1. The Bridges of Madison County
The movie: Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, the 1992 film begins with siblings Michael (Victor Slezak) and Carolyn (Annie Corley) visiting their recently deceased mother’s farmhouse, where they discover that she had a brief but passionate affair with a photographer. In flashback to 1965, we see unhappy housewife Francesca (Meryl Streep) romanced by Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), who is visiting Madison County to photograph the famous bridges. In the end, Francesca is forced to choose her family over love.
The musical: There’s no framing narrative, so we begin in the past. The story plays out much the same way: Francesca (Kelli O’Hara) enjoys a torrid but ill-fated affair with Robert (Steven Pasquale), while her husband Bud (Hunter Foster) and children, Michael (Derek Klena) and Carolyn (Caitlin Kinnunen), are away at the Iowa State Fair. The characters of Francesca and Robert have been aged down a bit, but that aside, the beats are familiar. And the ending, in which Francesca abandons love for family responsibility, is as heartbreaking as ever.
The verdict: The movie is a classic romance, but the musical cuts even deeper thanks to the stunning music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Alas, Bridges will be closing on May 18. Your best hope of seeing it now, if you haven’t already, is the planned tour in the fall of 2015.
The movie: The 1988 cult classic high school black comedy follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) as she assimilates into a group of evil popular girls known as the Heathers — and ultimately turns against them. Along with her bad-boy boyfriend, J.D., (Christian Slater) Veronica accidentally offs Queen Bee Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) and makes it look like a suicide. Soon more students are dying, culminating in an explosive finale.
The musical: The musical adaptation of Heathers, now running at the New World Stages off-Broadway, is an eerily accurate adaptation of the film. If you know Heathers, you know Heathers: The Musical, which tells the same story with catchy music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. Tonally, it’s perhaps slightly less dark than the movie, but then, singing and dancing will do that.
The verdict: Both are great, really. It’s tough to say if Heathers: The Musical would have the same appeal for audience members unfamiliar with the movie, but for Heathers fans, it’s pitch-perfect. And the casting — including Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica, Ryan McCartan as J.D., and Jessica Keenan Wynn as Heather Chandler — is uncanny.
The movie: You know this one — it’s one of Disney’s ’90s masterpieces. Street rat Aladdin finds a magic lamp and transforms himself into Prince Ali to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. Of course, it’s Aladdin’s kind soul that Jasmine falls for, not the genie-supplied riches. Meanwhile, the evil Grand Vizier Jafar has plans of his own, manipulating the Sultan for power over the kingdom of Agrabah. Disney spoiler alert: The good guys win.
The musical: It’s roughly the same, though there are some significant changes. Because this is a live stage show, some sacrifices must be made — goodbye, Abu the monkey and Rajah the tiger. Iago the parrot becomes a human henchman. There are new characters, notably Aladdin’s childhood friends, and new songs, three of which were cut from the original film. While Aladdin (Adam Jacobs), Jasmine (Courtney Reed), and Genie (James Monroe Iglehart) are notably different, Jonathan Freeman reprises his role as Jafar from the movie.
The verdict: It’s hard to improve on Disney. Though there are moments of pure theatrical joy in the live production of Aladdin, it’s not quite up there with the film. The magic carpet ride, for example, is impressively rendered — but it’s just not quite as awe-inspiring as it was in all its animated glory. That having been said, “Proud of Your Boy” is a gorgeous song that should never have been cut in the first place.
The movie: Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in the iconic 1976 film about Rocky Balboa, a simple-minded club fighter who ends up vying for the world heavyweight championship. As Rocky prepares for his climactic fight against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he also romances Adrian (Talia Shire), the shy sister of his best friend Paulie (Burt Young). You probably remember it best for the training montage set to “Eye of the Tiger.” The fact that Rocky loses is incidental, because he gets the girl.
The musical: Adapting Rocky to the stage feels like an odd choice — and the results are, to be fair, a little strange. But it’s surprisingly faithful, down to the training montage set to “Eye of the Tiger.” (This time, of course, the entire cast is singing the Survivor song.) While the musical plays up the love story between Rocky (Andy Karl) and Adrian (Margo Seibert), the fight is still front and center, quite literally: Toward the end, the theater transforms into a boxing arena, with the audience members encouraged to leap to their feet.
The verdict: The music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens leave a little to be desired. At times, it feels too on-the-nose (pun intended, given Rocky’s oft-repeated number “My Nose Ain’t Broken”). But while elements of the show are hit or miss, the final 20 minutes are extraordinary, the kind of theatrical spectacle never before seen on Broadway. It’s the closest you will ever be to seeing Rocky fight, and it’s worth the price of admission alone. Who cares that he loses?
5. Bullets Over Broadway
The movie: Set in the ’20s, Woody Allen’s 1994 film is about struggling playwright David Shayne (John Cusack), who hires a gangster’s talentless girlfriend Olive (Jennifer Tilly) to get financing for his latest work. Her gangster escort Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) turns out to be a genius writer, who heavily revises David’s play while David is distracted by his affair with difficult leading lady Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest).
The musical: Woody Allen adapted his own film into the musical, which is, naturally, almost entirely faithful to the original. The main difference is the inclusion of music — but the songs are all standards from the ’20s and ’30s, with the occasional alteration made. Otherwise, many of the book’s lines are word-for-word the same, and the trajectories of David (Zach Braff), Olive (Helene York), Cheech (Nick Cordero), and Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie) play out the same way.
The verdict: Putting your feelings about Woody Allen aside for a moment, the film is a hilarious crime comedy. The musical is… a lot of the same, with somewhat less impressive performances and a slew of musical numbers shoehorned in. The choreography is gorgeous, and it’s often fun, but if you need to see Bullets, just watch the movie.
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