Teen Musicals: New Cycle of Movie Musicals

Disney, Columbia, Screen Gems, MGM and Paramount are all involved in making teen-dance musicals. YouTube and realityTV dance competitions have fueled enthusiasm and, beginning with “Save the Last Dance,” in 2001, the genre has good record at the box office.

The success extends beyond that. Aside from drawing record viewers on Disney Channel, “High School Musical” and its sequel have sold nearly 15 million CDs, 50 million books, 4.8 million vidgames, and spawned stage shows, concerts and an ice tour. Disney expects $2.7 billion this year from “HSM” and “Hannah Montana” products.

Adults have also embraced the genre, helping “Mamma Mia!” cross the $500 million mark at the global box office, which gives hope to other studios and their upcoming tuners, such as Weinstein’s “Nine.”

Even so, teens, especially teen girls, are targeted with films that have relatively low negative costs, good grosses and a healthy afterlife. This month, Disney will unspool the bigscreen “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” featuring Zac Efron.

Paramount has greenlit a $35 million “Footloose” remake that reteams Efron with director Kenny Ortega, who helmed all three “HSM” chapters. The Melrose studio is aiming for a March start date.

The 1980 film “Fame” (which spawned the long-running 1980s TV show and stage version), is also being revived for the bigscreen by Lakeshore Entertainment and MGM. The contemporary-set tuner, being fully financed by Lakeshore, begins shooting in December in Los Angeles and New York.

Disney is moving forward with “Step Up 3-D,” the third installment of its hit dance franchise. The first two chapters grossed $65.3 million and $58 million, respectively, at a negative cost of less than $20 million apiece.

Screen Gems is developing “Emme,” a hip-hop reimaging of Jane Austen’s 1816 novel “Emma,” set in an inner-city high school. Columbia is putting together “A Cappella,” a campus-set drama featuring song and dance, with Sam Weisman attached to direct.

“Dance movies come in cycles,” says “Step Up” scribe Melissa Rosenberg, who is a writer-producer on Showtime’s “Dexter.” “‘Step Up’ did well, so the studios slam a bunch into production. And then if one doesn’t do well, they will dry up.”

In the early 1990s, the industry suffered two notable flops: 1992’s “Newsies” and 1993’s “Swing Kids.” But Paramount’s 2001 breakout “Save the Last Dance,” which grossed $91.1 million domestically, ushered in a new wave of successful teen dance pics. The Julia Stiles starrer was followed by a number of profitable films, such as the two “Step Up” films, “You Got Served” ($40.1 million) and “Stomp the Yard” ($61.4 million).

Paramount production head Brad Weston contends teen dance movies are hot because there’s a dearth of other films that resonate with the demographic. Paramount, with its long history of dance classics like “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease” and “Flashdance,” is carrying on the legacy. In addition to “Footloose,” the studio recently completed a dance movie that will be released in first-quarter 2009.

For marketing reasons, Paramount wants to keep the title and details under wraps until the trailer debuts with the December release “Twilight.”

Every major studio is eager to do business with Efron, who is nabbing a big payday for “Footloose.” Paramount thinks Efron’s star power, with a well-conceived contemporary soundtrack, will help “Footloose” break out beyond the genre’s typical audience of young girls.

Most teen-dance movies feature no-name casts for economic reasons and also because only a few young actors who are brand names are capable of performing elaborate dance sequences.

Stiles had a body double performing many numbers in “Save the Last Dance” (like “Flashdance,” where a mustachioed man infamously carried out the breakdancing sequences in Jennifer Beals’ final number), studios are now more apt to cast actors with legitimate dance chops, like Efron.

Tom Rosenberg, one of the producers of the updated “Fame,” says his film will be led by a cast of newcomers. “When you are doing a film about people in high school, if you are casting aged people, you will likely have relative unknowns,” he says.

“Hairspray” helmer Adam Shankman is developing several dance-themed films. The former choreographer, who is partnered with sister Jennifer Gibgot in their Disney-based Offspring Entertainment shingle, produced the “Step Up” films and has a number of dance-themed movies in development, including “Drill Team,” which is set in the competitive world of such high school squads.

Screen Gems topper Clint Culpepper says he came up with the idea for “Emme,” which will include at least 15 song-and-dance numbers, after watching the YouTube video “Lipgloss” by Lil Mama. Small-screen fare like “High School Musical,” “Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew” and “Camp Rock,” and even the older-skewing “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” might also be driving more traffic to the multiplex.

“The TV market is generating a lot of this interest,” Melissa Rosenberg says. “To see macho guys like Jerry Rice competing on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ shows young guys that dancing isn’t just something for girls.”