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The Movie Men of Broadway

Filichia figures out which Broadway composer has had the most musicals adapted for the big screen. logo

Liza Minnelli in the highly regarded film version
of the Kander and Ebb classic Cabaret
Looking forward to seeing the movie version of Chicago? Me, too. Some friends who have already attended have told me that it's as good as the last Kander-Ebb Broadway musical that made it to the big screen, Cabaret. Which started me thinking: Was that really the last one for the esteemed pair? (I'm of course not counting films like Funny Lady or New York, New York -- musicals made originally for the screen. Just Broadway adaptations interest me here.) Once I realized that, indeed, Kander and Ebb have had but two movies made from their shows, I started wondering: Which Broadway bookwriter, composer, lyricist, or team was responsible for the most movie musicals made from musicals that originated on stage?

Here were my criteria: I considered any writer of any Broadway musical that spurred a film, no matter how loosely the movie was based on the original property. Even if the original book, music, and/or lyrics were totally scrapped and little more than the title was retained -- Lord knows, that happened a lot in the early days -- I tallied it. Though not a note of the score co-written by the Gershwins and Sigmund Romberg was retained for Rosalie, there wouldn't have been a Rosalie movie had the Gershwins and Romberg not written the show first and got it on. For that matter, you won't hear many of the original stage lyrics in the Irma La Douce movie and none at all in the Fanny film, but Heneker, More, and Norman (creators of the former property) and Harold Rome (the latter) still received credit -- though they didn't have enough other movies to make the list. I'm even giving Cole Porter credit for the Oscar winning Best Picture of 1956, Around the World in 80 Days, because its producer, Mike Todd, had held the rights for the property dating back to when he produced Porter's Around the World on Broadway in 1946.

Secondly, I decided that bookwriters, composers, and lyricists should be acknowledged for any movie remakes. So Cole Porter gets two credits for Anything Goes (1936 and 1956), and Kern and Hammerstein get three for Show Boat, first made in 1929, then remade in 1936 and again in 1951. Even if a remake had a title change -- for example, the last of the three movies based on Girl Crazy was called When the Boys Meet the Girls -- the original Broadway writers score on this list.

I did limit the tally to movies made for theatrical release -- so the writers of the Mary Martin Peter Pan, the Jason Alexander-Vanessa Williams Bye Bye Birdie, or the David Hasselhoff Jekyll & Hyde need not apply. That criterion means that Stephen Sondheim weighs in with only four titles (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy, A Little Night Music, West Side Story) while Andrew Lloyd Webber has two (Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar). Would that all the movies of their shows made for TV and video could have been feature-length theatrical releases instead!

Broadway Rhythm, the Hollywood version
of the musical Very Warm for May
Needless to say, many of the bookwriters, composers, and lyricists that made the list are from long ago, because Hollywood hasn't paid nearly enough attention to Broadway musicals in the last few decades. Chicago had to have a revival that has run six-plus years to get filmed; it couldn't get a movie after its original production, which "only" ran two years. In the '50s, even a middling hit like Silk Stockings spawned a movie. And in 1943, Very Warm for May -- a big flop on the Main Stem in 1939 -- got filmed (albeit as Broadway Rhythm.)

That's why a now-forgotten name like Guy Bolton rings in with 11 movies: Anything Goes (1934 and 1956); Girl Crazy (1932, 1943, and 1965 as When the Boys Meet the Girls); Lady, Be Good; Rio Rita (1929 and 1942); Rosalie; Sally; and Tip-Toes. When was the last time, if ever, that you heard anyone mention Otto Harbach? Well, he scores a very impressive 18: The Cat and the Fiddle; The Desert Song (1929, 1943, and 1953); The Firefly; Golden Dawn; Kid Boots; No, No, Nanette (1930, 1940, and 1950 as Tea for Two); Roberta (1935 and 1952, as Lovely to Look At); Rose Marie (1928, 1936 and 1954); Song of the Flame; and Sunny (1930 and 1941).

Of the famous team DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson -- all of whom worked with other collaborators -- Buddy DeSylva scored the highest with 11: Big Boy; DuBarry Was a Lady; Flying High; Follow Thru; Good News (1930 and 1947); Hold Everything; Louisana Purchase; Manhattan Mary (as Follow the Leader); Panama Hattie; and Take a Chance.

If there had been a brother-sister rivalry between Herbert and Dorothy Fields, here's a place where the male of the species would prove superior to the female. For Herbert had 15 shows: Annie Get Your Gun; A Connecticut Yankee (1931 and 1948); DuBarry Was a Lady; Fifty Million Frenchmen; The Girl Friend; Hit the Deck (1930, 1936 as Follow the Fleet, and 1954); Let's Face It; Mexican Hayride; Panama Hattie; Present Arms (as Leathernecking); Something for the Boys and Up in Central Park. Dorothy had but six: Annie Get Your Gun; Let's Face It; Mexican Hayride; Something for the Boys; Sweet Charity; and Up in Central Park. (That last movie -- a damned good one, by the way -- had music by the aforementioned Romberg, who had that show and 10 others to his name: The Desert Song (1929, 1943, and 1953); Maytime; The New Moon (1930 and 1940); Rosalie; The Student Prince (1926 and 1954); and Sunny River.

Sad to see that George Gershwin weighs in with only 10 -- Funny Face; Girl Crazy (1932, 1943, and 1965 as When the Boys Meet the Girls); Lady, Be Good; Porgy and Bess; Rosalie; Song of the Flame; Strike Up the Band; Tip-Toes. For we all know, he would have scored substantially higher had he not been cut down at such an early age. Ira Gershwin shares all of the above credits with his brother but also gets credit for Lady in the Dark.

And the winner is ...
Oscar Hammerstein II
Now for the heavyweights. Jerome Kern has 13: The Cat and the Fiddle; Music in the Air; Roberta (1935 and 1952, as Lovely to Look At); Sally; Show Boat (1929, 1936 and 1951); Sunny (1930 and 1941); Sunny River; Sweet Adeline; Very Warm for May (Broadway Rhythm). Cole Porter has 15: Anything Goes (1936 and 1954); Around the World in 80 Days; Can-Can; DuBarry Was a Lady; Fifty Million Frenchmen; The Gay Divorce; Kiss Me, Kate; Let's Face It; Mexican Hayride; Panama Hattie; Paris; Red, Hot and Blue; Silk Stockings; Something for the Boys. So does Lorenz Hart: Babes in Arms; The Boys from Syracuse; A Connecticut Yankee (1931 and 1948); Evergreen; The Girl Friend; Heads Up; Higher and Higher; I Married an Angel; Jumbo; On Your Toes; Pal Joey; Present Arms (as Leathernecking); Spring Is Here; Too Many Girls.

Of course, Hart's longtime collaborator Richard Rodgers has all of those and seven more (for a total of 22), because of his work with Oscar Hammerstein II: Carousel; Flower Drum Song; The King and I (1956 and the animated 1999 version); Oklahoma!; The Sound of Music; and South Pacific. And that brings us to Rodgers' most famous collaborator, who turns out to be the champeen with 28: Carmen Jones; Carousel; The Desert Song (1929, 1943, and 1953); Flower Drum Song; Golden Dawn; The King and I (1956 and 1999); Music in the Air; The New Moon (1930 and 1940); Oklahoma!; Rainbow (as Song of the West); Rose Marie (1928, 1936 and 1954); Show Boat (1929, 1936, and 1951); Song of the Flame; The Sound of Music; South Pacific; Sunny (1930 and 1941); Sunny River; Sweet Adeline; and Very Warm for May (Broadway Rhythm). How nice that the writer whom Sondheim has called "the finest man I have ever met" should reign supreme in this regard as well.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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