Steven Spielberg:  On the lookout for a good musical
Steven Spielberg: On the lookout for a good musical
Did you read the news that Steven Spielberg is interested in directing a movie musical? No, not just interested: "I am absolutely desirous of making one," he told the media last week, before adding: "Perhaps a revival of a stage show that hasn't had a movie yet."

So what will it be? Carnival is a show that never got a movie, even though it was a big hit in 1961 and ran longer than its contemporaries Gypsy, Bye Bye Birdie, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Stop the World--all of which did get filmed. Indeed, some years ago, Spielberg talked about bringing Carnival to the screen but eventually chose not to. Might he be reconsidering now?

In Spielberg's newest film, Minority Report, there's a scene where the protagonist's eyes are plucked out of his head. That reminds me of Sondheim's Into the Woods, where plenty of eye-gouging takes place. Wouldn't this sinister fairy tale make a great Spielberg movie? For that matter, I'd like to see Steven, Hollywood's reigning genius, tackle any work by Stephen, Broadway's reigning genius. A Funny Thing Happened and A Little Night Music have been done, but it's not out of the question that Spielberg would take on a Sondheim musical that's already made it to videotape, such as Woods, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, or Passion. But I suspect it's more likely he'll try something that hasn't been in front of any type of camera. Imagine Spielberg filming Anyone Can Whistle, Company, The Frogs, Merrily We Roll Along, Assassins--or, best of all, Follies. He might have a native affinity for that one, given that he grew up in Phoenix, where, as well all know, two of the show's characters live.

Spielberg has said in many an interview that Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth had a profound influence on him as a kid. Might he then make a circus musical movie? Jumbo has already been filmed, but not too faithfully, while Barnum hasn't--though, again, there is a video of the London production. Still, Barnum would be more likely than a film of the circus extravaganza Clownaround by Moose (Whoop-Up) Charlap that played a few arenas in 1972 before shuttering abruptly. For one thing, even Steven Spielberg would have a hard time finding and affording the very obscure cast album that RCA Victor pressed but then lost interest in distributing.

As a kid, Spielberg was terribly bullied at school--so he could relate to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He also battled his parents on whether or not to celebrate Christmas (he wanted to; they didn't), so maybe he'll tackle Here's Love, the musical of Miracle on 34th Street. It would be better, though, if he did another musical that takes place near Christmas: She Loves Me. That would give us one more celebrated Bock and Harnick score on film; only one of their shows, Fiddler on the Roof, made it to the screen. But don't look for Spielberg to do The Apple Tree: When he was a kid, he saw a film about snakes that scared him half to death, and there is a snake in Bock and Harnick's penultimate show.

Spielberg graduated from Saratoga High, but he'll do Saratoga only if he's high--not just because it's a terrible musical but also because it's based on Saratoga Trunk, an even worse movie. If there's one thing Spielberg knows, it's movies, so I can't imagine he has a good opinion of this one. But because his early career included work on Columbo, maybe he'll take on City of Angels, a detective musical which needs and deserves a renaissance. Similarly, because he contributed to Marcus Welby, M.D., he might attempt Rodgers and Hammerstein's first flop, Allegro, which not only deals with a doctor but also came out the same year (1947) that Spielberg did. Or, given that Jaws was the first project that really put him on the map, maybe he'll revisit another sea dweller, Moby Dick, via the London musical that has a sensational rock score albeit a frightfully flawed book.

Peter Pan was never filmed as a live-action musical, and Spielberg certainly has shown a penchant for strange beings and their goings-on, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T. to--well, Hook, his 1991 Peter Pan movie that did not yield happy results. So I doubt he'd revisit that same literary territory one more time. On the other hand, he's said that, "As a kid, I liked pushing myself to the brink of terror and then pulling back." So maybe he would try Peter Pan after all.

Spielberg recently withdrew from the Boy Scouts of America's Advisory Board, partly because the organization refused to permit homosexuals as members. He might, therefore, be attracted to the Off-Broadway musical Boy Meets Boy, which is not only about homosexual love but also includes a Boy Scout number called "It's a Boy's Life," Bill Solly's terrific takeoff on an operetta-like march.

In 1994, after Spielberg filmed Schindler's List, he established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which endeavors to videotape the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. So perhaps he'll try Yours, Anne, the musical version of The Diary of Anne Frank. But if he really wants to celebrate his roots--and he is said to be a most devout Jew--he should do another Bock and Harnick show, The Rothschilds, a 1971 celebration of Jews that is a most underrated musical.

This is a show that would seem to have great interest for Spielberg. It begins in 1772, when Jews in Frankfurt were required by law to bow low to any Gentile that approached them--even children. Little boys taunt Mayer Rothschild with "Jew, do your duty," forcing him to take of his hat and bow to them. But to Mayer, what's worse is living in a ghetto surrounded by a wall whose gate is locked every night so that the Jews can't "contaminate" the Gentiles. Mayer decides to change all that, knowing that he only could do so if he were to build a large fortune and become a monied player in the world's economy. He does just that and, less than 50 years later, Gentiles bow to his heirs--much the way that Hollywood now bows to Steven Spielberg.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]