May 13, 2010

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From screen to stage
Theater companies seeking stories turn to the movies
Adam Coughlin acoughlin@hippopress.com

If you can’t get enough of your favorite movie, there is a very good chance in a few months it will be coming to a theater near you — a performing arts theater. A relatively new trend in Broadway has trickled down to community theaters and has many local productions going Hollywood.

“Broadway shows used to be Broadway shows,” said Stephen J. Donohue Jr., a board member of the Peacock Players, whose production of The Wedding Singer makes its debut Friday, May 14, at the Court Street Theatre in Nashua. “But now there is a convergence of film, theater and television. There is a blurring of the mediums. Even Green Day [the rock band] has a musical.”

There is a definite trend of producing Broadway shows from movies, like The Wedding Singer, Shrek, etc. Look no further than this year’s Tony Awards nominations to see Hollywood’s influence on the stage. Three nominees for best actor in a play are Jude Law, Christopher Walken and Denzel Washington.

Tim Dunn, an English and drama professor at Manchester Community College, said when he gives lectures on contemporary drama he now spends several classes on the topic. Dunn gave a guest lecture last week on the question of movies becoming musicals to a musical theate class at Hillsborough High School, and he’s involved with the Stark Regional High School Summer Theatre Camp, which is hoping to perform Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a popular movie based on a book, this summer, pending permission from the author.

For the most part, Dunn believes theater — at any level — needs help getting people interested in shows, and a popular movie, especially for family audiences, can do that.

The Community Players of Concord recently performed Big, the Musical, after a week of showings of the movie, starring Tom Hanks, at the Red River Theatres in Concord. “I thought it might be a good idea to coordinate some movie showings with our productions,” Bob Sanders of the Players wrote in an e-mail. “Both sides liked the idea for its joint promotion opportunities (joint advertising and press releases, ticket deals), but also because it would be a chance to examine how a story transforms as it moves from one art form to another.”

With DVDs, movies don’t go away. They can be watched and re-watched and as a result develop a cult following. Keith Weirich, artistic director for the Peacock Players and director of The Wedding Singer, said he didn’t realize how passionate the movie’s fan base was when he chose to do this musical.

Scripts become popular, as films or musicals, in the first place because they speak to everybody. Weirich said there is a symbiotic relationship between theater and film and throughout history theater has always been popular. He said producers will make productions about whatever people are into. And theatrical performances have some advantages over big-budget blockbusters — intimacy is one. Audience members get to witness the action live, which makes it more personal.

 “I believe the script for The Wedding Singer musical is developed better than the film,” Weirich said. “It really flushes out the supporting cast.”

But of course, local theaters don’t have access to Hollywood’s deep pockets or limitless sets.

 “An incredible amount of detail goes into our sets, which need to be cinematic,” Weirich said. “We’re far beyond the days of erecting a barn and doing Oklahoma!”

Of course, a crowd’s familiarity with a movie goes both ways.

 “How much do you keep from the film?” Weirich said. “How much Adam Sandler [star of the movie The Wedding Singer]? In the end, we try to not only give the audience what they want but more than what they want.”

 According to John Sefel, artistic director for Ghostlight Theater Co., which has previously performed Canibal!, the Musical and Psycho Beach Party, a play based on a cult film from 2000, people want to know they don’t need a master’s degree to enjoy theater.

 “It’s the understanding that separating culture into high and low brow doesn’t help anyone,” Sefel said. “In British theater they serve water and peanuts in the aisle like a baseball game.”

 Sefel said in the U.S., theater has often been treated as high art that should appeal to more affluent patrons, which has cut it off. Showing more productions that were once movies is the beginning of recognizing that theater is for everybody and is an even more public art form than film.

“It meets people halfway and brings them into the tent,” Sefel said. “Once they’re there, then maybe they’ll check out what you’re doing next week.”


The Wedding Singer
Where: Court Street Theatre, 14 Court St. in Nashua, 886-7000, www.courtstreettheatre.org
When: Friday, May 14, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 15, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, May 16, at 2 p.m.; Friday, May 21, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 22, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 23, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $10 to $15 with discounts for groups, seniors and military
Info: www.peacockplayers.org

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