When the Movies Hit the Stage: 9 Straight Play Adaptations of Films – Playbill.com
Broadway is no stranger to Hollywood. But while musicals usually get all of the attention (here’s looking at you, Moulin Rouge!), straight play adaptations aren’t an infrequent phenomenon. After all, Bryan Cranston won a Tony Award for the same role that earned Peter Finch an Oscar in last season’s Network.
Below is a selection of other plays that brought a film to life.
The 39 Steps
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s first big hits, the 1935 film follows regular joe Richard Hanney, who stumbles upon a trove of military secrets that must be protected from a secret spy agency. The screenplay by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay was adapted from John Bucan’s novel The Thirty-Nine Steps.
A parody of the Hitchcockian thriller by Patrick Barlow premiered in 2005, eventually becoming the fifth longest-running play in the West End before closing in 2015. The 39 Steps opened on Broadway in 2008, before transferring Off-Broadway in 2010. In addition to incorporating Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller, it paid homage to other classics like Rear Window, Psycho, and Vertigo.
All About Eve
Nearly 70 years ago, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter earned Oscar nominations going head-to-head in this Hollywood classic written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It follows Broadway star Margo Channing (played by Davis), who meets young ingenue Eve Harrington (Baxter) backstage. Initially friends, their relationship quickly sours after it becomes clear that Eve is up to no good.
Fast-forward to 2019, and auteur Ivo van Hove brought Mankiewicz’s script to the West End starring Gillian Andersen as Channing and Lily James as Harrington. Andersen was nominated for an Olivier Award and co-star Monica Dolan won the award for supporting actress as Margo Channing’s best friend.
Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft immortalized the story of a housewife seducing a college grad. The 1967 film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Mike Nichols taking home the Oscar for Best Direction.
At the turn of the 21st century, Kathleen Turner took on the role of Mrs. Robinson on stage in Terry Johnson’s adaptation in the West End, where it ran for two years. The Graduate transferred to Broadway in 2002, with Turner reprising her role and Jason Biggs starring as Benjamin Braddock with Alicia Silverstone as Elaine Robinson.
In 1973, 12-year-old Regan was possessed by a demon in Georgetown, Washington, D.C, and the world of film horror was changed forever. First a novel and then a movie, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist captured the cultural zeitgeist, becoming one of the world’s most successful horror stories thanks to its terrifying premise and investigation of Catholic practices.
A stage adaptation by John Pielmeier premiered in Los Angeles in 2012, starring Brooke Shields as Regan’s mother, Chris (originated by Oscar-nominated Ellen Burstyn in the film). The show went on to play the West End in 2017-18 before touring the U.K. and Ireland. Folks in Scotland will get a chance to see it this year when it plays September 17-21 at Theatre Royal Glasgow.
WATCH: Brooke Shields in Highlights of the World Premiere Stage Adaptation of The Exorcist
Before All About Eve and the upcoming West Side Story, Ivo van Hove directed the world premiere of Network, based on the film written by Paddy Chayefsky. The 1976 newsroom drama starred Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden in the story of a suicidal broadcast network anchor whose madness brings in huge ratings. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), and Best Original Screenplay (Chayefsky).
The play, adapted by Lee Hall, debuted in London at National Theatre before transferring to Broadway in 2018, starring Bryan Cranston. The Breaking Bad star won an Olivier and a Tony award for his performance. The adaptation relied heavily on unusual technology for theatre like video screens and on-set camera men. In addition, an onstage restaurant brought lucky audience members closer to the action than ever before.
When Clue was released in 1985 in cinemas, no one could’ve predicted the cult status it would gain as the years went on. From Jonathan Lynn’s crackling pun-laden script to performances bigger than the cast’s star-wattage combined (Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren), fans have only grown to love this film as it ages.
Twenty-two years later, Clue on Stage premiered at Bucks County Playhouse in 2017, directed by Hunter Foster and starring Sally Struthers as Mrs. Peacock. Anna Louizos created a set to encompass all nine rooms on the game board, including sliding panels and trap doors. A national tour will begin at Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre January 25–February 16, 2020.
Screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass earned an Academy Award for 1988’s Rain Man, directed by Barry Levinson. Starring two of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, the road trip dramedy about two brothers, one on the autistic spectrum (Raymond, played by Hoffman) and the other a callous car trader (Charlie, played by Cruise). The film earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hoffman.
While never performed in the U.S. at a major theatre, a stage adaptation directed by Terry Johnson and written by Dan Gordon opened at Apollo Theatre in London’s West End in 2008. Starring Adam Godley as Raymond and Josh Hartnett as Charlie, the story was reset to present day. Godley was Oliver-nominated for his performance. Ten years later, Downton Abbey’s Ed Speleers and Gavin & Stacey’s Mathew Horne toured the U.K. in a new production (updated by Gordon) as Charlie and Raymond, respectively.
In 1990, Kathy Bates portrayed one of the scariest fans in cinematic history in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Bates ended up winning an Oscar for her performance as Annie Wilkes, who kidnaps writer Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) and forces him to write stories about her favorite characters.
Screenwriter William Goldman adapted his own movie for Broadway 25 years later, directed by Will Frears. Laurie Metcalf starred as Wilkes opposite Bruce Willis as author Sheldon, with Metcalf earning a Tony nomination for her performance.
In 1999, a group of middle-aged women in Yorkshire county posed for a nude calendar to raise money for better furniture in hospital waiting rooms. What eventually spiraled into the national spotlight (and more than just nice furniture) is the premise for the Helen Mirren- and Julie Walters-starring Calendar Girls. Written by Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi and directed by Nigel Cole, the 2003 film was a success, earning comparisons to The Full Monty.
Naturally, a stage version was the next step, so Firth adapted his own screenplay and, in 2009, Calendar Girls debuted on the West End. Directed by Hamish McColl, the show was nominated for Best New Comedy at the 2010 Laurence Olivier Awards, spawned several tours and has had productions around the world.
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