Coming soon: Stage versions of Oscar favorites?
Upbeat Hollywood blockbusters like "The Lion King" and "Ghost" have been making their way to the musical stage for a while now. But the Broadway success this season of "Once" -- a microscopically small Sundance and award-season movie released in 2007 about a pair of drifter musicians -- has some people thinking of film-to-stage adaptations that are less intuitive.
The theater actress Kelli O'Hara, nominated for a Tony Award for her lead performance in the new Prohibition-era musical "Nice Work If You Can Get It," is preparing to star in two unlikely film-to-stage tuners. She's tackling lead parts in a a musical adaptation of Todd Haynes' 2002 period drama "Far From Heaven," which scored four Academy Award nominations, as well as a new singing version of Clint Eastwood’s 1995 romantic weepie "The Bridges of Madison County," which was nominated for one.
At a pre-Tonys interview at the Empire State Building on Tuesday, O'Hara, who at 36 has already landed her fourth Tony nomination, said she saw films in general as a potent new vein of material.
"'Once’ made you realize how it could be done," she said. "It was a small film and people like my husband [musician Greg Naughton] didn't think they’d like it. But it took an idea and just exploded it." She added: "I think the same can be done with other movies.”
The movie version of "Once" scored an Oscar win for original song -- which musicians and stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova performed at the ceremony -- as well as an audience prize at Sundance. The theater version of "Once," starring Steve Kazee and Crisitn Milioti, has led all Tony-nominated productions this season with eleven noms. (It will seek to pick up some hardware at the theater world's biggest night on Sunday.)
In her new roles, O'Hara will be tackling parts played by two giants of the screen. She'll inhabit the role of Julianne Moore's housewife-in-crisis from "Far From Heaven," a part that garnered Moore a best actress Oscar nomination. The show will be workshopped this summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival before moving to off-Broadway next year. Asked how writers (Tony nominees Richard Greenberg, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie) will create book, music and lyrics for the dark and uncomfortable tale, O’Hara just smiled and said, “You’ll see."
O’Hara has also been cast as another lovelorn wife, signing on for the lead part in a development workshop of "Madison County." She'll take the part of Meryl Streep for a show that will inject tunefulness into a blindingly serious story about an Iowa housewife's torrid affair with a wandering stranger, reuniting with her "South Pacific" director Bartlett Sher.
O'Hara said she knew that with "Madison County" she was assuming a part people associated with a screen icon. But, she added with a smirk, "Meryl Streep didn't have to sing."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in "The Bridges of Madison County." Credit: Warner Bros.