A few weeks ago, Warner Brothers reportedly halted the progress of Jersey Boys, an acclaimed musical set to hit Hollywood sometime in the near future. While most people are wondering when progress started, it also begs the question: how bad could it have been? Aren’t musical-movies automatically good, regardless of their story? Remember My Fair Lady, by George Bernard Shaw? It follows a flower girl taken in by a wealthy linguist, who gets upset at how little he cares about her and then decides it’s okay after all.
They all sing however, so 94 per cent of reviews came back positive.
Granted, My Fair Lady had a good cast, but what about West Side Story? Whereas the lead roles in Shaw’s hit were well known – especially Audrey Hepburn – West Side Story made it on corny lip-synching, a step-by-step Shakespeare narrative (there’s a dancing pun in there), and world renown. Their lead actress, Natalie Wood, made it big off James Dean and this. According to rottentomatoes.com, 93 per cent of all reviews came back positive. Remember, there’s singing – the same singing as My Fair Lady actually, considering singer Marni Nixon dubbed over both Hepburn and Wood.
Jersey Boys is about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a late ‘50s group with a more developed back-story than West Side Story and My Fair Lady put together. Narrated by the main characters, it follows a band struggling to succeed despite being plagued by internal strife, mob bosses, and death. No linguists, and definitely no Juliet. Nothing against Shakespeare – Macbeth and Hamlet were killer stories with great characters – but Romeo and Juliet are meant to stay in Verona. Someone should go back in time and tell Baz Luhrmann.
While most characters from West Side Story have less motivation than a movie critic asked to review Paranormal Activity, Jersey Boys is focused on developing a set of believable supporting characters around Frankie Valli, a protagonist with enough depth to make you care and enough flaws to keep you interested. Apart from trying to fix the problems of everyone around him, Valli unsuccessfully tries to manage dying relationships with his girlfriend and daughter before the former leaves him and the latter overdoses. Of course he interests people.
According to Warner, there isn’t enough international appeal for Jersey Boys. This makes no sense, given that in 2012, Jersey Boys went live in New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore. In fact, since its premiere in 2004, the musical has toured the US twice, gone to the UK and Canada, and has opened in Melbourne, Sidney, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Other reports indicate that Warner was not impressed by the casting choices, though they can’t be blamed for that. Imagine John Magaro, the probable lead, taking highest billing in what looks to be an expensive production. You might know him as a guest star in Law and Order back in 2007, or as ‘Jiggy’ in its spinoff show, Conviction.
So, what makes a good musical?
Les Miserables opens on Christmas, and stars (in order) Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway. It has a classic plot, cast, and setting, all of which the makings of a great movie. Exactly what Jersey Boys lacks.
My Fair Lady and West Side Story came out in the mid-20th century, when movie musicals could have a theatrical feel to them. Today, you need a notable cast, a good director, and a guaranteed finish. The music and dancing itself is no longer enough, nor is the actual substance grounds for development. If Jersey Boys ever wants a chance to be the next best movie musical, it’ll need to do more than just walk like a man – it will have to think and talk like one, too.