Webber may be the man to blame for this trend. His first success, Jesus Christ, Superstar, began life as a record album with a handful of good songs before its expansion into a Broadway show and a truly awful movie directed by Norman Jewison. In Webber’s hands, the greatest story ever told became something akin to Easy Rider with donkeys instead of motorcycles. Jewison got no help from the actors, especially Ted Neely whose portrayal of Jesus would have made the apostle Peter deny his master four times instead of three.
Webber followed Jesus Christ, Superstar with even greater successes - Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera - all bloated extravaganzas propped up by one or two decent songs. Good as they are, those songs - “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” (Evita), “Memory” (Cats), and “The Music of the Night” (Phantom) – have been elevated to greatness only because they stand out amid the dross. Meanwhile, the work of a master like Stephen Sondheim has had little appeal for filmmakers of late. Unless it’s Sweeney Todd, whose grisly subject matter makes it a natural for director Tim Burton, Sondheim's work is not ready made for the movies and, therefore, not worth the trouble for producers looking only at the box-office.
I still haven’t seen Les Miserables, but critical reaction suggests it’s a "love it or hate it" deal. In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers calls it “vibrant and thrilling.” On the other hand, Roger Ebert is passionate in his dislike of the film, stating that an Oscar victory “would be an insult to the other finalists.” Its success would seem to bode well for the future of film musicals, but Broadway’s continued preoccupation with the likes of Spider-Man does not.