STAGE TO SCREEN: Fantasticks Found & Reddin Rages on the Small Screen

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: Fantasticks Found & Reddin Rages on the Small Screen All right, first things first: “The Fantasticks” is coming to a theater near you -- if you live in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. The MGM film, which stars Joel Grey, former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre, and mute magician Teller, is finally getting released after collecting dust for an almost unheard-of five years. However, it’s an extremely limited release, designed primarily to pique interest in the holiday video release. I’m seeing a finished copy in the very near future (a few hours after I write this sentence, in fact), but I’m afraid mum’s the word until Sept. 22, when it hits the screen.

All right, first things first: “The Fantasticks” is coming to a theater near you -- if you live in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. The MGM film, which stars Joel Grey, former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre, and mute magician Teller, is finally getting released after collecting dust for an almost unheard-of five years. However, it’s an extremely limited release, designed primarily to pique interest in the holiday video release. I’m seeing a finished copy in the very near future (a few hours after I write this sentence, in fact), but I’m afraid mum’s the word until Sept. 22, when it hits the screen.

In a weird example of harmonic convergence, another musical starring Joel Grey is being unveiled on the very same day. “Dancer in the Dark,” the love-it-or-hate-it Lars von Trier film starring Bjork, is slated to open the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Fine Line will presumably commence a legitimate release shortly thereafter.

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While we’re on the subject of limited releases, remember Keith Reddin’s All the Rage adaptation? Last we heard, Reddin was pitching the gun-themed black comedy at the Toronto Film Festival last September. Well, a few potential deals came and went, and the end result wasn’t as glitzy as they had hoped. Despite a cast that includes Joan Allen, Gary Sinise, Andre Braugher, David Schwimmer and Jeff Daniels, the renamed “It’s the Rage” (another film had already secured the rights to “All the Rage”) was snatched up by HBO, which premiered the film last month on its sister channel, Cinemax.

“After we showed it in Toronto, some people assumed it was going to make a gazillion dollars,” says Jim Stern, who directed the film. “I was not one of them, having produced on Broadway.” Stern, a frequent theater producer (Stomp, The Sound of Music), saw the play at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1996 and bought the film options; he ended up polishing Reddin’s script and then directing the film. He says the cable deal seemed tempting largely because of HBO’s high-profile film premieres. The switch to the smaller Cinemax channel was a mixed blessing: It may not have gotten as much attention as it would have on HBO, but “It’s the Rage” will now get a limited release in theaters. It’s currently opening over the course of three weeks in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; if you’re not in any of those three cities, look for the video release at the end of August. With all of Stern’s producing credits, why did he wait until now to step behind the camera? “I think it’s actually more difficult to break into directing in theater,” he says. “The Sundance mindset has made the idea of brand-new, first-time directors much more common.” The catch is that young directors generally have pretty small budgets to work with. Stern has described the film’s budget as “less than ‘Titanic’ and more than ‘Blair Witch.’” (In fact, it cost a little more than $5 million.)

Despite his lack of experience in film, Stern says he took to directing pretty quickly. “To me, the very simple difference between theater and film is that you listen to theater and watch film. In order to take a theater piece and put it on film, you have to keep the camera movement as fluid as possible. Shot selection is very important.” And editing becomes critical: He cites one climactic sequence where three concurrent acts of violence are spliced into a single burst of action. Editing also brought unexpected depth to a long monologue that Allen delivers to Daniels, who plays her husband. “The monologue became a duet on film. Jeff Daniels is a very big presence in the scene, and that’s all through editing.”

Stern and Reddin seem to work well together: Reddin is adapting John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World for a modern-day screen retelling. Stern has also optioned the Tina Landau play Space, for which Landau is currently writing a script. And he’s not finished with “Stomp”: He’s slated to produce an IMAX film focusing on the percussion-crazed ensemble. Stern, who directed the recent IMAX film “Michael Jordan: To the Max,” says the plan is to record the most far-flung sounds on earth and somehow integrate them into a film. Filming will commence over the next year, and the film is scheduled for release in late 2001 or early 2002.

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Still another limited release is currently under way in New York. A film of David Drake’s one-man “The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me” is airing through July 20 at The Screening Room. It’s currently in the middle of touring the various gay-lesbian film festivals; Filmnext hopes to book it for lengthier runs staring in late August.

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Mira Sorvino promises to be a pretty busy lady these days. She’s slated to join Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel and David Arquette in the film of Tim Blake Nelson’s acclaimed play “The Grey Zone.” Shooting is scheduled to begin late next month for the film, which chronicles the lives of Jews who were forced to man the crematoria in Auschwitz. Sorvino would then head to Tuscany a month later to star in “Triumph of Love” for producer Bernardo Bertolucci. This is a new adaptation of the Marivaux play, which has no connection with James Magruder’s translation or the subsequent musical.

By the way, you may soon be hearing Nelson’s name pop up a fair amount. Kevin Anderson and Martha Plimpton star in “Eye of God,” based on another play of his, and his Othello update “O” is now scheduled to open in January 2001.

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My Favorite Thought: I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of places this column's readers live. I expected lots of New York and Los Angeles, and I wasn’t disappointed. But Salem, Mass., is represented, as is Green Bay and Sydney and a bunch of other neat places. Thanks for the responses.

If you folks are sorry “Chicago” can’t get off the ground, check out this bit of perversity from Jon:

“As for movie musicals that never were, here's my favorite rumor. No one else recalls this, but I swear I read it in a major newspaper around 1976. Following the success of Hal Prince's ‘Candide’ revival, a film version was being planned with the following cast: Elton John as Candide; Olivia Newton-John as Cunegonede; and Peter Sellers as Voltaire/Pangloss, etc. Sounds interesting, no?”

And Earl raises a good question in respect to the new 3-D print of “Kiss Me Kate”:
“Do you know if any consideration has been given to putting such films on the DVD format, with maybe regular format on the other side? I would think that would be the perfect medium for that and (with the glasses included) would be quite an experience to enjoy over and over.”

I agree, but I have technological doubts. Unfortunately, I have no technological knowledge. Can anyone out there shed any light on this?

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Your Thoughts: What play would you most want to see on an IMAX screen? Is anyone concerned about “The Fantasticks” and “It’s the Rage” essentially skipping theatres? Who saw “It’s the Rage” on Cinemax? And can anyone shed any light on 3-D videos?

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