My Left Footloose

When bad movie musicals become worse stage presentations

Footloose is coming to town, and--for the duration, at least--I am leaving.
Certainly no one who has made his living turning lousy musical films into equally terrible stage productions will miss me. This frightening trend--which I've carped about in these pages before--has seen the recent translation to the stage (if that isn't too sophisticated a term for this slop) of movie musicals mostly remembered for their awfulness. Tuneless tuners like Fame and Victor/Victoria have been reborn as big-scale Broadway musicals sung by the tone deaf, danced by the flatfooted and scripted by writers who think Allan Carr deserves a revival.

Call it what you will--a shortage of new material, an offshoot of the Seventies retro fad, a scourge on the history of musical theater--there's a message here: Folks don't want to attend theater, they want to watch reruns. Audiences, producers have come to believe, are less interested in thinking than they are in looking at stuff they've already seen.

And so, the same guys who only a few years ago were bankrolling a national touring company of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with Edward Albee directing, are this year throwing money at a full-scale staging of a bad Kevin Bacon movie musical.

I used to wisecrack about the inevitability of a stage production of Fame; today, I am holding tickets to one. What's next? At the risk of appearing prescient, and in no particular order, I present an apocryphal list of musical horrors I'm expecting to see take the stage any day now:

Gold Diggers of the New Millennium: A Busby Berkeley-inspired musical send-up of the Y2K disaster, in which a group of destitute computer nerds (Matthew Broderick, Donny Osmond) hatches a get-rich-quick plan to save the world from fatal mainframe crashes. Musical numbers include an homage to the show's corporate sponsor, Apple Computers, with three hundred chorines dressed as mouse pads singing "We're In the Money."

Xanadu: Patti LuPone sings the songs of ELO in this mixed-up musical, based loosely on the 1980 film that finally extinguished Olivia Newton-John's incessant career. LuPone plays a roller-skating muse, sent to Earth to inspire a homeless, drug-addicted artist (Michael Crawford) to abandon his dreams of writing a stage version of Purple Rain in favor of opening a leg-warmer kiosk. With the late Bob Fosse as Gene Kelly.

Yentl: Deborah Gibson as a young, cross-dressing Jewish woman who falls in love with her Talmud instructor, a former Paris showgirl (Julie Andrews) who's passing as a man to get into the local yeshiva. (Andrews is replaced by Toni Tennille--and later Ruth Buzzi--in the touring cast.)

Torch Song: Madonna, in the role made famous by Joan Crawford, plays an arrogant stage star who falls in love with a blind, gay pianist (Michael Feinstein). When he rejects her, she dresses as a man and enters a yeshiva, where she falls in love with a man who's actually a former Paris showgirl in drag. High point: "Two-Faced Woman," in which the Material Girl yanks off her wig at the song's finale to reveal that she is actually Mandy Patinkin.

Dolls!: The musicalization of the none-too-tuneful film of Jacqueline's Susann's Valley of the Dolls is an off-key tale of an aging female rock trio (Cher, Lulu, Petula Clark), reduced to opening for Foghat and popping pills to stay awake. Each travels her own musical path of destruction until, just before curtain, they reunite for an appearance on VH1's Behind the Music, where Lulu yanks off nemesis Helen Lawson's wig to reveal that she is really Mandy Patinkin. Low points include "Ted Casablanca Is Not a Fag," sung by Nathan Lane, and "(I Can't Get to Sleep) Without a Doll," in which arrhythmic chorus boys dressed as barbiturates form a kick line behind a writhing Cher, tied to her bed and braying for stupefacients.

Can't Stop the Music: Set in 19th-century France, this reworking of the 1980 Allan Carr stinkbomb casts Greg Louganis as an underwear model who is disfigured by a jealous fashion mogul (Tommy Tune). Greg takes refuge in an abandoned opera house where, fitted out in an attractive Lucite mask, he composes a musical for the Village People, played here by the Backstreet Boys. When Greg falls in love with singer Mary Philbin (Donna McKechnie) and writes a solo for her, the boys stage a strike at a local men's gymnasium, where they're discovered by June Havoc, who casts them as the kick line in a road show production of Footloose.

The Valley Broadway Series presentation of Footloose continues through Sunday, July 11, at ASU's Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apache in Tempe.

 
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