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Why 007 would make an amazing musical
I'm no "theatre geek," whether you take that term to mean (a) someone who knows a great deal about theatre or (b) someone who bites the heads off chickens onstage. However, I am a huge fan of James Bond films (I even wrote and directed a short spoof of one). So a few months ago, when I heard that a 007 musical was in development and Broadway bound, I was all ready to book my tickets for both the show and the plane I'd need to fly me to NYC.
Turns out my excitement was premature: It's possible this production may never happen and even if it does, it's going to be a parody (not that there's anything wrong with that). But I'm still hopeful that Bond will tread the boards because I believe the spy franchise is a great fit for the stage.
Take 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the first Bond movie I ever experienced (I didn't actually see it that first time; I was still in utero, a captive audience in every respect as my parents took in dinner and a movie). Even though that film is profoundly silly, I still love it to pieces, and one of my favorite elements is the music by Marvin Hamlisch. Not many people share that opinion these days, since the score is a bombastic relic of the '70s disco era, as dated as a key party. It was a pretty radical turn for a guy just coming off winning a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line.
That said, Hamlisch's "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, sounds like a show tune just like many of the Bond theme songs from the '60s and '70s. It's no wonder many were crafted by veterans of musical theatre, including Lionel Bart ("From Russia With Love"), Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley ("Goldfinger"), Don Black ("Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever," and "The Man with the Golden Gun"), and Hal David ("The Look of Love," "We Have All the Time in the World," and "Moonraker"). And while the series’ later themes drifted into conventional pop/rock territory, the lush orchestral feel of Adele’s "Skyfall" marked a welcome return to the good old days. Add in the fact that Mad Men and cocktail culture have made the '60s cool again, and this may be the perfect moment for a retro-contemporary 007 stage production.
But Bond's built-in Broadway showstoppers aren’t the only reason the property is ripe for musicalization. The series established a structural signature very early on -- simmering plot/character tension, frequently erupting into larger-than-life set pieces -- that influenced big-budget thrillers for generations to come. Even 007's more serious-minded outings have a giddiness about their action sequences, an infectious spirit that overrides the absurdity of what's happening and convinces us to suspend our disbelief. I think those same principles apply to any great Broadway tuner, just replace "action set piece" with "musical number." Bursting into a tightly choreographed song and dance is about as realistic as driving a motorcycle over a cliff to free fall into a plane. And yet when it's perfectly executed, the audience enjoys it too much to care. Parallels aside, it's going to take a special kind of alchemy to translate the epic thrills of the movies into jaw-dropping stage numbers, but if the creators pull it off, the results could be pretty extraordinary.
Speaking of this may-not-happen Bond show, the choice of relatively unknown country artist Jay Henry Weisz as songwriter is intriguing. At first blush, James Bond and country music sound like the kind of accidental pairing that results from a few drunken Tinder swipes. I doubt very much, however, that Weisz has been tasked with bringing "that Johnny Cash sound" to the 007 universe. (But if that notion has you curious, check this out.) On the other hand, the underlying spirit of country music -- moody, confessional storytelling -- makes for a nice fit with the darker, more pensive side of James Bond that has only recently been explored in the Daniel Craig films but was always an essential component of Ian Fleming's novels. Turning the story inward, taking the time to examine what makes this iconic character tick, would be a great mission for this musical, especially considering that even the most lavish Broadway production could never keep pace with the zillions of exotic locations that a single Bond film cycles through. I'm not saying there shouldn't still be healthy doses of pyrotechnics, wirework, and armies of scantily clad dancers, but I do think it's great that the stage offers a little more room for emotional nuance than a $200 million franchise juggernaut does.
Of course I have no idea what will happen if and when the curtain rises on the Bond musical. But assuming it moves forward, I will be in the audience on opening night, wearing a tuxedo, tingling with anticipation as my favorite fictional character attempts to conquer a new medium.
Nick Rheinwald-Jones is an LA-based screen and television writer who co-created the pop-cultural blog and podcast Pop Whore.
Photo from Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical by Toronto's Ross Petty.