Tanz der Vampire
A Cult Musical
Based on a film by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach
Original German book and lyrics by Michael Kunze
Music by Jim Steinman
Rate of Progress: I'm considering going back to it (last update on this script file is Sept. 1, 2011)
At the age of 14, after being reintroduced to Jim Steinman's work following a brief encounter with Whistle Down the Wind when I was younger, I found and became obsessed with his musical about blood-suckers, Tanz der Vampire. Based on Roman Polanski's Hammer film spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers, this show had everything: wild comedy, ecstatic love duets, close encounters, unbridled dancing, bats, an entrancing, mesmerizing, extremely cool vampire, a beautiful teenage girl, an ardent and Byronic teenage boy, a rather intensely wacky vampire-killing professor, garlic, and the undead. How could any teenage boy resist?
Once I became a professional, I arranged the team for a solicited English bid on the show; after three years of work, a brilliant English translation was completed and a reading announced. Unfortunately, due to issues involving the show's rights and miscommunication with the show's creators, the reading ultimately never occurred. A lot of feelings were hurt, and I learned a hard lesson from the experience: do not announce anything until it's signed on the dotted line and ready to go, as a producer's life and career are constantly in flux.
As a fan, this was one of the first shows following Rent
that I ever tinkered with a screenplay for, and I tried many different variants: a version based entirely on an unused draft for the flop American rewrite (known colloquially -- and somewhat inaccurately -- among the show's fans as the "Chelsea script"), a version based on a combo of that draft and the German version (this was almost 200 pages in length, and totally unworkable), and several revisions of a version based closely on a fan translation
by Judi Bogus. After my own unit's version was developed, I naturally tweaked my format, essentially replacing dialogue and song blocks, snipping here, splicing there, and thinking I had arrived at a final faithful adaptation.
The problem, as my boss told me time and again, was that my work was too stagey, too static for film. I puzzled over this issue for months until I was lucky enough to obtain a copy of Polanski's shooting script for the film on which the musical was based. In the months leading up to September, off and on, I wrote in a frenzy, attempting to draw from Polanski's draft for dramatic license, and from the musical for the real meat and potatoes of the script.
I know how to do it; time just got away from me. As John Lennon famously said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Also, due to the nature of copyright, a version explicitly based on my unit's translation could not be published here, meaning I would first have to develop that version, and then recreate essentially the same script with lyrics and dialogue from another of the major "official" versions to cover my ass, which is a bit of a headache. Nonetheless, I look forward to returning to it!
Aspects of Love
A Romantic Musical
Based on the novella by David Garnett
Book by Don Black, Charles Hart & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black & Charles Hart
Rate of Progress: Development hell (I last attempted working on this in Sept. 2011; if I return to it, it'll be a long while before it gets done)
Stephen Sondheim talks in his book Finishing the Hat about never accepting work on something because it will be easy, or a quick write in order to make money. Well, no money is at stake here, but he couldn't have been more correct. I thought it would be easy to adapt Aspects of Love, because one of the most criticized elements is the recitative; my thoughts were, go back to the libretto for your mis-en-scene, turn the recitative into dialogue (bolstered by material from the original novel), leave the main numbers intact, and voila, a complicated romance that novelists like Danielle Steel or Mary Higgins Clark would die for. (Okay, maybe not die for, but sign a fraudulent check or two.)
I had the libretto open, and I obtained a copy of Garnett's novella from the library. On working my way through both with a view toward creating the dialogue from what was once recitative, and sorting out what this film was going to be like, I realized... I [expletive deleted] hate this kind of story. Everybody's [expletive deleted] somebody and it all turns into a horrific, romantic, psycho-sexual mess, involving one or two incestuous twists and turns. It's worse than your average soap opera. Furthermore, at least Dynasty did plots like this and was entertaining... Aspects of Love bored me to [expletive deleted] tears.
I know better than to hop back onto this project, having learned from experience that you simply cannot adapt something you hate, even if you know exactly what to do with it, but at the same time, the lure of easiness still tempts me with its good looks and frivolous ways. I may come back to this, but I'm praying I don't find time to.