When you leave a play or movie with questions, that can be a good thing. Some stories are complicated, meant to give rise to controversy and discussion afterward. I certainly had a lot to examine upon leaving the movie Hello Again, but the primary question was: Should this musical be a movie at all?
The Off-Broadway musical that inspired this stage to screen adaptation came into my orbit when I was in college. As a young performer studying the craft of theatre full time, I was always on the lookout for something unusual or groundbreaking. As a twenty-something human male, I was always drawn to stories that explored sexuality. Hello Again was all of these things, and I played the original cast recording endlessly as did many of my friends. So when we heard that a movie had been made based on this somewhat obscure show, the word spread incredibly fast among us. With only a few screenings of the film in my city, I made sure to reserve time to see it on the big screen.
What had been a riveting cast recording, bubbling with haunting melodies and dynamic tension, didn’t play out as well as other movies based on plays. Although I’ve never seen a full length live production, the individual songs and scenes from the show have been brought to life many times in classes and recitals I’ve attended. Each time, the performances have resonated with a sense of simmering lust and romance, but this quality was mostly absent from the film. One notable exception was a scene where Emily, played by Rumer Willis, is alone in her bathtub, fondly remembering a liaison from the past. The other depictions of sexual exploration were bland, and occasionally boring, never reaching a level that felt like a true connection.
As with all other musical to film adaptations, significant changes were made to accommodate the medium. A new song here; a change of context there. These updates were generally effective. The entire movie is book-ended by the character of Ruth, hauntingly played by Martha Plimpton, visiting a plush-yet-seedy adult video arcade. She’s there for a paid conversation with a male prostitute, Leocadia (beautifully realized by Sam Underwood). These scenes helped give the story a present day virtual-reality connection, proving it is possible to have a connection through opposite ends of a digital screen, even if sometimes it gets lost in translation.