Call them the wind beneath the wings of a new generation.
This month, Idina Menzel of Glee and Frozen fame and House of Lies’ Nia Long step into the roles Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey made iconic in Beaches, 1988’s Oscar-nominated ode to female friendship, which gets a modern reboot on Lifetime.
“I am a believer that what’s not broken doesn’t need to be fixed, but I have learned that there is a whole, young generation that has never seen Beaches,” Menzel says. “What a great opportunity to put a contemporary, multicultural spin on a classic theme about friendship. It’s also a nice way to discuss where we have come as women 30 years later in regards to career and family and the choices we make!”
If you blanch at the idea of anyone but Midler warbling the film’s signature tunes “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Glory of Love,” take comfort in two things. One, Midler herself took to Twitter to root for fellow belter Menzel’s take on scrappy songbird CC Bloom. And two, Menzel has spent some 20 years thrilling theater- and concertgoers on both sides of the pond with her stage presence and unique voice. She’s more than up to the job if the “contemporized” script supports her.
“Bette’s portrayal is so special,” Menzel reflects. “I can only hope to infuse the role with the joy and passion with which CC lives her life — which Bette did so beautifully. Inevitably my interpretation might be perceived differently because I’ve approached the material from my own perspective, informed by my own life experience, but my intent was always to pay homage to Bette’s iconic portrayal.”
Long — like Hershey, a classic beauty — plays Hillary Whitney, who, as in the original, is the sheltered daughter of a prominent civil rights attorney. Dazzled by her charismatic friend, Hillary struggles to forge her own path, until pregnancy gives her both peace and purpose. And, of course, until tear-jerking tragedy strikes.
Though this story gets a modernization, teasers released by the network suggest plenty of commonality. The women still meet as children — on the Venice Beach Boardwalk instead of Atlantic City this time, which keeps the tale California-based. Menzel’s Bloom still gets a big break that catapults her into fame — though it looks like a more refined situation than the Sizzle ’76/“Otto Titsling” production that suited Midler to a T.
Tender seaside scenes between Hillary’s young daughter and CC are in there, too, because this is Beaches, after all.
“When I first stood behind the mic in the recording studio to perform the songs, I had to pinch myself,” Menzel admits.
“I told myself, ‘Look. You’ll never be Bette. You just have to do you.’ And there’s a nice balance of the classic songs and a song of my own that helped make it feel unique to me.”
Notably, this Beaches is co-adapted by Nikole Beckwith, who penned the lauded Lifetime acquisition Stockholm, Pennsylvania, and directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Allison Anders, who helmed the network’s June Carter Cash biopic, Ring of Fire. Both vocally champion complex female characters, suggesting there may be a bit more pith and less schtick to CC and Hillary’s journey. How you feel about that depends on what you loved most about Beaches in the first place — the laughter or the hurts-so-good tears.
Beaches premieres Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8/7CT on Lifetime.