Playbill.com reported that Playwrights Horizons, a not-for-profit NYC-based production and development company, have commissioned the development of a musical based on the 2002 film Far From Heaven. They have tapped songwriting team Scott Frankel and Michael Korie to compose the score and playwright Richard Greenberg to write the book.
Far From Heaven is the 1950s-set story of Cathy, a housewife, who catches her husband, Frank, kissing another man. She befriends a black gardener, Frank, and tries to cope with the destruction of her personal life. The film was shot with many authentic period melodrama details, including angled camera shots to portray the power in the various relationships, plays of light and shadow, and an emotional orchestral score with variations on the same piano theme shifting to reflect the mood.
The score functioned very much like a musical score to intensify and express the feelings the characters could not say. I say that makes the story perfect fodder for a stage musical. It’s all about forbidden feelings and intense emotions that can’t be readily divulged in proper society. Those hidden emotions bubbling beneath the surface are what compel the characters in musicals to express themselves in song. This feels like one of those projects you wouldn’t anticipate happening (like musicals based off of Hairspray or Monty Python and the Holy Grail) that go on to great critical and commercial success because the material lends itself to the musical form.
The team working on the musical is a very strong, targeted effort to get the work written in the best way possible straight away. Frankel and Korie are the Tony-nominated composers of Grey Gardens, the musical based on the documentary of the same name. It tells the story of Big Edith and Little Edie Beale, disgraced socialites living in the Hamptons.
The first act, set in 1941, covers the events leading to their fall from social grace; the second act, set in 1973, weaves together scenes from the documentary Grey Gardens into a tangled landscape of regret, memory, and hope. The music guided the performances by clearly establishing all of the major character arcs (not to degrade the actors who elevated the material, but the music gave them the raw material to work with, interpret, and sell to the audience), allowing the actors to present strong, award-winning performances (both Christine Ebersole (Big Edith ’41, Little Edie ’73) and Mary Louise Wilson (Big Edith ’73) won Tony Awards for their performances). The score was smart, funny, and memorable.
Playwright Richard Greenberg is best known for his 2003 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Take Me Out. This play was about a mixed race baseball player who wants to come out of the closet at the peak of his career. The play tackled issues of racism, homophobia, and the nature of masculinity without coming across as preachy or manipulative. The dialogue felt natural even as the circumstances of the play pushed further and further into tragic territory. The play went on to win the Tony Award for Best Play, as well as Best Featured Actor for Dennis O’Hare and Best Director for Joe Mantello.
It’s impossible to say that a show-writing team will be successful before any of the material is released. There are projects that look wonderful on paper that turn out to be horrible, and unexpected creative decisions that are received with critical acclaim. The reason I’m optimistic for Far From Heaven is the creative team’s prior experience with the subject matter. Scott Frankel and Michael Korie scored a musical about a woman’s fall from grace and the effects on her family, while Richard Greenberg wrote a play with all the same themes as the film he’s adapting. It seems like a winning scenario, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting any news on the show’s development.