STAGE TO SCREENS: Broadway's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron Set the Oscar Broadcast to Music
By Robert Simonson
Hollywood, TV and Broadway producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are producing the 2013 Academy Awards show, airing Feb. 24. During a busy week, Playbill caught up with the duo that helped shape "Chicago," "Smash," How to Succeed... and Promises, Promises.
When you hire Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to produce your awards ceremony, you're going to get a certain level of showbiz with the package. After all, these two men, for all their movie and television credentials, originally hail from the theatre, and still retain a foothold in that world (including recent Broadway revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises). It would be unthinkable to them to create a show that didn't possess a considerable dose of razzmatazz. So viewers of the 2013 Academy Award broadcast on Feb. 24 should expect one of the singing-est Oscars in history.
"The show will be very different from usual, in that there is more entertainment than in previous shows," said Zadan in a recent interview. "There's more music than has been on the Oscars in a very long time."
Appropriately, the theme of the program will be music in movies. There will be a celebration of the movie musicals of the past decade and a tribute the the James Bond franchise, which turned 50 in 2012. Even the host, "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth McFarlane, will sing, swinging his way through a McFarlane-penned big band number with Norah Jones by his side.
"I think they expected us to be showmen," said Meron, when asked why he thought the Academy hired him and his business partner to produce the show. "I think the reason is because we have a history in producing feature films, like 'Chicago,' and television, like 'Smash,' and live musicals, like How to Succeed. So the combination of all that made them think we'd be good to produce the Oscars."
The job was not one Zadan and Meron sought. "We didn't solicit it, we didn't go after it, we didn't campaign for it," said Zadan. "We were minding our own business, doing all our own shows. The only situation similar to this is when we got the call out of the blue from Steven Spielberg saying, 'I'm going to do a show that I sold and I want you to produce with me,' and that was 'Smash.' That was one of those calls where you go, 'Oh My God.' And this was one of those calls."
The pair made it clear from the start that they were going to approach the Oscars differently than their predecessors. "We were told that, in the past, a lot of the show didn't get conceived until after the nominations were announced," explained Zadan. "We didn't do that. When we got the job, we conceived the show at that point and structured the show. We wanted the show to be conceptual. As a result, we created a show that left windows for each of the categories of the nominations. So the nominees fit into the show that we designed. Once the nominees were announced, it didn't really change the show very much."
The first calls they made were to Barbra Streisand and Adele. Adele will take part in the James Bond celebration; she will sing the the title tune of "Skyfall," the Bond film released in 2012.
Streisand was not difficult to convince; she is friendly with the two producers. After a few conversations, she signed on. "This is the first time Barbra is singing on the Oscars in 36 years," declared Zadan. "The last time — she only performed once on the Oscars, and that was in 1977 when she performed 'Evergreen' from 'A Star is Born.' We're beyond, beyond, beyond thrilled."
Performing at the Oscars for the very first time will be Shirley Bassey, who has sung the signature tunes of three James Bond films. (Though Zadan and Meron would not confirm it, it's a relative certainly that Bassey will shake the rafters with her most famous Bond song, "Goldfinger.")
"The Bond music has been sorely neglected to the Academy," commented Meron. "Some of the greatest music for movies is for the James Bond films. We're so glad to celebrate the 50th anniversary."
The celebration of recent movie musicals will feature Meron and Zadan's own "Chicago," as well as "Dreamgirls" and "Les Miserables." Expect performers associated with those films. (The producers would not say whom, but a day after the publication of this piece, the stars were announced.)
Meron and Zadan know, however, that they are producing a show that honors film, not theatre.
"Nothing in the show will be simply presentational," added Zadan. "Everything will be multi-media, because it is a show about the movies. There will always be a cinematic element, even when people are performing."
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