Movie Musicals, and the Dream Cast You’ll Likely Disagree With, but Maybe Not

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma.

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma.

So, I never really had a great relationship to the most recent film adaptations of popular broadway musicals. The two exceptions were the Chicago film (2002) starring the fabulous Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the murderous duo, and The Producers (2005) starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and directed by Susan Stroman, all from the original Broadway run.   I’m not saying either of them compares to seeing these two works on stage, or that I prefer this Producers over the original film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. I’m only saying that as musical films, these are pretty stellar. The recording jobs and voice overs aren’t completely unbelievable (unlike Phantom of the Opera (2004), or Rent (2005)), the acting is genuine, and they stay pretty damn close to the original source material. Not that they have to, but it’s really gratifying to see film adaptations staying true to the show the authors wrote originally. Even though Sondheim had the slightest say in how Tim Burton’s take on Sweeney Todd was done, I’m not sure it was successful in conveying the deep complexity of each of the characters (and let’s not even mention that weird rewrite of “Greenfinch and Linnet Bird,” or the way they completely cut out those awesome chorus numbers). calls this photo the movie poster. That's about right. calls this photo the movie poster. That’s about right.

Now, we’re awaiting a highly anticipated adaptation of Sondheim’s Into the Woods with the always brilliant Meryl Streep as the witch (hands down THE most interesting “villain” of all time). I can’t say I’m really too excited yet for this one, though. It’s certainly in good hands. The cast is fabulous, albeit odd. James Lapine has written the screenplay himself, and Sondheim composed a new song for Meryl (inscribing “Don’t fuck it up” at the top of her music on the first day of music rehearsals). The sheer theatricality of this show as a stage piece and the complexity of every single one of the characters may be lost in the Hollywood-ness of this movie. It is a Disney production, after all. We’ll see how that goes.

But, there is one Sondheim piece I can totally see being a brilliant thing on the silver screen.

Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins. Another Sondheim masterpiece (and possibly my favorite of his).

Hear me out.

We’ll get Rob Marshall to direct. He’s certainly got a knack for the musicals (I think he’s also involved with bringing a film version of Next to Normal to life). What he did with Chicago and the way he plays up the fantasy vaudeville side of that show (the life and heart of it in the first place) can be utilized in Assassins.

Imagine opening up to an abandoned or closed carnival ground. Credits begin to roll, as the various side show lights slowly start to come on, and we hear the first notes of “Everybody’s Got the Right” on that creepy calliope. It just sounds so awesome. Intersperse scenes at the sideshow ground with historical scenes with our characters, each making their case, and you’ve got a hit.

The Cast:

Patina Miller's Tony-winning performance of the Leading Player

Patina Miller’s Tony-winning performance of the Leading Player

First and foremost, I want Patina Miller in the role of proprietor. The first person who sings in the show. The runner of the shooting range. We’ll just get that out of the way now. Have you seen Pippin? Good lord. The role of Balladeer/Lee Harvey* could be Leonardo DiCaprio (let’s be honest, I have no idea if he sings or plays guitar, but this is just dream casting, right?). I feel like Joseph Gordon-Levitt could make a nice John Wilkes Booth. He seems to have grown up enough to take on the character, but is young enough to still look the part, and he’s getting better and better with each new picture he does. Edward Norton would make a great Guiteau (granted he steps out of the drama-drama-drama place he’s been working in for so long). John Turturro would make a pretty scary and out of this world Zangara. I want Javier Bardem as Sam Byck, which seems like an odd choice, but how awesome would it be to see Javier in a Santa suit?  Meryl Streep could play Emma Goldman, because every film needs a Meryl Streep. We’ll cast Jennifer Lawrence as Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme. Kathy Bates would be nuts as Sara Jane Moore. For Czolgosz, I’d have to bring in musical theatre actor Tally Sessions (Big Fish, Yank!, among others) after his performance as Czolgosz (or “Man With His Hand Wrapped in a Handkerchief”), which was already fantastically eerie in La Chiusa’s Queen of the Mist. This leaves us with John Hinckley. This role makes me a bit sad. I’ve always thought that any film version of Assassins would feature the unfortunately late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the would be assassin, whose gunshot only wounded Ronald Reagan in 1981. The Hinckley/Fromme duet is one of the most memorably brilliant, scary, bizarre, moving, sickening, and beautiful duets EVER, and hearing it between Hoffman and Lawrance would have been a really crazy thing to see. But next in line for this role would have to be Jonah Hill. His acting chops have soared recently. The man who starred in 21 Jump Street and Superbad now has an Oscar nom in his belt for Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. He can handle Hinckley.

So, make it happen, all you people with any sort of weight in Hollywood. I’d be first in line. This could be a thing, and people like a good twisted political thriller (am I right, my House of Cards friends?).

*The original casting of this show utilized two separate actors to play each of these roles, but in recent productions, people have molded the two together, to fantastic dramatic effect.

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