If you thought Legally Blonde – where Reese Witherspoon plays Elle, the law-loving clothes horse who’s a whiz at both res ipsa loquitur and Ralph Lauren – couldn’t get any cutesier, are you in for a saccharine surprise. Broadway has just seen the premiere of Legally Blonde: the Musical, which is pinker than Barbara Cartland blushing and more princessy than the Royal Family’s Christmas lunch.
This singing, dancing wedding cake is the most recent confection off the movie-to-musical production line, the most heinous – as Elle might say – trend since the jukebox musical (think Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You). I like to call them moviecals. The West End and the Great White Way have been swamped with this new type of show, which capitalises on an audience fond enough of the original to spend £60 on a theatrical, jazzed-up adaptation.
Take Dirty Dancing, the form’s exemplar, which broke all box office records when it opened last September. A successful movie with a devoted fan-base – $213m worldwide and teenage girls, respectively – and an irritatingly catchy soundtrack, it’s crying out for a resurrection. Slot in a few new songs, sit back, wait for the cash registers to ring.
This has worked – with varying degrees of success – for movies as varied as Billy Elliot, which lost its T-Rex period soundtrack and gained some insipid Elton John tunes; Grey Gardens, the documentary about Jackie Kennedy’s cousins who lived in Upper East Side squalor; and Spamalot, where a very silly movie gets even sillier on stage.
It’s such a depressing sight. We’re living through a period of retro-mania: with Take That at the head of the charts and Doctor Who and James Bond back in their nth incarnations, it feels like there’s nothing new or original happening. We’re stuck, being forced to relive the artistic crimes of our past, only now with cheesy musical numbers to compound the offence.
What’s next? Wall Street: the musical, where Gordon Gekko breaks into song about the joys of derivatives trading and share prices? I can see the showstopper now: ‘Greed is Good’, performed with girls wearing nothing but feathers and red stockbroker braces. Or Citizen Kane? ‘Rosebud’ could be a tender duet between one man and his sleigh.
In fact, I can tell you what’s next. After Mel Brooks kickstarted the fashion for moviecals with The Producers, in which Nathan Lane had to be muzzled to stop him chewing the scenery, what’s next is a moviecal of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Given his cinematic oeuvre – Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and Spaceballs – Broadway may as well be rechristened Brooksville for the foreseeable future.
We should vote with our arses: stop filling the seats in the West End’s overpriced auditoria for unimaginative, cheaply adapted moviecals until producers remember that audiences would quite like something a little more sophisticated, a little less rehashed.