[Theatre writer and critic Eric Grode's new column, published bi-weekly, looks at the ever-growing scene of plays & musicals being made into movies]
Quick: Which Andrew Lloyd Webber film is slated to hit the big screen next? It's not Phantom of the Opera with John Travolta or Antonio Banderas or Michael Crawford or anybody else. And it's definitely not Cats, not even with a Tom Stoppard script in the can. No, if Sir Andrew has his way -- and he generally does -- look for Aspects of Love to start filming in early 2000.
"It's a smaller project, so it's easier to advance along," says Peter Brown, Webber's spokesman, of the relatively fast track for Aspects. Unlike the other two projects (and Evita, which was only made after more than a decade of legal wrangling), Webber retains exclusive control of Aspects and hopes to begin preproduction earlier this year. "When he originally wrote it, he had envisioned it as a movie," says Brown, "and he spoke with a number of film people about it. He ultimately decided to go with what he knew and do it on stage first. But this has always been the plan."
Filming would tentatively take place in Italy and France, but the budget should stay relatively small: Webber, that eternal champion of small scale works, plans to release Aspects as an independent film. (Deep pockets tend to mean long delays and heavy studio intervention.)
The general wisdom holds that last year's smash PBS broadcast and subsequent video of Cats have all but scuttled any immediate plans for a movie. (Brown says Joseph ... Dreamcoat will get the similar treatment this summer with Donny Osmond.) And "Phantom" may finally be getting close: "Although it's still doing very well [on stage]," says Brown, "it may be time to put it on the front burner." He wouldn't comment on the recent Variety report that Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth") has all but agreed to direct the project with "Mask of Zorro" costars Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom Webber reportedly once considered for a stage role in London. Would-be picketers would be wise to wait for official word, though; this project has been equally "on the verge" with John Woo, Joel Schumacher and countless other "it" directors over the years. *
When "Saturday Night Live" alumna Julia Sweeney's God Said, "Ha!" closed on Broadway after only 22 performances back in 1996, it didn't exactly jump out as a hit movie in the making. But with the help of a fistful of film festival awards and Quentin Tarantino on board as executive producer, Sweeney has tightened her seriocomic tale into an 85 minute concert film. "God Said, 'Ha!'" opened Feb. 12 in New York and Los Angeles, expanded to four more cities on Friday and will open in a new city a week (more or less) through the end of April.
The subject matter is often pretty grim--Sweeney recountes her younger brother's death of cancer and her subsequent hysterectomy, during which the surgeons lost her ovaries--so the Tarantino imprimatur undoubtedly helps with marketing. The two are longtime friends, and he suggested Sweeney develop a one-woman show after they both saw Lily Tomlin's Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. She had a small part at the end of "Pulp Fiction" (she played Raquel, the junkyard owner) and Tarantino returns the favor with an incredibly brief cameo at the end of "God Said, 'Ha!'"
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Designing Dreams" series may be devoted to film design, but participant Tony Walton has blended stage and screen work for more than 35 years. Walton called from the set of Annie Get Your Gun (he also designed the sets and costumes for Ashes to Ashes off-Broadway) to talk briefly about his role in the series, which will include a lecture -- "more of a chat, really" -- on his film work and a screening of the 1968 Richard Lester film "Petulia." Walton, whose movie projects also include "Equus," "The Wiz" and "All That Jazz," plans to both show and tell at the chat: "I've got a slide show rigged up, and I'll probably show some storyboards from 'The Boyfriend,' the 'Forum' movie and possibly 'The Seagull.'"
The "Petulia" screening is scheduled for March 5 at 8:30 PM, with Walton's talk the following evening at 6 PM. Call (212) 875-5600 for more information.
Short Takes: When the Robert DeNiro/Billy Crystal film "Analyze This" opens Friday, Feb. 26, the screenwriter credit will be a bit convoluted. This Is Our Youth scribe Kenneth Lonergan came up with the original concept for the film and has retained cowriter status, but he has since expressed ambivalence about the final project. It remains to be seen whether that means the studio changed it for the worse or just changed it. ... Only five days after Band in Berlin's March 7 opening at the Helen Hayes, Miramax's "The Harmonists" begins its New York and Los Angeles runs. Both films cover virtually the identical material, the rise and fall of the Comedian Harmonists vocal group in pre-World War II Germany. ... Director Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") is about to begin filming "Miss Julie" in North London. The Strindberg adaptation, which will star Saffron Burrows in the title role and Peter Mullan ("My Name Is Joe"), is scheduled to wrap in just three weeks, an incredibly quick shooting schedule. ... And with the transfer of the Olivier Award-winning Oklahoma! revival looking less and less likely, Trevor Nunn's film of the production becomes increasingly enticing. (Nunn reportedly spent several months last year working on it, and it's scheduled to air in England this August.) If the Broadway run falls through, might the filmed version make its way across the shore?
-- by Eric Grode
(Eric Grode is New York bureau chief for Show Music and a theatre critic for Back Stage.)