Questions for "The Eddy"

Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” is executive producing an eight-episode series for Netflix titled “The Eddy.” Chazelle will also be directing two of the episodes, which will be written by Jack Thorne of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” fame. “The Eddy” will be set in contemporary Paris, focusing on the owner and house band of a club, as well as the city around them; the show intends to hire primarily French cast and crew. Interestingly, it will feature dialogue in English, French, and Arabic, exploring the multiculturalism of modern Paris. Oh, and the best part? It’ll be a musical.

I’m not sure how to feel about this project yet. On one hand, it’s a multicultural musical exploring (hopefully) interesting relationships in a vibrant city. On the other hand, it’s Damien Chazelle. While “La La Land” is beloved by many, it didn’t strike the right chord with me. I was disappointed by its focus on spectacle over story, slow pacing, and casting decisions. The music itself I liked, but I only discovered that through cover versions from singers that had more skill and energy than the original versions.

“La La Land” has also been criticized, rightfully so, for both its self-obsession and extraordinary whiteness. It’s a love story about Hollywood, is it any wonder that Hollywood rewarded it with so many accolades? Beyond that, however, it takes on an almost absurd level of nostalgia as both white leads yearn for a time past: classic Hollywood for Mia (coincidentally, a totally white Hollywood) and “real” jazz for Sebastian. While the movie features some performances from Black jazz musicians, the focus on a white man on a mission to “save” jazz without any real discussion of the racial history of the art form feels decided tone-deaf, and even deliberately brushed over.

All of this is to say, I have concerns about “The Eddy.” The inclusion of different cultures and languages seems promising, but will it be the story of a white man and how his personal life and journey are affected by his relationships with people of color, or will it reach out to fully tell the stories of different kinds of people? Will it remain a production team of all white men, or will they include Arab people in crafting these stories? Will they actually cast people who are trained in musical performance, or will we be stuck with another Ryan Gosling?

I’ll be watching the show when it’s released to find the answer to all of these questions, but seriously: don’t give us another Ryan Gosling.

Musical Movie Adaptations

Adapting stage musicals for the big screen evokes a similar reaction to me as book adaptations: you know, “the book is better.”

Movie musicals are different and more subtle than the differences between books and their film adaptations, however. Generally speaking, when a book is adapted for the screen, it is (sometimes significantly) cut down and decisions are made about how to visually portray characters and sets. I think book-to-movie adaptations often seem inferior because reading book is entirely too different from watching a movie. Different people experience books differently, but for me, I get certain feelings from different characters. I don’t visualize what they look like, but I can feel how they look and sound. If an actor doesn’t match that feeling-- and they rarely do-- it’s jarring. This is escapable if they movie is done very well, staying true to the books while making the necessary changes to translate to a visual medium (for example, I think Hunger Games is a great movie series). It also works if the movie series is so prolific that the actors feel like the characters with time, even if they originally didn’t (hello, Harry Potter). Finally, and most simply, it works if I haven’t read the book.

Musicals, however, are already a visual medium, and they’re designed for different actors to take the same role as time goes on. It seems like they would be easy to adapt for the big screen, but it seems like they often have huge problems. Musicals are visual, yes, but they’re also designed to be performed on a set in front of an audience. If the actors need to be in a car, they can sit in a fake car and pretend to drive, and no one cares or questions it. One set can represent several different locations as actors move around the stage, and that’s fine too. Some shows, like Pippin, are entirely dependent on the live stage setting. A movie adaptation has to take the story of the musical and make all of the sets and locations look real. I find that even when movies manage to capture a musical’s spirit and translate the difficulty of the stage onto the screen, it is impossible to capture the joy of live theater. Even watched a professional recording of a musical can’t compare: there’s something lovely and magical about live theater that can’t be reproduced in a movie.

So, these are our problems with musical movies. How do different musicals deal with these problems? I’ve seen quite a few stage musicals, and even more movie musicals. Here are some of my thoughts on a few of the shows that I’ve seen both the stage and movie versions. (Minor spoiler warnings for all three!)

Rock of Ages: Ohhh boy. I saw a touring production of Rock of Ages a few months before I watched the movie. I am VERY glad I saw the stage version first, because the movie was awful. Don’t get me wrong, the stage version wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of modern theater either, but it was a ton of fun and a thoroughly enjoyable show. However, none of the fun carried over into the movie. They kept the main plotline surrounding the central couple (for the most part… they even made some frankly unnecessary changes to that), but removed a lot of the rest of the show. Unfortunately, this was a show that wasn’t easy to make into a movie. A lot of the best laughs would have been impossible to pull off on screen. At one point the club owners walk onstage and start talking about how they’ve cleaned out the building. One then turns to a wall of the set, which is still covered in pictures, and says “...Except for all that shit over there.” He then turns to the band, which have been in the back wall of the set for the entire show, in apparent amazement. “And you guys! Have you been here the whole time?!” On stage, it was hilarious. In the movie, it was nonexistent, because how could they have pulled that off? The best character in the entire show, a flamboyant German man named Hans, didn’t appear in the movie. Goodbye, half of the fun. Also, to be clear: it wasn’t just a bad adaptation, it was also a terrible movie in general. Stage: B/Movie: F

 

Chicago: I saw the movie version of Chicago first, which may have helped my perception how good it was compared to the Broadway production. However, I thought that both the stage and movie versions were very good, and that the movie managed to preserve an impressive amount of the appeal of stage musicals. In the show, the full band is right in the middle of the stage, and the characters interact with them. Music and theatricality is a huge part of the show’s plot, so the presence of the band and the casual fourth-wall breaking fits seamlessly into the show. The movie handled this in what I thought was a surprisingly effective tactic: they had all the musical numbers be hallucinations/fantasies of the performance-obsessed main character. They get to keep the glamour of stage sets, the appeal of fourth-wall breaking, and made it plausible by keeping it all inside a woman’s mind. It was a little strange at first, but the performances were excellent and the movie sucked you in quickly. Stage: A-/Movie: B+

 

Les Miserables: Les Mis is a classic musical for a reason. It’s an epic story, entirely sung through, historically featuring some of the most powerful singers on Broadway. Try to listen to “On My Own” and not weep. You can’t. (I once had the joy of watching two of my theater-nerd friends simultaneously sing “On My Own” in two different languages: one in English, one in France. Another friend indicated which one should sing by placing his hand on their head, switching between the two at random enough intervals for it to be both beautiful and hilarious.)

The first version of Les Mis I saw was the televised 25th anniversary. It wasn’t really staged, it was just sung through by the actors. Still, it was an incredible show. Soon after, I watched a touring production live and loved it.

In my opinion, the movie version was… alright. Some of the cast members were perfect in their roles (Aaron Tveit and Samantha Bark, obviously. On a related note, I would like to marry both of them). Others… I love Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried in other movies. I just don’t think they worked in these roles, considering what I’ve come to expect from Les Mis performers. (Don’t even get me started on Russell Crowe. Whoever cast Russell Crowe can fight me.)

The movie itself is pretty good, it’s just not the kind of musical that works well on a movie screen. The director was trying way too hard to be “big musical epic” in a way that didn’t translate to a screen. Also, watching completely sung-through movies is a little disconcerting. Stage: A/Movie: B

Am I too harsh on theater adaptations? Perhaps. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them, especially for shows that I really enjoy. In The Heights and Wicked, the first two shows I ever saw on Broadway (I saw them both in the same day #bestmomever) and two of my all-time favorites, are both in the early stages of movie adaptations and I am SO excited. I’ve seen the movie version of Rent approximately seven thousand and twelve times. Live theater will always be my favorite form of entertainment, but movie musicals can be pretty incredible too.

 

Theater Motivation Playlist

I love musical theater.

I really really really love musical theater.

This is the first of what will probably be an infinite number of blog posts relating somehow to musicals. I was raised by a musical-loving mother and spent family road trips singing along to “Broadway’s Best Hits.” I’ve seen nearly a dozen Broadway productions, either on Broadway or on tour. I joined a singing group on campus that exclusively sings musical theater (despite the fact that I can barely sing). Don’t even mention Hamilton to me, or I will sing every single song at you.

Recently I’ve been pumping myself up with a great “Theater Motivation” playlist that I thought I would share here. It includes songs from several of my favorite musicals, and I’ve been playing it while exercising/walking to class/doing laundry/anything else I need to make a little more epic. I hope you can find a little inspiration in it as well.

Prologue: Into the Woods // Into the Woods

Wait For It // Hamilton

The Room Where It Happens // Hamilton

One Short Day //  Wicked

I’ve Decided to Marry You // A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

My Shot (NSFW) // Hamilton

It Won’t Be Long Now //  In The Heights

Rent // Rent

Run and Tell That // Hairspray

Right Hand Man (NSFW) // Hamilton

Dancing Queen // Mamma Mia

96,000 (NSFW) // In The Heights

The Bitch of Living (NSFW) // Spring Awakening

Mamma Mia // Mamma Mia

La Vie Boheme (NSFW) // Rent

You Can’t Stop the Beat // Hairspray

Guns and Ships // Hamilton

I Believe (NSFW) // Book of Mormon

Totally F*cked (NSFW, duh) // Spring Awakening

One Day More // Les Miserables

Defying Gravity // Wicked