STAGE TO SCREEN: 'O' No and a Hot 'Hedwig'

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: 'O' No and a Hot 'Hedwig' Summer's not the greatest time for theatre buffs. Except for Shakespeare in the Park and the Fringe Fest, New York really slows down (although the Harold Pinter smorgasbord promises to liven up the Lincoln Center Festival in July). Times Square becomes almost impossible to navigate at night. And now that the strike appears to be less of a threat, actors won't be as likely to take stage roles instead.

Summer's not the greatest time for theatre buffs. Except for Shakespeare in the Park and the Fringe Fest, New York really slows down (although the Harold Pinter smorgasbord promises to liven up the Lincoln Center Festival in July). Times Square becomes almost impossible to navigate at night. And now that the strike appears to be less of a threat, actors won't be as likely to take stage roles instead.

And it looks like you won't have many options in the multiplexes, either. In terms of true stage adaptations, the summer movie season boils down to an East German girly boy named Hedwig. John Cameron Mitchell's film credits have been confined to teen comedies thus far, but his work in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (July 20) should change that fast. This is the first times in recent memory that the original stars have repeated their roles for the film: In addition to Mitchell (who also directed and cowrote the screenplay), Miriam Shor and Stephen Trask play Yitzhak and Skshp, respectively. And Andrea Martin has joined the cast as Hedwig's underachieving agent, Phyllis Stein. It won a pair of awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and this should be the biggest film musical since "Evita." Rumor has it a Hedwig fragrance is even in the works.

Now that "Hedwig" and Lars Von Trier (last year's "Dancer in the Dark") have made musicals hip again, a few more tuners will hit theatres this summer. The most obvious example is "Moulin Rouge," which debuted in Cannes to a rapturous opening-night audience last week. It debuts May 18 in New York and Los Angeles before a wide release on June 1. With most of the press attention directed at newly single Nicole Kidman, the fact that this is a musical has been largely ignored. The sight — and sound — of Jim Broadbent singing "Like a Virgin" should clear that right up. Also, the Belgian musical comedy "Everybody Famous!" was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. It had been scheduled to open June 15, but Miramax just bought the remake rights; it's unclear whether this will affect plans for the original.

June 1 will actually see two John Leguizamo movies opening nationwide: In addition to "Moulin Rouge" (where he plays Toulouse-Lautrec), he also stars in the Martin Lawrence-Danny DeVito comedy "What's the Worst Thing That Could Happen?" (June 1). Judging from the previews of those two films, both may well be gone by the time Leguizamo comes into New York for his August concert dates at the Beacon. But we'll see about "Moulin Rouge."

Other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of theatre connections. Don Cheadle should open in the Public's Top Dog/Underdog at about the same time as his "Swordfish" (June 8), which also stars Sam Shepard and Hugh Jackman (supposedly on the way to Broadway in 2002 with Oklahoma!). A slew of Cabaret costars — Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Denis O'Hare and John Benjamin Hickey — appear with Kevin Kline and Gwyneth Paltrow in "The Anniversary Party" (June 8), directed and written by both Cumming and Leigh. And "The Turnadot Project" (Aug. 10) chronicles Zhang Yimou's historic production of the opera in Beijing's Forbidden City. Don't forget "Original Sin," the Antonio Banderas-Angelina Jolie potboiler written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box). MGM still says it's coming out in August — almost a full year after its originally scheduled debut. And "O," the youth retelling of "Othello" that has had so much trouble finding a release date, remains on the shelf.

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Speaking of "O," the film's producers are suing Miramax and Disney and Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein for $17.85 million, claiming that the movie has been kept under wraps because Harvey Weinstein doesn't want to hurt his political aspirations. Huh? Notwithstanding the advisability of suing some of the biggest names in Hollywood, the suit is absurd. Although Miramax did sell distribution rights to Lions Gate (which filled similar duties with "Dogma" in 1999), it's still handling the marketing for "O." It's still handling foreign distribution. With such films as "Kids" and "Priest" under his belt, Harvey Weinstein is hardly pedestrian. God only knows when "O," which features an interracial rape scene as well as a predictably bloody finale, will ever see the theatres. But this suit isn't going to speed things along.

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Like I said above, the Hollywood strike talk may finally start dying down now that the Writers Guild has reached a tentative agreement with producers. This puts the ball firmly in the court of the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract is up on June 30. Nobody ever wants to be seen as the party that forced a strike, which puts the actors in a bit of a spot. So although I could be wrong, my hunch is that the storm clouds are passing.

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Cutting-Room Floor: The prestigious Sundance Filmmakers and Screenwriters Labs, where the "Hedwig" movie got its start, just announced this year's crop of emerging writers and directors. Jessica Hagedorn was selected to adapt her play "Dogeaters" (which ran earlier this year at the Public and was based on Hagedorn's novel of the same name) at Sundance next month.... Am I the only person made deeply nervous by this "Devil and Daniel Webster" movie starring Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Love Hewitt?.... HBO is currently filming "The Laramie Project" in Wyoming and Denver. Steve Buscemi, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Peter Fonda and Laura Linney are among the actors joining the original cast. The film is expected to air this fall.... Thank you to Jeffrey and David, both of whom got me up to speed on "Hysterical Blindness," which Uma Thurman is apparently bringing to HBO. They reminded me that it was a musical comedy starring a chubby guy singing about growing up gay and Southern. Sounds tailor-made for Uma, doesn't it?.... "Fast Food, Fast Women," which was announced in my last column, will in fact begin its limited release on May 18.

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My Favorite Thought: A bunch of people had good casting decisions for the "Follies" film, and one writer even referred me to further details about the aborted project. (It's discussed in Shaun Considine's recently reissued book "Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud.") Here's my favorite assemblage, courtesy of Philip:

"While thinking about casting the movie version of 'Follies,' I realized that most of the people I would like to see still had great careers, thereby losing the 'has-been' level that made the original so interesting. But here are my picks: Goldie Hawn as Phyllis, Pierce Brosnan as Ben, Cher as Sally (she could make 'Losing My Mind' the number 1 hit that it deserves to be), Victor Garber as Buddy, Shirley MacLaine and Joel Grey as Emily and Theodore, Tina Turner as 'I'm Still Here' Carlotta, Shelley Winters as 'Broadway Baby' Hattie, Angela Lansbury as Heidi, Brigitte Bardot as Solange, Liza Minnelli as Stella, Nathan Lane as Roscoe and Bob Hope as Dimitri Weismann."

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Your Thoughts: Except for Lansbury, I'm just fine with that casting. (She'd be great as Hattie or Carlotta, though.) Now: Does "Hedwig" have what it takes to be a hit on screen? Do you see any other theater connections in this summer's releases? What are the odds of seeing "O" any time soon?

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