TIFF 2014: From Stage to Screen

Image credit: TIFF

 

[O]n the heels of the success of Les Miserables, and just in time to be compared to trailers for the upcoming Into The Woods movie, the film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years will be premiering this year at TIFF at the Ryerson Theatre. Adaptations of stage shows can provoke different thoughts from fans of the original. Much like book-to-film adaptations, theatre fans tend to be skeptical of casting, accuracy of story and the nature of the score when their favourite show is translated for the big screen.

Considering the modern score of Jason Robert Brown’s musical and the innovative and relatable plot line of love and loss, this film adaptation has substantial potential. The story follows a couple, Jamie and Cathy, as they come to terms with their divorce. It is told in two timelines: one in Jamie’s point of view when his relationship with Cathy is blooming, and the other from Cathy’s perspective when the relationship is coming to a close.

This show could make a great film if done right—that is, if the film has taken a couple of tips from film adaptations both good and bad over the years. And to be a success, The Last Five Years must create a film loyal to the original stage production while also existing separately and providing some excitement and surprise to viewers who are long time fans of the show.

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[M]ost fan concerns regarding film adaptations of stage shows are announced revolves around the casting. There tends to be two different approaches to casting such films, however, as these films can either see the return of the original Broadway cast of the show (Rent, The Producers) or it can be packed with much loved A-list stars (Chicago, Hairspray).

Although the actors who originated iconic roles on the stage would be ideal to reprise them on film, the editor of BroadwayWorld’s Toronto page, Alan Henry explains often when the filming of an adaptation commences, the cast has outgrown the role. “They’ve had a chance at those parts, it’s someone else’s time now,” he said.

But Ryerson Production graduate Abdi Omar recognizes “the need and want for using film actors or more recognizable screen actors to reprise the roles. Although the film adaptation of Rent used its original cast, it did not gross the same massive earnings as the recent star studded adaptation of Les Miserables did. That being said, Les Miserables’s cast featured some well-known actors with substantial theatre experience. The key does not seem to be boot the original cast for A-listers or recycle them, but rather comprise a cast experienced in the field. The Last Five Years seems to have done this, as itstars Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick, who has proven to have pipes as well as having solid Hollywood reputation. Playing opposite her will be Jeremy Jordan, a young respected theatre actor best known for his role in Newsies.

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[R]egardless of strong casting, the best talents cannot save a poor script that could not transition the magic of dialogue from stage to screen. Last year, TIFF premiered a star-studded film adaptation of the play August: Osage County to a multitude of mixed reviews, many of which complimented the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Roberts, Ewan Macgregor and Meryl Streep. While the celebrity casting drew attention to August, people left the film questioning the nature of the script, which was inferior to the casting. Henry feels that for an adaptation to work, creators need to do more with the script than “plopping it up on a movie set.” “It loses all of the magic, any sense of theatricality, ” he said. “A [film adaptation should] still stand on its own as a work of art…I’m all for making changes if they improve the adaptation.”

Another struggle is creating a film with seamless transitions where the story would usually break in two. “Nothing can replace the energy of physically being in the same room as the actors, the set, the lighting etc,” Omar expressed. For these reasons, Henry believes “[stage to film adaptations require] a screenwriter who can visualize alternatives to stage devices that would work on film.”

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[C]onsidering the intricate casting of Jordan and Kendrick, viewers should feel safe that the pair will do the music and the story justice. The Last Five Years seems to have casting, score and visual aspects—like set and costume—down pat, the only thing left to see is how the actors sound (we have high hopes), and how the dual perspectives play out without seeming cheesy or confusing (this is slightly disconcerting).

Nevertheless, this highly anticipated movie will not only be bringing our favourite Barden Bella to the Ryerson Theatre, but it may be one of the most well-done film adaptations of a musical in a long time.

The Last Five Years premieres the Ryerson Theatre Sunday at 8:30 p.m.