'Days of Wine and Roses,' a film about addiction, is now a Broadway musical The classic 1962 movie tells the story of a relationship buckling under the weight of addiction. The new Broadway adaptation stars Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James.

'Days of Wine and Roses,' a film about love and addiction, is now a spirited musical

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Sometimes, the most intriguing musicals come from the most unlikely sources. A new Broadway show based on the 1962 film "Days Of Wine And Roses" opened last night. The movie is about a young couple, played by Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon, struggling with alcoholism.


JACK LEMMON: (As Joe Clay) I'm a drunk, and I don't do my job, and I got fired, and I can't get a job now, and I - we should have done this a long time ago - taken a look at ourselves and realized we just turned into a couple of bums.

MART├ŹNEZ: So can a story about addiction and recovery sing? As reporter Jeff Lunden discovered, it can.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: When the audience meets Joe Clay, a glad-handing public relations man played by Brian d'Arcy James, and Kirsten Arnesen, a bookish secretary played by Kelli O'Hara, they see them falling in love with each other and with drinking.


BRIAN D'ARCY JAMES AND KELLI O'HARA: (As Joe Clay and Kirsten Arnesen, singing) Two people stranded at sea. Two people stranded are we are, we are.

BRIAN D'ARCY JAMES: (As Joe Clay, singing) Sometimes, I feel like I'm a dowser in the desert.

KELLI O'HARA: (As Kirsten Arnesen, singing) With all this water everywhere.

JAMES AND O'HARA: (As Joe Clay and Kirsten Arnesen, singing) With all this water everywhere.

ADAM GUETTEL: It's a love story first and foremost.

LUNDEN: Composer-lyricist Adam Guettel has written the show's score.

GUETTEL: "Days Of Wine And Roses" is not a cautionary tale, not a morality play. There's no judgment here. We want the audience to lean in and watch these behaviors.

LUNDEN: In this song, the couple has moved in together. And between each verse, Joe pulls out a different bottle of booze from a paper bag, showing both the passage of time and how alcohol helps to fuel their relationship.


JAMES AND O'HARA: (As Joe Clay and Kirsten Arnesen, singing) I have you now. You are all I need.

JAMES: (As Joe) Margaritas. You got your bubbly, your Cointreau, your lime...

LUNDEN: Director Michael Greif marvels at the economy that Guettel and scriptwriter Craig Lucas bring in telling the story - this song in particular.

MICHAEL GREIF: It's so unbelievably clever of Craig the way he introduces, you know, that third person into the relationship. I did invite someone to join us, and - you know, and that someone's in a bottle.


JAMES AND O'HARA: (As Joe Clay and Kirsten Arnesen, singing) Get to be with you to just say yes and evanesce.

LUNDEN: Actor Brian D'Arcy James says he likes the way the show offers a series of snapshots from the life of its two central characters. One moment, you discover they've married. Another moment, you discover they have a child - another that drinking has cost Joe his job.

JAMES: There is this sense of kind of jumping from one moment to the next and just kind of stepping in to see how their lives are devolving or evolving.

LUNDEN: It took a long time for "Days Of Wine And Roses" to evolve as a musical. Twenty years ago, Guettel, Lucas and Kelli O'Hara collaborated on an early workshop of another show, "The Light In The Piazza." At one point, she suggested to Guettel that "Days Of Wine And Roses" might make an interesting musical.

O'HARA: I didn't know that he went and got the rights, and he started thinking about it. And about 10 years later, I sang the first song from it.

LUNDEN: O'Hara sings 14 of the show's 18 songs, showing off not just her vocal range but her acting ability, especially as the story gets darker. In this song, Joe is trying to quit drinking, but Kirsten doesn't want to.


O'HARA: (As Kirsten Arnesen, singing) What about the fun we have? What about the laughing? I want to laugh crazy (ph). What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? Is it living, living, living?

LUNDEN: Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas have spoken publicly about their own struggles with addiction. Both are now sober, but Lucas says...

CRAIG LUCAS: It's hard to watch the show at times because of my lived experience, but it's also a great privilege because I know we're not lying.

LUNDEN: This show may only be about 100 minutes long, but it's dense and complex. Adam Guettel says his heightened poetic score is balanced by Craig Lucas' grounded script.

GUETTEL: The naturalism of what he's done and the fairly freehanded sort of metaphoricalism of what I'm doing - that's what's new about this thing.


JAMES: (As Joe Clay, singing) There is a man who loves you as the water loves the stone.

LUNDEN: Lucas and Guettel have kept the film's time period the late 1950s, early '60s. That's when Craig Lucas was a child, and heavy social drinking was very much part of his family's culture.

LUCAS: My parents went out to parties seven days a week. My grandmother stayed with me because my parents were falling down and breaking bones and crashing cars.

LUNDEN: So one of the biggest changes Lucas brought to the adaptation is building up the character of the young daughter who barely appears in the film.


ELLA DANE MORGAN: (As Lila, singing) Lilavan (ph), Little Lila, what's outside your window, darling? What's the latest news?

O'HARA: (As Kirsten Arnesen, singing) I'll be there as soon as I can.

LUCAS: Often with children of alcoholics, the child becomes the parent. They step up. They hold the family together. They know somebody has to do it. And they're there, and they're not about to see the family get broken apart. So for me, there's tremendous hope.

LUNDEN: If you've seen the film, you're aware that Joe and Kirsten's path to recovery is not linear, and questions remain. Will the sober one relapse? Will the other one find sobriety? Everyone involved in "Days Of Wine And Roses" is keenly aware that this show is not for all audiences, given its unflinching portrayal of addiction. But Kelli O'Hara says...

O'HARA: I get people every single night who either say something like, thank you so much. I'm eight years sober this year. Or I don't get this show. It's really depressing. I get that a lot, which is very telling. You know, it's an interesting, uncomfortable lens.

LUNDEN: And that's just fine with Craig Lucas.

LUCAS: For me, art is a risk. It has to be.


O'HARA: (As Kirsten Arnesen, singing) Forgiveness, forgiveness...

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.


O'HARA: (As Kirsten Arnesen, singing) I can teach Lila now, teach her what I know...

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