Producer on Bittersweet Journey of ‘Sparkle’

Whitney's longtime friend Debra Martin Chase says the remake is a perfect cap to the singer's legacy.

Debra Martin Chase and Whitney Houston (Randee St. Nicholas)

When you’re approaching a remake — I’ve done several: Preacher’s Wife, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella — you’re looking to preserve the elements that are beloved and preserve the essence of the movie, but you also want to tailor it for modern sensibilities. In this case, we all wanted to empower the women more than they had been in the original because that’s where we are as women today.

Effie in the original movie was very passive. She was a servant for the white folks and just sort of stood by as her daughters were off on this journey. We obviously made Whitney’s character, Emma, much more textured. We gave her a backstory with her own failed musical ambitions. We made her much more of an obstacle to Sparkle realizing her dreams.

TR: You’ve been linked with another music-movie remake, Dirty Dancing. Would you say Hollywood studios are more open to green-lighting musicals these days?

DMC: We’re supposed to be shooting Dirty Dancing now, and we ran into some pushback. When a musical’s right, there’s nothing better. Because you’ve got so many layers — you’ve got a great story, you’ve got the music that just takes you on a whole, other journey.

Right now dance is bigger than ever. On television, with Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, people are really interested in it. People have shown that there’s an appetite — you know, Chicago, Hairspray … they’ve been big movies. Still, it’s finding the right property, finding the right titles, finding the right music … they’re really fun to make.

TR: There are also news reports that you’ve landed a TV production deal with ABC Studios. What kinds of programming do you hope to bring to network television?

DMC: Well, literally, we just closed the deal [with ABC Studios]. And in today’s marketplace, some of the best drama is on television. Some of the best actors, some of the best stories, best character-driven material, is on TV. I still have my feature deal at Disney. I’ve been at Disney for some 16 years now.

I have a long history with ABC, going back to Cinderella. I feel like that ABC brand is really my brand: character-driven, female-driven, sexy, fun.

Brett Johnson is The Roots associate editor.