STAGE TO SCREEN: Crossover Dreams

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: Crossover Dreams A few weeks ago, I took a look a few of the latest crossover directors, people known primarily for their stage work who have branched out into films. Scott Elliott is working on an off-Broadway What the Butler Saw, Sam Mendes is getting ready to direct a gangster drama with Tom Hanks and Julie Taymor is bouncing several ideas around. (One of those possibilities, a Frida Kahlo biopic starring Salma Hayek, may have just become a little shakier: Francis Ford Coppola last week officially announced his plans to produce a competing Kahlo film, this one starring Jennifer Lopez.) Let’s see what the other major directors are up to.

A few weeks ago, I took a look a few of the latest crossover directors, people known primarily for their stage work who have branched out into films. Scott Elliott is working on an off-Broadway What the Butler Saw, Sam Mendes is getting ready to direct a gangster drama with Tom Hanks and Julie Taymor is bouncing several ideas around. (One of those possibilities, a Frida Kahlo biopic starring Salma Hayek, may have just become a little shakier: Francis Ford Coppola last week officially announced his plans to produce a competing Kahlo film, this one starring Jennifer Lopez.) Let’s see what the other major directors are up to.

Stephen Daldry (An Inspector Calls) is why I thought of this wrap-up in the first place. His debut film, “Billy Elliot,” is generating an awful lot of buzz, and he may well be headed toward Mendes-size appreciation come awards time. Just as Mendes has remained artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, Daldry is still in charge of London’s Royal Court Theatre. In fact, he’s returning to the Royal Court this month to direct a new Caryl Churchill play called Far Away. And he’s in negotiations to follow that up with one of the biggest film projects around, the David Hare-scripted adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours,” with Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. It wouldn’t be the first time Daldry and Hare have worked together: He directed the playwright in Hare’s Via Dolorosa.

Nicholas Hytner hasn’t had much success in Hollywood recently: Reviews were dismissive of “Object of My Affection” and downright hostile toward “Center Stage.” But he’s reuniting with Renaissance Films, who produced his debut “The Madness of King George,” to direct a film that sounds interesting. It’s called “Los Alamos,” and it’s been described as a romantic thriller set during the race to build the first nuclear bomb in 1945. Hytner’s also developing a Marvin Hamlisch-Craig Carnelia musical of Sweet Smell of Success for the 2001-02 Broadway season, with John Lithgow. Also preparing a Broadway musical is Matthew Warchus, who followed his “Simpatico” film last season with another Sam Shepard project, the acclaimed True West revival. The Unexpected Man opened to solid reviews last month, and he’s expected to make his Broadway musical debut in April with Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Let’s hope his Sondheim experience is more harmonious than that of Mendes, who you may recall was to have directed Wise Guys on Broadway exactly one year earlier.

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The next major theater-based release is “Quills,” which opens Nov. 24. (It looks like I’ll be attending a junket for it, which means lots of quotes from lots of good people. Stay tuned.) Between now and then, though, November will see two other limited releases that may be of interest. “Boesman and Lena,” based on the 1969 Athol Fugard play, opened Nov. 3 in New York and Los Angeles. With Angela Bassett and Danny Glover in the leads, I can’t believe this won’t get larger play; like so many small films, attendance and word of mouth in the big cities will decide when and if the rest of the country gets to see it. A larger bow is expected for Ken Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me,” which begins its platform release Nov. 17. More on that film in a later column. *

When I interviewed Alfred Uhry a few months ago for another publication, he alluded to (among other projects) a screenplay he was writing based on Anne Frank’s diary. From what he said, the project sounded far more comprehensive and ambiguous than the 1959 film, more along the lines of James Lapine’s stage revival a few years ago. Well, the word is officially out, and the script will apparently be based heavily on Frank’s actual diary entries. The movie will be up against some competition, though: ABC is scheduled to start filming a four-hour miniseries about Frank in December. The miniseries is scheduled to air in May; the film’s producers say they plan to have the film ready about a year later.

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Cutting-Room Floor: For what it’s worth, I think Matthew Broderick is a superb choice for the “Music Man” movie scheduled for ABC. As he has showed before, he has the perfect blend of charm and oiliness. However, I don’t buy the (rumored) casting of his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, as Marian. Once Upon a Mattress, yes. But she just seems too quirky for middle America. Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are aiming for a fall 2001 debut, which means filming should begin in the next few months. ... I mentioned “Marci X,” a new film written by Paul Rudnick, a few columns ago. Here are the details: Lisa Kudrow will likely star as a Jewish girl assigned to take over a hardcore rap label. Complications ensue when one of her performers gets into trouble with songs like “Shoot Ya’ Teacha.” How can it miss? “Marci X” is also scheduled to begin in early 2000. ... Five days after his Big Potato run ends at Jewish Rep, David Margulies will appear in “Looking for an Echo” (Nov. 10), also starring Diane Venora. Other familiar faces include Christine Baranski and Bill Irwin, both of whom play inhabitants of Whoville in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (Nov. 17), and Lonette McKee in “Men of Honor” (Nov. 10).

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My Favorite Thought: I guess I asked for it. Leaving the floor open for any topic + “Phantom of the Opera” references = glut of pro-Crawford/anti Banderas letters. Rosemary is just one of several people to notice a casting choice at the televised “My Favorite Broadway” concert:

“Hopefully, Lord [Lloyd] Webber was in New York two weeks ago when the fabulous Julie Andrews (almost) sang lines from her most memorable musical, My Fair Lady! And who was Professor Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle? None other than the outstanding, delicious and superb Michael Crawford. Was it a coincidence that Andrews, who was not cast in the movie of My Fair Lady (because she was relatively unknown), shared the stage with the original Phantom (also considered relatively unknown to American audiences)?” ... If [potential ‘Phantom’ director] Shekhar Kapur casts Crawford as the lead, he will go down in history as one director who had the integrity to keep this story intact and not fracture it, as was ‘My Fair Lady’ many years ago.”

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Your Thoughts: Now that the end-of-year movie pickings are beginning to firm up, what catches your eye? Has anyone seen the trailers for “Quills” or “You Can Count on Me”? What do you think of the “Music Man” casting?

Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theater critic for Back Stage. He can be reached at egrode@cmp.com.