The Oscar-nominated film “CODA,” in which a hearing child of deaf parents pursues a passion for singing, is being developed into a stage musical by Deaf West Theater, a highly regarded Los Angeles-based nonprofit with a strong track record in musical theater.
The project, which does not yet have a creative team or a production calendar, is a joint venture between the theater and two of the companies that produced the movie, Vendôme Pictures and Pathé Films.
“CODA,” written and directed by Sian Heder, is nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture. The film is about a high school student torn between helping her family, which runs a fishing boat, and pursuing a newfound interest in singing; she is the only hearing member of her family. (CODA is an acronym for child of deaf adult.)
“‘CODA’ is unique among the entire canon of feature films in that it features us in our natural setting: among the world at large and among our own, often at home or in private settings,” DJ Kurs, the artistic director of Deaf West, wrote in an email interview. “As a Deaf person, I knew from the start that ‘CODA’ would make a perfect musical: It addresses our relationship with music and how we move through the world of sound like immigrants in a foreign country, learning new, seemingly arbitrary rules on the fly.”
Deaf West, founded in 1991, is the nation’s most prominent theater focusing on what it calls “Deaf-centered storytelling,” and its productions are generally performed in both American Sign Language and spoken English by casts that include deaf and hearing artists.
The theater has previously staged five musicals, including two revivals that transferred to Broadway, “Big River” in 2003 and “Spring Awakening” in 2015. Both were nominated for Tony Awards. “CODA” would be the second musical originated by the company; the first was “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” in 2007.
“Professional musical theater was largely inaccessible to our community for the most part until our production of ‘Big River’ was staged in bigger houses in L.A. and N.Y.,” Kurs wrote. “Now we have musical theater aficionados within our community, and that’s a beautiful thing. I would wager that the art form of signed musical theater is still in its infancy.”
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“Licorice Pizza.” In Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age romance, a child performer who has hit maximum adolescent awkwardness is aging out of his professional niche. His encounter with 20-something Alana, whom he instantly falls for, gets the story’s juices going.
“Nightmare Alley.” A grifter with empty pockets and a mysterious past joins the sleazoid world of 1930s back-road carnivals. He soon begins cycling through women, including a clairvoyant whose husband once had a successful mentalist act.
“The Power of the Dog.” Phil Burbank has been playing cowboy his entire adult life, raising cattle on his family’s Montana ranch for decades. When his brother George marries a widow with a teenage son, a lifelong family dynamic is disrupted.
“West Side Story.” Steven Spielberg’s remake of one of Broadway’s most celebrated musicals — a modern take on “Romeo and Juliet” — centers on the forbidden love between Tony and Maria, who are involved with two rival street gangs in Manhattan’s West Side in the 1950s.
One of the film’s producers, Philippe Rousselet, said the filmmakers had been approached about stage rights years ago, back when they were working on the 2014 French precursor, “La Famille Bélier.” Rousselet, who is the founder, chairman and a chief executive of Vendôme Group, said the producers had opted to prioritize the American remake first, and then, after forging a relationship with Deaf West, decided to work with that company on what would be Vendôme’s first stage project.
“It was an obvious choice for us to partner with them to make the musical — they know what we don’t know, and we trust them,” Rousselet said. “It’s going to be a new adventure for us. But I think it has everything — the characters, the music, the wonderful environment — to make a beautiful musical.”
There are many connections between “CODA” and Deaf West; three members of the film’s cast, including the Oscar nominee Troy Kotsur, as well as Daniel Durant and Marlee Matlin, have appeared in the company’s shows.
Kurs said he hoped to stage an initial production of “CODA” within two years.