Vicky Roach, The Daily Telegraph, reports
How do you top a 6m-tall gorilla with massive stage presence?
Global Creatures, the company behind monster hit and eight-time Helpmann nominee King Kong, is too smart to even try.
After pulling off the technological feat of the decade, the folk who gave us Walking With Dinosaurs and the How To Train Your Dragon arena show are figuratively downsizing for their next project - Strictly Ballroom, the musical -which opens in Sydney in April.
The hotly-anticipated stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's breakthrough 1992 film marks a significant shift away from Global Creatures' animatronics-driven market niche, but as was the case with its chest-thumping, multi-million dollar predecessor, the producers are relying on the knock-on effect of some good, old fashioned movie magic to help them cast a spell over the box office.
And in that regard, the two productions are right on trend.
Almost all the major new musicals that have opened in Australia in the last few years, from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to Hairspray, Dr Zhivago to An Officer and A Gentleman, have been adapted from successful feature films.
"Audiences seem to want a level of comfort about what it is they are going to see,'' says Global Creatures chief executive Carmen Pavlovic.
"One of the benefits of having a well-known title, of course, is that you come to the market with a certain amount of branding in place and a certain amount of recognition.
"But that can also mean a huge amount of expectation. So it can be good and bad."
John Frost, who produced eight-time Helpmann nominee Legally Blonde, compares the familiarity phenomenon to the pleasure of eating at a favourite restaurant.
"On a Friday night, when you finish work, you say: let's go to the local Italian on the corner. I know that food. I can take my own bottle of red. I know I will have a good time."
Frost has three more film-to-musical adaptations - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The First Wives Club and The Bodyguard - on his current production slate. A fourth, based on the hit Australian film Red Dog, is currently in development.
Directors Simon Phillips (Priscilla) and Roger Hodgman (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) don't believe the current crop of film-to-musical productions is driven purely by commercial considerations.
Almost by their very nature, they say, film scripts lend themselves well to musical adaptation.
"If you look at the bones of the story, it happens in quite quick small grabs. And that allows the same kind of air for songs that a movie does for visuals,'' says Phillips.
Hodgman, currently in rehearsals for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Tony Sheldon, agrees.
"A lot of film is told by pictures. In a way, the music is replacing the pictures, and in some cases, that allows a much more emotional connection with the characters."
And the two directors point out that the recycling of storylines is a time-honoured theatrical practice.
My Fair Lady was based on a play (George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.) So was Oklahoma and the opera Madame Butterfly. Most of Shakespeare's plays were based on earlier works.
Nor is it a one-way street. Hit Australian movie The Sapphires, for instance, actually started out life on stage.
"Good, snappy, original stories are not as thick on the ground as we would like them to be,'' says Phillips.
"So you grab the essence of an idea from wherever you can and then make it into the art form that is your skill set."
Even so, says Hodgman, basing a musical on a movie is no guarantee of success.
For every Legally Blonde, there's an Addams Family, which ended prematurely, leaving the Capitol Theatre in the dark.
And for every Priscilla, there's An Officer and A Gentleman, which flopped at the box office.
"I think people are getting to the point where they do want to see original stuff,'' says Frost, who produced the original musical based on the 1982 Richard Gere/Debra Winger romance.
"Whether An Officer and a Gentleman was good or bad, people didn't go. One of the reasons, I think, was that they thought: well, I saw that movie why do I want to go and see it on stage?"
So in the interests of creative and financial diversification, Frost is also developing a new musical, Dream Lover, based on the story of singer-songwriter Bobby Darin, who died at the age of 37.
* This year's Helpmann Awards winners will be announced at the Opera House on Monday. They screen on Foxtel's Arena channel on Monday night at 8.30pm and are then repeated at 10.30pm, and on Tuesday at 2.35pm and 4.35pm.