It used not to happen too often that a classic movie musical got remade. West Side Story (1961) won 10 Oscars including best picture, but despite its stature, none other than director Steven Spielberg has a new version in the works. Let's hope he's more skilled with a musical than he was with a big bombastic comedy (1941 was a big flop).
It's not a bad choice if you're going to reboot: while the earlier version was good, especially in the musical numbers, the new one could improve on some of its predecessor's flaws. The 1961 WSS had a wooden male lead in Richard Beymer (will Ansel Elgort be better?), some very non-Hispanic albeit talented "Puerto Ricans", a lot of dubbed singing, and sometimes an inappropriately glossy, bowdlerised feeling. But co-director Jerome Robbins' choreography was outstanding (even if he was fired part way through for taking too long). Certainly the new film's casting appears to be more racially diverse but will Spielberg revert to his more sentimental ways or keep the toughness as well as the romance in the show? Will the translation of some of the Sharks' lyrics into Spanish help or hinder? And will there be cries of racism? And will the sight of street kids dancing and singing still work? So many questions - they'll be answered soon enough.
A new South Pacific is also in development. While the Rodgers and Hammerstein show was liberal-minded in its time, it might seem racially condescending today. A bit of rewriting might give this great score - songs include Some Enchanted Evening and I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy - a new life (though some numbers might be omitted as insensitive). And presumably there will be more appropriate casting for Bloody Mary than an African-American woman. And please, none of the tinting that was used in the original.
The planned film of the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess could well be controversial, as the original show has been (despite being written with good intentions). The original 1959 film is out of circulation now - the Gershwin estate didn't like it and when the rights came back, it was yanked. Will the new version face criticism for alleged shortcomings even before it is released? Or will Porgy and Bess be more widely acclaimed as a classic? It certainly has one of the most memorable scores of any 20th-century opera - Summertime and It Ain't Necessarily So are some of the numbers.
Before rushing to judgment, it's worth bearing in mind shows like the ones above were progressive and well-meaning in their day: how many of today's attitudes will seem inappropriate in a few decades?
And the new Oliver! might be charged with anti-Semitism depending on how Fagin is depicted (though writer-composer-lyricist Lionel Bart was Jewish). This version might also be grittier than the rather scrubbed-clean 1968 adaptation though that one did cut the right songs (Bill Sikes was much scarier when not singing about how scary he was) and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Ron Moody as Fagin will be hard to top.
Other remakes (as well as first-time filmings including Wicked, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Follies) are also in various stages of production or development. While I am an advocate of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" in many circumstances (Colorization, begone!), I can see pluses and minuses when it comes to some of the musical remakes.
Following the best-forgotten Cats are some other planned Lloyd Webbers. Sunset Boulevard is a risky move as it will make comparisons to the brilliant 1950 movie more pertinent, probably not to the musical's advantage. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat could be fun though it would need to be reworked to be livelier than the heavily narrated stage show. I wonder how a new Jesus Christ Superstar would go?
Guys and Dolls is also in the works, and the new version might be a better representation of the Frank Loesser classic. The 1955 film was marred by miscasting of the male leads. Marlon Brando's numbers had to be pieced together and even he said his singing sounded like "the mating call of a yak" (though, presumably because of all the technical work he didn't sound that bad). Frank Sinatra was given the comic role with less singing, which was a waste. A lot of fine songs were cut and some often inferior ones inserted, so there is potential here. Guys and Dolls is one of the all-time classics and deserves another go.
So does another masterpiece of that era, Gypsy. The 1962 version of this Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim show wasn't bad, but Rosalind Russell, a fine actress as the driven stage mother from hell, couldn't manage all the singing (some of it, at least, was dubbed). It's too bad Ethel Merman didn't get to recreate her stage hit. Bette Midler played Rose in a TV remake but a grittier film version of a story that is largely about thwarted ambition and disappointment would be welcome.
And here are a couple that don't seem to be in the works but should. Show Boat was filmed three times but never with anything like the full score (which would, admittedly, have made for a long movie). While somewhat old-fashioned, the show, with its sweeping story and fabulous Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein score - Ol' Man River,Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man et al - could be a great epic musical.
The 1985 version of the long-running musical A Chorus Line was a bit of a disappointment: a more suitable director than Richard Attenborough might be able to translate the very theatrical show better to film. Original stage director/choreographer Michael Bennett never got to make it into a film: whether he would have made the successful transition that Bob Fosse did multiple times and Robbins did once, we'll never know.