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A film version of the Broadway musical "Rent" is now singing and dancing at your local cineplex, soon to be joined there by "The Producers." Meanwhile, a stage musical based on the movie "Tarzan" is opening on Broadway soon, and it will be joined next year by "Mary Poppins." Cross-pollination between stage and screen isn't new, but our Bob Mondello says it's becoming more common and more profitable.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

Broadway has long been a place where singing and dancing reigned supreme, but at the multiplex, not so much.

(Soundbite of song from "Rent")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) How do you write a song when the chords sound wrong though they once sounded right and rare?

MONDELLO: In just nine days at movie theaters, "Rent" has taken in almost $20 million, about what the stage version takes in in a year. But that's not much in movie terms, which is why movie musicals have gone in and out of fashion since Fred Astaire taught Hollywood to dance. They were in in the 1970s when "Cabaret" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" made them look hip...

(Soundbite of "Time Warp" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show")

Group of People: (Singing) Let's do the Time Warp again.

MONDELLO: ...and they were out in the '80s and '90s when a new thing called MTV made them look old-fashioned and stagey.

(Soundbite of "Tomorrow" from "Annie")

Unidentified Girl: (Singing) The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow...

MONDELLO: Then the sun came out on the 21st century, and a pair of Hollywood musicals brought the form back again. "Moulin Rouge!" earned a snappy $175 million in 2001, and a year later, a one-time Broadway flop got radically reconceived for the screen and took in more than $300 million.

(Soundbite of "All That Jazz" from "Chicago")

Ms. CATHERINE ZETA-JONES: (As Velma Kelly) (Singing) ...and all that jazz. Start the car. I know a whoopee spot where the gin is cold but the piano's hot. It's just a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl and all...

MONDELLO: "Chicago" made it official; the movie musical could still be profitable. But "Chicago" wasn't much of a model for other projects. It got around the `Why are all those people bursting into song?' question by having its leading lady fantasize the musical numbers from her jail cell. You can't do that often.

Last year's "Phantom of the Opera" tried another tact, creating an operatic,all-singing world on screen with only modest box office results. "Rent's" solution, since it has characters who look like refugees from music videos, is to let them croon like they're in music videos.

So now, for 8.50, you can get this "Rent" at your local multiplex.

(Soundbite of song from "Rent")

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) You're shivering.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) It's nothing that turns on my heat, and I'm just a little weak on my feet. Would you light...

MONDELLO: And for $85, you can get this "Rent" at New York's Nederlander Theatre.

(Soundbite of song from "Rent")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) And I'm just a little weak on my feet. Would you light my candle? What are you staring at?

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) Nothing.

MONDELLO: For decades, producers worried that no one would go to a stage show once a movie of it was available and waited until hits were on their last legs. But musicals started running for so long--"Phantom" will soon celebrate its 18th anniversary on Broadway--that producers loosened up a bit and discovered that movie buzz could help a stage show rather than hurt it. "Chicago" and "Phantom" were fading on Broadway when their movies came out, but the extra publicity pumped their attendance way back up. Broadway's "Rent" was hovering around 65 percent of capacity a few weeks ago. Then the movie's ads started airing, and now the theater is almost full. Broadway's fears may finally fade if something similar happens with "The Producers."

(Soundbite of song from "The Producers")

Mr. MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) (Singing) There's nothing like a Broadway show.

Mr. NATHAN LANE: (As Max Bialystock) (Singing) Till you're in movies.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Bloom) (Singing) There's nothing like a Broadway show.

Mr. LANE: (As Bialystock) (Singing) And though it is expensive at 100 bucks a throw...

Mr. BRODERICK and Mr. LANE: (As Bloom and Bialystock) (Singing in unison)

MONDELLO: ...(Unintelligible) that hundred bucks a throw, but movie studios have been drawn to it like moths to a searchlight. Disney led the way, bringing their kid flicks "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" to the stage and adding close to $1 billion to their revenue stream; small wonder that stage versions of "Tarzan" and "Mary Poppins" will arrive in 2006.

A couple of years ago, MGM sent Broadway producers a long list of film titles with a note essentially saying, `Here's what we've got. Anything strike you as a musical?' DreamWorks is adapting its animated film "Shrek" for the stage, And Universal Pictures invested in both the stage version of the movie "Billy Elliot" and also in the musical "Wicked," a project that was originally envisioned as a dramatic movie but that ended up with songs and dances on Broadway instead. It may yet become a film, of course, if movie musicals stay in fashion long enough, something this holiday season will go a long way to determining. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) ...show!

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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