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Student Blog: In the Heights and Cats: Why the Team Behind Movie Musicals is so Important


These two movie musicals have had drastically different reviews. Could it be because of their team?

Student Blog: In the Heights and Cats: Why the Team Behind Movie Musicals is so Important Like many others, I recently flocked to my local movie theater for the first time in over a year to see In the Heights. I did have low expectations because of the last movie musical I saw, Cats, but I was pleasantly surprised. In the Heights brought joy and the feeling of community to the screen that's been hard to feel since the pandemic. When I watched Cats for the first time, I was honestly scared and very confused. I think that the team behind the movie musical can make it or break it. I'm going to explore the team behind both musicals and then talk about how I feel that impacted how the film came out.

Cats premiered in theaters in December of 2019. (Was it the beginning of the end?) The film was directed by Tom Hooper, who also directed the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables. That is Hooper's only other theatre-related credit. The screenplay was written by Hooper and Lee Hall, who wrote the 2000 film Billy Elliot and the book and lyrics for the stage adaption. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the original creator of Cats, had little to do with the production of the movie, except writing one new song for the movie, "Beautiful Ghosts". Lloyd Webber himself said that Tom Hooper did not let anyone who worked on the stage version of the show work on the movie. I think this was their issue because by having people who worked on both the stage and screen version, it would have translated differently and possibly better. The film stars newcomer to musical theater Francesca Hayward as Victoria, James Cordon, who you might know for being in every musical movie put out recently, as Bustopher Jones, the iconic Taylor Swift as Bombulrina, Jason Derulo, who you might know as the guy who says his name is every song, as Rum Tum Tugger, and, in one of the most uncomfortable performances I have ever seen, Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy. Obviously, this is a mixed bunch of performers, some with theatre credits and others without. I think that teams of non-musical theatre-related people can make great movie musicals, but Cats is such a strange story and the film crew really should have picked a safer musical to mess around with first.

Now, I'm going to discuss In the Heights. This movie has been highly anticipated by many, especially after the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda's filmed version of Hamilton that released on Disney+ last summer. The film was directed by Jon M. Chu, who is best known for directing Crazy Rich Asians. He does not have any other musical credits, but he did direct two Justin Bieber concert films. The screenplay was written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the original book writer for In the Heights. The film was produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegria Hudes, and Scott Sanders. Scott Sanders is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer. The film is headed by Anthony Ramos, who is best known as playing John Laurens in Hamilton and Usnavi in the 2018 Kennedy Center production of In the Heights. He is supported by Corey Hawkins, who made his Broadway debut in 2013, Grammy-nominated Leslie Grace, telenovela star Melissa Barrera, and Broadway icons Olga Merediz, the original Abuela Claudia on Broadway, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, the original Mimi in Rent. Most actors, producers, and members of this crew have Broadway or theatre credits, which adds to the film.

The difference between the teams of the movies obviously affected the movie's success. While In the Heights is doing worse at the box office than everyone expected, we are still coming out of a pandemic, so people might not be rushing to the movies. Seeing both of these movies and comparing their teams has shown that Hollywood needs to let Broadway people work on movie musicals. There is an understanding that Broadway people have of musicals that Hollywood people don't.

This year, there is still a large lineup of movie musicals yet to be released. Everybody's Talking About Jamie directed by Johnathan Butterell, who directed the West End version, Tick, Tick...Boom! directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg, and Dear Evan Hansen directed by Stephen Chbosky, who directed the Broadway version. It seems like Hollywood has gotten the memo about Broadway people directing and working on musicals, but we will see how these films turn out and see if this is a continuous pattern.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Paige Rosko