Die Hard with a Virtuoso

January 7th, 2008

I’m bound to live something like the opening scene of “Office Space” in the next couple weeks:

I’ll be driving along the Prince William Parkway, playing music at unhealthy decibels. I’ll pull up to a stoplight and glance over at the car next to me. Whoever it is, I’ll turn the volume down and roll up my window, as they’ll be giving me strange looks.

Unlike “Office Space,” I won’t be listening to gangsta rap. I’ll be listening to “Sweeney Todd.”

It’s a guilty, guilty pleasure. I practically wear my comic book obsession on my sleeves, but I’m a bit quieter with love for many things Broadway.

My most embarrassing moment in college was when my roommate walked in on me listening to “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” That was the same year I drove up to New York to see Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in “The Producers,” but more because I was a fan of Mel Brooks and the movie, rather than that I liked musicals.

Since then, I haven’t seen too many shows, but was fortunate to catch Neil Patrick Harris as Lee Harvey Oswald in Sondheim’s “Assassins” and lucked into $25 front row seats to “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” 

It was those two shows — musicals about presidential assassins and dysfunctional elementary school students — that showed me that a good Broadway show didn’t have to be an adaptation of a favorite movie and that there was more to the stage than jazz hands and chorus lines.

Whereas Mel Brooks showed me that a good musical should embrace the absurdities of the stage and spontaneous singing, “Sweeney Todd” took me further. 

“Sweeney Todd” was one of my favorite movies from the past year, the perfect balance of Tim Burton’s cinematic eccentricities for all things Disney and macabre. It was quite serious. The dancing was kept to a minimum and after a few moments, the singing seemed just as natural as movie dialog.

I regret, however, that it had to be a large-scale Hollywood production to introduce me to Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece.

Hollywood and Broadway are having an incestuous affair with no apparent end in sight. Hit movies become musicals; hit musicals become movies. This, of course, is nothing new (see: “Carrie- The Musical”). Blame corporate branding, blame the arrival of Disney in Times Square, but it seems, more and more movies wind up on stage instead of the Best Buy bargain bin.

Of the 18 shows “recommended” at broadway.com, nearly half were originally movies (“Young Frankenstein,” “Spamalot,” “Legally Blonde” to name a few). Also, of the “recommended” shows, “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Rent,” “Hairspray” and “Chicago” were recently adapted for the silver screen.

2008 should also see the arrival of “Shrek: The Musical” on Broadway and “Mamma Mia!” at the movies.

What next? “Die Hard with a Virtuoso”?

If I were to hop on a bus to New York and stand in the half-price ticket line (worth a weekend trip, if you’ve got the time), I’d be much more interested in “Spring Awakening,” which received rave reviews and has music written by Duncan Sheik, than any movie-turned-musical.

Besides, “Spring Awakening” is not a show written around Duncan Sheik music, it’s a show with new songs, penned by Duncan Sheik (because, let’s face it: his catalog doesn’t have the same fan base as ABBA or Billy Joel).

But bigger name rock stars are headed to Broadway. The biggest, in fact: Bono and The Edge are at work penning the music for a Spider-Man musical, to be directed by Julie Taymor (“Across the Universe,” Broadway’s “The Lion King”).

Yes, you read that right: A Spider-Man musical. Look, I love Spider-Man. I love a good musical. But I also love pizza and ice cream and I’m not about to mix the two.

But, with the talent involved, it could work. I’m morbidly curious. If I don’t see it in New York, I’ll probably catch the traveling production.

Or see the inevitable movie musical.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.

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