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The Five Films That Director Jeff Calhoun Wants to Bring to Broadway

In honor of Newsies' first anniversary on Broadway, the director tells us about the movies he dreams of bringing to the stage, from Moulin Rouge to The Shawshank Redemption. logo

Jeff Calhoun
(Photo courtesy of Polk & Co.)
Two-time Tony Award nominee Jeff Calhoun is no stranger to bringing films to life on stage. As a choreographer, he is the man who had the task of helping the actress playing Edie Beale, the lovably bizarre protagonist of the musical Grey Gardens, dance her heart out. As a director, he helped turn the 1992 cult-favorite film Newsies into a big, fat, Broadway hit. And when the Dolly Parton Broadway musical adaptation of 9 to 5, another film with a cult following, headed on a United States tour, Calhoun was called in to choreograph and direct.

Who better, then, to suggest the next crop of films that deserve the stage musical treatment? As Newsies celebrates its first Broadway birthday, we quizzed Calhoun on five films he most wants to direct as musicals. From Parisian brothels to Sondheim-on-Shawshank, his mouth-watering suggestions are listed below. (Producers, take note.)

Trading Places

A classic comedy that explores nature vs. nurture. The plot features two wonderful characters: a street hustler [who] goes from pauper to prince and a wealthy blue-blood who goes from prince to pauper. The two worlds would provide fruitful exploration for diverse musical styles. The stakes are high and therefore ripe to be musicalized. The hysteria is followed by an uplifting and completely satisfying ending. It has everything necessary for a commercially successful Broadway musical.

Moulin Rouge

This is already a musical! It seems ready made to be adapted to the stage. The glamour of a Paris night club, brothel, and theater, juxtaposed with the anachronistic rock music of the twentieth century is the sexy world for the passionate love story that ensues. I get excited just thinking about the visual feast this could deliver live on stage. I think choreographer Christopher Gattelli, myself, and the design team from Newsies would be in seventh heaven working on this. If only the brilliant Baz Luhrmann would allow us the opportunity.

Mrs. Henderson Presents

I loved this little film. This coming-of-age story about a woman in her golden years is touching, amusing, and full of heart. The fact that it all revolves around the infamous Windmill Theatre in Soho makes it a natural for the stage. Besides the requisite singing and dancing that fill the Windmill every night, nudity is required to drum up business to save the failing theater. In order to comply with the 1890 laws of the time, the nudity had to be presented as a beautiful tableaux. This could be that gorgeous-but-all-too-elusive blend of art and commerce.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

I have wanted to adapt this Woody Allen classic for the stage ever since I first saw it, when it debuted in 1985. The moment Jeff Daniels stepped through the movie screen and into the humdrum life of Mia Farrow, I was sold. The blurring of boundaries between what's real and what's unreal creates a theatricality that would be perfect for the stage. The story within the story allows for two musical worlds to coexist. It's thrilling to entertain the challenge of creating the black-and-white film world of the 1930s within the same proscenium of a contemporary New York City.

The Shawshank Redemption

Usually I would shy away from movies I think are masterpieces; why mess with perfection? However, this story has such heart that it would be intriguing to try to capture that on stage. Turning this into a successful musical would require nothing less than the genius of a Stephen Sondheim. Sophisticated storytelling would be mandatory. Two imprisoned men bonding over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency feels ripe for the taking but in the wrong hands could be a criminal act in itself.