A buoyant West End is leading to some big-screen remakes of West End hits.
Twenty-three years after Susan Hill’s terrifying novel The Woman in Black first opened on the London stage, a new movie version is to be distributed in cinemas later this year starring Daniel Radcliffe.
It marks a growing interest in developing big screen projects based on successful stage shows, with movie producers realising the potential of some theatre brands that have built up large and loyal international audiences over long periods of time.
In the last few years successful movie versions of stage hits have proved popular at the box-office including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, Broadway musicals Chicago and Hairspray, and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
The forthcoming The Woman in Black movie version is produced by Hammer Films, the cult British film studio that made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing with its horror movies such as Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein. Now in post-production, the film has been adapted by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass), directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake) and also stars a heavy-weight British cast including Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer and Roger Allam.
Inspired by the creative and box-office success of War Horse, Steven Spielberg has also started work on a big screen adaptation of First World War story. Already an enormous hit for the National Theatre – first at their South Bank home and currently at the New London Theatre – the movie goes back to Michael Morpurgo’s novel and features a screenplay by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and Love Actually’s Richard Curtis. Dreamworks, which now sits within Disney, has moved forward the planned release date of the film to 28 December 2011 such is the excitement surrounding the project.
The War Horse movie cast features rising young star Jeremy Irvine as Albert, Benedict Cumberbatch, who is currently starring in Frankenstein at the National Theatre, as Major Stewart, David Thewlis as Lyons and Emily Watson as Albert’s mother. Plus man of the moment Tom Hiddleston – who is also starring in the movie of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.
A number of new stage-to-screen projects are also in development, including Will Smith’s new movie version of Annie with his daughter Willow, and two Cameron Mackintosh film adaptations: Les Miserables – the world’s longest-running musical, in association with Working Title and Universal, and My Fair Lady. The later is being worked on with Sony and current stars tipped for leads of Eliza and Professor Higgins are Cary Mulligan and Colin Firth.
Also Glee creator Ryan Murphy is rumoured to be working on a remake of the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show – based on the cult stage musical – following his Rocky Horror homage in the latest series of Glee.
Finally, and perhaps most exciting of all for theatre fans, smash-hit musical Wicked is set for a movie version, with Universal currently scouting for directors to take it on. The musical movie version is not to be confused with the mini-series planned for ABC in the US produced by Salma Hayek and based on the original Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
It is safe to say that stage to screen adaptations will never over shadow the reverse trend of screen-to-stage shows, with a enormous number of current West End and Broadway hits based on movies, including Legally Blonde, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Billy Elliot, Dirty Dancing – and forthcoming shows The Wizard of Oz, Ghost and Shrek.
But new movie adaptations of hit shows, alongside initiatives such as the National Theatre’s live cinema programme and recent cinema screening of the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2, continue to widen the audience and appeal of West End theatre around the world.