STAGE TO SCREEN: Beauty and the Stomp

STAGE TO SCREEN: Beauty and the Stomp Depending on where you live, these are always fairly heady weeks for moviegoers.

New York and Los Angeles are glutted with all the Oscar wannabes, most of which gradually make their way into the rest of the country. Even if you need to wait a while for such offerings as “Pinero” (slated for wide release in February) and “Lantana,” you can get your theater fix other ways. Jeffrey Wright plays Howard Bingham in “Ali”; Christopher Plummer and Anthony Rapp are among the supporting players in “A Beautiful Mind”; and Sam Shepard and Danny Hoch can be seen in “Black Hawk Down.”

And if you live in a town with an IMAX theater, you may get a chance to witness a rare screen-to-stage-to-screen debut. Disney is following up its successful “Fantasia 2000” IMAX release by bringing “Beauty and the Beast” back to theaters. The acclaimed 1991 release — still the only animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, although “Shrek” may join those ranks this year — returns to theaters with a new six-minute song called “Human Again,” in which the various supporting characters sing about how they’d love to be restored to their human forms. If this song sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the stage version: The song by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman was storyboarded for the movie but never animated, and it made its debut in 1994 in the Broadway production. This marks the first time that Disney has actually animated an entirely new sequence for a theatrical rerelease. Judging from the “Fantasia 2000” release strategy, Disney will most likely bring “Beauty and the Beast” to non-IMAX screens in a few months, followed by a new DVD release.

There’s a catch, though: IMAX apparently has a policy of allowing only educational films to be shown on its screens. So Disney, never one to be deterred by something like company policy, has mounted a campaign to portray “Beauty and the Beast” as educational. Below is an excerpt from a Disney press release:

“Taking advantage of the unique educational opportunities offered by ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the Studio is creating two complete resource guides — one complete program for elementary school students, and another for middle school students — to assist teachers looking for real world examples of their everyday assignments. The guides will include lesson plans in Language Arts and Reading, Social Studies, Science and New Technology, Art, Music and Dance, and Foreign Language.” Now, I’m a huge fan of “Beauty and the Beast,” but come on. “Foreign Language?” Just because the candelabra’s name is Lumiere?!

* Speaking of IMAX, look for “Stomp” to make the leap to the big screen. The long-running stage show, which has already spawned an HBO special and numerous commercials, is scheduled to reach the wide-screen format in May with “Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey.” (Note to producers: Now that 2002 is just about here, isn’t it time to lose the “A ____ Odyssey” subtitle?) “Pulse” will reportedly include a grand tour of percussion around the world, including the Kodo Drummers of Japan, the gumboot dancers of South Africa and even the bell ringers of Notre Dame. As opposed to the Disney scheme, this sounds like a legitimately educational — and seriously loud — IMAX offering.

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In the two weeks since I wrote my last column, the Academy Awards scene has cleared up a little bit — but not much. The assumption had been that a lot of smallish films were circling around viability but that the arrival of three Hollywood behemoths — “Ali,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Black Hawk Down” — at the end of the year would lock down three of the five Best Picture nominations.

Then the smaller critics’ groups began speaking up. In what appears to be a contrarian streak, the National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association each opted to ignore the juggernauts and honor quirkier offerings instead — “Moulin Rouge,” “Mulholland Drive” and the superb “In the Bedroom,” respectively.

What does this mean for this year’s theater-based films? Not much, I’m afraid. Between the big flicks and the now-anointed boutique films, there isn’t much room for such offerings as “Lantana” or “Pinero.” The L.A. group joined the National Board in giving John Cameron Mitchell a special award for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which may increase its odds of being remembered for costume and sound design nominations, but that’s about it. If any movies pick up ground in the next few weeks, however, I’ll revisit this before the nominations are announced on Feb. 12.

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The Sundance Institute labs have been instrumental in getting “Hedwig” and “The Laramie Project” to the screen, and now another acclaimed off Broadway production appears to be following suit. I loved The Bomb itty of Errors and actually wrote how the former NYU student project had real possibilities as a filmed piece, and Sundance would appear to agree. Cowriters Erik Weiner and Jordan Allen-Dutton will take part in the Sundance Institute’s five-day Screenwriters Lab as part of their plan to turn Bomb-itty into a film. Let’s hope they succeed.

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While Matthew Broderick will be taking a leave from The Producers in March to star with Kristin Chenoweth in “The Music Man” for ABC, costar Nathan Lane’s movie plans are a little further on the horizon. He’s spent the last several years developing a Jackie Gleason biopic, starring Lane and written by “In the Bedroom” cowriter Rob Festinger. And with Mirage Enterprises signing on as producers, the project would appear to be picking up steam for the not-so-distant future, although not as soon as March.

Although Gleason is undoubtedly a great role, I half-wonder if it makes sense in the long run for our good old reliable Nathan. My concern comes on top of the fact that Lane has also taken on two of Zero Mostel’s signature roles, Pseudolus and Max Bialystock. Gleason and Mostel are probably the most popular plus-size male actors since the heyday of Orson Welles, Sydney Greenstreet and “Fatty” Arbuckle. And I don’t know how to put this, but ... well ... Lane’s not that heavy. Maybe by Hollywood waif standards, but Mostel and Gleason were both much bigger. Given how quick Hollywood is to pigeonhole actors, mightn’t it benefit Lane to stop lumping himself into a seldom-used category to which he arguably doesn’t belong? Just a thought.

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I’m never sure where to slot my end-of-year stuff, mostly because I’m always scrambling to see all the good stuff after Christmas. However, one tradition I’m happy to uphold in my last column of 2001 is a sincere word of gratitude to my editors and to my interview subjects. The following people agreed to discuss their latest projects with “Stage to Screen” in 2001:

Stephen Belber, Richard Benjamin, Andrew Bovell, Bruce Brandwen, Danny Hoch (twice), Tracie Holder, Agnes Jaoui, Catherine Johnson, Tony Mamet, Neil Meron, John Cameron Mitchell, Gregory Mosher, Michael Pitt, James Ryan, Miriam Shor, Neal Slavin, Roger Guenveur Smith, Stephen Trask and Craig Zadan. To one and all (and to the various press reps who brokered these interviews), thank you. And to all of you who cared to read what these people had to say, an extra special thanks.

Your Thoughts: Any reflections on 2001? Looking past the horrific events of Sept. 11 and its after-effects, what will you remember most about the year?

Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.