Why no "Big River" film?

Last night my wife and I went to the local repertory’s production of Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by William Hauptman, music and lyrics by Roger “King of the Road” Miller.

I first saw this show in Boston back in 1984 and on Broadway a few years later. It won seven Tonies in its orginal run, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. It had successful Broadway revival in 2003.

I started wondering - as a successful (and quintessentially American) musical play, why has this never been turned into a motion picture? The music is catchy and award-winning, the cast is not huge, the setpieces are trivial. It would not be a terribly expensive movie to make (other than the rights, I guess). I don’t see very many Best Musical award winners since 1980 that have not been filmed (although several were adapted from film to start with).

Anyone with knowledge of Broadway and/or Hollywood have any idea what the obstacle is?

Other than filming outdoors on a big frickin’ river! :wink:

The answer, of course, is that that particular theatre musical came out in an era when the movie musical was (and still is) mostly dead, with the number of major film adaptations of Broadway hits few and far between.

Looking at the Tony nominees for Best Musical from 1980-1989 (winners marked with an asterisk), we have the following that were made into movies:


The Phantom of the Opera*

That’s a grand total of 5 out of 39 (with mega-blockbusters Cats and Les Miz among the missing). And 4 of those 5 took over 15 years before reaching the silver screen. 4 of those 5 also have stories that take place in the 20th century and 4 out of 5 can also be construed as a love story, making them a bit more “accessible”–always an important factor for trying to justify spending the kind of money involved. Big River qualifies as neither, and regardless of how good that musical (unknown to me) is, “Huck Finn, but with singing!” does not immediately jump to mind as particularly accessible or bankable (especially if you’ve got that touchy slavery thing to contend with). Even if it is on both counts, you need to sell it as such and most studios can’t be bothered to take the risk.

I’d like to see a definitive version of Huckleberry Finn made, perhaps as an HBO miniseries that won’t be boring but will include the sideplots so often dropped (the feuding Grangerford family, the Dauphin’s “candle trick”, etc.).

There was certainly a dearth of musical film in the 80’s and 90’s, but you can see on wikipediathe incredible number of musical films that are being made in just in 2010-11 alone. Including many remakes, and Broadway shows like Wicked (2011), Aida, Pippin, Peter Pan (remake), *Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, * and Jesus Christ Superstar. Not all of those have love stories – although probably none of them deal with slavery and use “the N word.”

I’m just bummed because I want to go back and watch BR again but I can’t. :frowning: