Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2003 / 22 Elul, 5763

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

A good idea for a Broadway show | Way back in early July of 2001, more than two years ago, I wrote a column titled, "Sure-fire Broadway Smash." In it I made a passionate case for why I thought a new Broadway musical based on the classic Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers films would be a great idea and a guaranteed hit with today's theater audiences. Well, I guess someone was listening because it's going to happen. "Never Gonna Dance," based on the Jerome Kern Astair/Rogers movie "Swing Time" is scheduled for a Dec. 4 opening this season on Broadway. See? Someone other than my mother and wife actually reads my column!

Now, in all seriousness, I don't know if some big shot got the idea from that piece I wrote or if it's just one of those serendipitous things that happen -- several people getting the same idea at around the same time. And I don't know how long it takes for a Broadway show to get from concept stage to production stage - - they may have been working on it for five years before I even wrote the column. But I know this - it was a good idea when I suggested it two years ago, and it's an even better idea now with the recent success of the movie "Chicago" and all the buzz that musicals are finally coming back into style.

My personal Astair/Rogers selection among the RKO gems would have been "Top Hat." As I stated in my column, "It has all the right elements for a hit New York show - audience title recognition, romance, screwball mistaken-identity plot, meaty supporting characters, loads of dancing, and those great Irving Berlin songs like "Check to Check," "Isn't This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain," and "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails."

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"Swing Time" isn't a bad choice, either, especially if the producers keep the original tunes ("A Fine Romance," "Pick Yourself Up," "The Way You Look Tonight," among others) in the show. "Never Gonna Dance" has a lot going for it before it even opens with its strong concept and wonderful music. Having said that, the thing could also fall on its face just as easily.

In my column I outlined some of the pitfalls to be avoided in bringing a classic movie musical to the stage. Just in case anyone involved in the show might be reading this, I will reprint that section of the column here and now, word for word, in the hopes that these dangers can be avoided and mistakes corrected before the musical opens later this year. Pay close attention, please. I won't be repeating this again.

"Of course, making a hit show out of a classic movie is easier said than done. For every 'Forty-Second Street' success story there's a dozen disappointments like 'Singin' in the Rain' which should have been a big hit on stage but wasn't. To begin with, you'd better hire a couple of dynamite singer/dancers in the principle roles because they will definitely be compared to Fred and Ginger.

Team them with a writer, a director, and a choreographer with the right sensibilities and you've got the makings of the next Broadway smash. Pitfalls are many, however. So many that I've decided to list them - just in case anyone might want to bring 'Top Hat' to the stage in the foreseeable future. The following are a few things TO BE AVOIDED.

1. Nathan Lane. There's no part for him in this show. Forget him.

2. Camping it up! The biggest mistake anyone can make is to spoof a spoof, and the movie was written as a screwball farce to begin with. The characters in the show are really supposed to believe in what they are doing (no matter how wacky) so keep tongues out of cheeks and avoid the winks to the audience.

3. 'Bringing it up to date.' The period (mid-thirties) is just as important as any other element in the show. Keep it in its proper time frame. The one area that CAN go over the top is in the set design. Go ahead and exaggerate the art deco treatment in the sets - the film certainly did.

4. Nathan Lane. There's no part for him in this show. Forget him.

5. Rewriting to appeal to a younger audience. This show, if done right, will appeal to all ages. Keep the show true to itself and its time by not pandering to today's lowest common denominator. Using contemporary vernacular and attitudes is a great way to guarantee a flop. You'll lose both demograghics --- the younger audience and the older one.

6. Nathan Lane. There's no part for him in this show. Forget him." As I said at the top, I don't know if it was my original column of two years ago that inspired the production of a Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers Broadway musical or not, but if it was, please mail a suitable check for my fee to my home address -- available by contacting the editor. I leave the exact amount up to you -- you're the big shots. There's no additional charge for reprinting the "things to be avoided." Thanks. Keep reading - you never know, you might get more ideas from here.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby