Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What will dare to be Les Misérables II?

With all the loot generated by Les Misérables — over half a billion dollars and counting — Hollywood is sure to tackle more stage musicals.

Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 13:36


In solidly unreliable news, it has just been announced that Clint Eastwood is to direct — well, could, may, might direct — a film version of the popular stage musical Jersey Boys. What’s that? Oh, you know. Remember when you and your mum were in London a few years back and you couldn’t get tickets for Phantom or Jerusalem? They tried to fob you off with some show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Yeah, that’s the one.

Anyway, the half-story reminds us that we are about to endure one of Hollywood’s occasional spasms of interest in the movie musical. The last time this happened was in the wake of Chicago. We ended up with the useless De-Lovely, the appalling Beyond the Sea and the very disappointing The Producers.

The subsequent triumph of Mama Mia! just confused the money men. They (quite rightly) viewed its massive overseas takings as an aberration, indicating no great shift back to warbling in the cinema. The staggeringly appalling Rock of Ages — a flop as well as a critical bomb — seemed to prove the point all too powerfully. We only had room for one shout-along juke-box musical sensation.

The success of Les Misérables has, however, once again rebooted the musical machine. Nobody is foolish enough to believe that we are looking at a return to the golden era of that genre. The great, sweeping dreams of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly really did spring from a different sensibility (more naive in some ways, much more sophisticated in others). But, not for the first time, Hollywood is looking to trawl through Broadway’s back pages for pointers towards the next big aspiration that ends up spawning a tuneful flop.

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You could argue that the obvious successor to Les Misérables is Miss Saigon. Also written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the Vietnam musical did run for 10 whole years in the West End (no, really). But the obscure, not-much-loved score doesn’t even have an I Dreamed a Dream — unknown outside Les Mis fanatic circles until a few years ago, remember — lurking within its clatter of pseudo-operatic arias. Nobody hums the tunes in the shower. Nobody will go near the movie.

Two much-discussed projects, both now apparently dormant, could receive a reviving jolt to the temples. Remember that story about a new version of My Fair Lady starring Carey Mulligan and Colin Firth. That doesn’t seem completely dead in the water. A script by Emma Thompson floats in the ether. Gossip is still buzzing. It could happen.

Then there is the endless, endless talk about a fourth version of the timeless A Star is Born. This has been going on since time began. Beyoncé appeared to be attached to the thing. Clint “that man again” Eastwood was set to direct. Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Tom Cruise were all rumoured to be playing the drunk old star who inspires a new female talent. Ms Knowles recently stepped aside and Eastwood seems to be focussing on those Jersey Boys. On reflection, this looks like it will never happen. Mrs Norman Maine can stand down.

One musical that does seem to be happening is a new version of Annie starring the irrepressible Quvenzhane Wallis. A director is in place and release is set for Christmas 2014. With Jay Z and Will Smith aboard as producers, some pundits have speculated that we might end up with an all African-American cast. Either way, the project is not as bankable as it looks. It’s easy to forget that John Huston’s Annie — though now a sleepy-afternoon favourite — was eviscerated on release and was only a modest  hit at the box office.

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Stop gabbing. We know what the real Les Mis II is going to be. No, The Book of Mormon will play out on stage before making its way to film. But the very decent figures for Oz The Great and Powerful combined with that Les Misérables action surely indicate that a film of Wicked will be powering its way to us quite soon. I would say this: beware, beware the spectre of Rent (see above). If ever there were a show that demonstrated differing aesthetics on either side of the Atlantic it is that useless, pretentious take on La Boheme. The show was celebrated in Broadway and ridiculed in the West End (oh Lord, the pathetic prettification of off-the-cuff Bohemia). The subsequent film bombed.

Stephen Schwartz’s deconstruction of the Wizard of Oz also suffered from trans-Atlantic confusion. The reviews were respectable in London, but far from ecstatic. But here’s the thing. Unlike Rent, it has played and played and played. Stephen Daldry is currently attached to the film version. The director of The Hours and Billy Elliott will undoubtedly get the thing made. If it’s a flop then normal service is resumed. If it’s a hit then expect this conversation to enter one more confusing feedback loop.