I’ve talked about my general disinterest in stage musicals before, but that was with a property that I didn’t have any strong feelings towards. Today’s news is a different matter.
THR reports that Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy is getting turned into a musical by the people who brought you Rock of Ages and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (I’m assuming the stage versions and not the films). While both of those properties have enjoyed widespread acclaim, it doesn’t make me any happier about this news.
The King of Comedy is Scorsese’s unsung masterpiece. Most people will point to more recognizable titles like GoodFellas, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. For me, The King of Comedy is Scorsese’s darkest, saddest, and scariest film in his repertoire. It’s a vicious critique of our culture’s obsession and worship of celebrities, all told through the pathetic and terrifying story of wannabe comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro, in a performance I’d stack up against any of his other roles). It’s not really a comedy as much as it is a bizarre quasi-remake of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver that strips away any of the misplaced heroism the viewer felt for Travis Bickle. And in the end, the depraved actions and antics Rupert undergoes in order to achieve his shot at stardom are all celebrated by an ignorant and all too supportive audience. It’s a film you need to see if you haven’t already.
With all that praise out of the way, here’s why I can’t see this as a musical. For starters, the title will be made more literal because musicals these days must contain at least a few comedic bits and songs. Though there is some laughter to be had in The King of Comedy, it’s by no means a funny movie. Also, the story is a very small and simple one that doesn’t lend itself to the pageantry of the stage. Finally, the whole story is a scathing indictment of show business and the audience’s complicit nature in the creation of a monster like Rupert Pupkin. It’s very difficult for me to see that coming across successfully to an audience of affluent theatergoers.
As always, the “it doesn’t devalue the original” argument stands firm enough, but this feels like a story that doesn’t need to be glittered up with showy songs and dance numbers. If this means more people seek out the film, then I’ll take that as a small comfort.
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