Splashy Hollywood musicals are back

Until recently, it seemed movie musicals stood as much of a chance of a resurgence as the ”Ma and Pa Kettle” series. The word ”Newsies” (remember those singing newsboys?) had become synonymous with ”Empty Theaters.” But the 34.3 million viewers of Disney’s ”Cinderella,” ABC’s best Sunday night numbers in more than 10 years, combined with a spate of projects in development, show that when it comes to on-screen musicals, maybe the fat lady hasn’t sung — and danced — just yet.

Miramax Films (whose Dimension division revived the horror flick with ”Scream”) is leading the chorus line with two musicals in development: The Martin Scorsese-produced ”Rent,” and ”Chicago” with Goldie Hawn and Madonna. What’s more, part-time neurotic, part-time dance man Jason Alexander recently signed a two-year deal with Universal TV, and reportedly will produce some live-action musicals. Sure, ”Evita” and ”Everybody Says I Love You” were box office underachievers, but the new breed of darker, edgier productions may catch on. ”A great musical needs to take you to another world,” says BT McNicholl, assistant director of Broadway’s ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” ”For most people, ‘Rent’ does that.”

As ”Cinderella” proved with its popular leads Brandy and Whitney Houston, casting is the key to luring audiences. But in trying to nab the younger crowd, studios may risk alienating olders viewers who are nostalgic for the hoofers of days gone by. Says Frank Military, Senior VP of Warner/Chappell Music, a leading publisher of show music: ”I would dread to see what kind of musical they would come up with for Mariah Carey.” Old Blue Eyes, are you listening?

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