STAGE TO SCREEN: Will the Silver Screen Go "Plaid?" and The Best of 2003

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: Will the Silver Screen Go "Plaid?" and The Best of 2003
 
As much as I poke around in search of interesting topics for this column, readers sometime beat me to the punch.

Unfortunately, many of the things they unearth never really pan out. (That’s not a slight at all. I have pretty much the same batting average — Hollywood is just too rumor-mad and imprecise, and a lot of projects never get off the ground.)

But it was brought to my attention by a reader that Forever Plaid might be on its way to the big screen. Hey, it’s always been sort of the flip side of Grease, and we all know how that movie version turned out. Mark Sendroff, the attorney for Plaid writer/director/choreographer Stuart Ross, confirmed that an option had been taken out on the scrappy four-man musical, which has generated more than 1,500 productions since debuting in 1990. (He reiterated, though, that "this is an option, which is not a guarantee.")

I’ve always been a fan of Forever Plaid and was tickled by the idea of a movie version. I’d hoped to talk to Ross directly about the project, but recent jaw surgery has temporarily made it just about impossible for him to talk. He was, however, happy to communicate by e-mail. So what you’re about to read is a slightly cleaned-up and streamlined transcript of our discussion of a big-screen "Forever Plaid":

How long has the idea of a "Plaids" movie kicked around?

The idea of doing a movie has been bandied about since early in the New York run in 1990. There was more interest then in doing it as a TV series. Has it been optioned before?

Not officially for money. But very close. There have been over 40 meetings and as many lunches taken about making "Forever Plaid: The Movie."

What would your involvement be?

I'm writing or cowriting the screenplay. And directing.

Are there plans to "open it up" — deal more with the Plaids individually, use special effects to establish where they are, introduce other characters, etc.?

Gosh yes. So far, it's really opened up, but hopefully we're keeping the essence of what people like about the show. There is a plot — and objectives and growth and romance and character development and lots of hair gel.

We are planning to use CGI techniques and flashbacks. The flashbacks will be to see actual scenes of their lives before they were killed. We also will explore what it's like in the cosmos. These have already been plotted out. They will, of course, be quirky and a little twisted.

Would you have any say in casting?

I'm sure I'll have lots of say.

If budget were no object, who would your dream Plaids be?

If budget were no problem, I'd spend millions to do whatever it took to have the original Plaids be able to pass for singers in their twenties.

Do you foresee any problems securing the rights to the songs, or did you already take care of that when you wrote the stage version?

I don't think that it will be a problem. We've had a good relationship with the publishers for 14 years now.

Why do you think Plaid has resonated as wide and deeply as it has?

Well, it is so sincere. The music has an innocence to it that evokes so many feelings in the audience. It doesn't seem to matter if adults or kids know the song or the era. I think the audience identifies with the underdog working to fulfill their dream. It doesn't matter what your dream is. It's the fact that you have a dream that seems to matter in life — and even in death. One of the big points I wanted to make when I was first writing the show was that your dreams live on even after your life has ended. Also, I wanted to give the audience a killer evening of great singing from a time and a state of mind that had been overlooked.

In addition to Plaid Tidings [Ross’ Christmas-themed Plaids musical] and the film, are there any plans to branch out with other Plaid projects?

I rewrote the entire script last season for a coed cast of 20. I created a version of the show that could be done in schools, colleges, by glee clubs and other groups. Writing the show for guys and gals was a blast. The show is called The Sound of Plaid. That is almost ready for publication. We had a workshop production with students at the Buckley School in Los Angeles. It was amazing to see hip high school students singing Perry Como songs and paying tribute to Harry Belafonte and Ed Sullivan. There wasn't a dry eye in the theatre when the audience was hit with 20 high school students bidding farewell to their last time on Earth by singing "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing."

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Following up on two items briefly mentioned in last column’s 2004 preview: "Try to Remember: The Fantasticks," the documentary on the show’s 17,162nd and final performance, is on hold temporarily. Zeitgeist Films says the tentative plan is to open it in a very limited theatrical run this summer, probably May, in anticipation of a September DVD release. So Fantasticks fans will have to be patient.

I also mentioned the eight-week Orson Welles tribute currently under way at Film Forum. "Orson Welles, Man of the Theater" has come and gone, but there’s still plenty worth catching up on. In addition to Welles’ "Othello" (airing March 12-14) and "Macbeth" (April 5), buffs can go behind the scenes in the 1978 documentary "Filming Othello" (March 24), in which Welles actually recuts the footage. "A Man for All Seasons" (March 16) and "Oedipus Rex" (April 7), with Welles as Tiresias, will also be shown. (After seeing Christopher Plummer play the ultimate bad father in King Lear, you can jump on the 1 or 9 train and catch him play the ultimate bad son in "Oedipus.") And Stefan Droessler, director of the Munich Filmmuseum and creator of the retrospective’s "Unknown Orson Welles" evenings, informs me that some of the "Man of the Theater" material also turns up in "Orson Welles: The One-Man Band" (April 7), including part of his aborted "Merchant of Venice" film.

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One other comment about my preview: I mentioned the synchronicity of Alfred Molina and Hugh Jackman starring in major Broadway musicals and major Hollywood movies — Fiddler on the Roof and "Spider-Man 2" for Molina, The Boy From Ozand "Van Helsing" for Jackman, respectively — all at the same time. I asked if anyone could remember a similar scenario in the past, and one anonymous reader remembered Shirley Booth accepting her Oscar for "Come Back, Little Sheba" from her Philadelphia dressing room during the pre-Broadway tryout of By the Beautiful Sea in 1954. Actually, this person had it slightly garbled. Booth did win for "Sheba," but that was in 1953. Her backstage moment came the following year, when she awarded William Holden the Best Actor award. But that was the closest I got, so thanks for the suggestion, whoever you are.

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It dawned on me that I never got around to giving my Top 10 list for 2003. Now that the Oscars are upon us, it seems like a good time to name my favorites:

1. "Capturing the Friedmans"
2. "Dirty Pretty Things"
3. "Lost in Translation"
4. "The Station Agent"
5. "Spellbound"
6. "Mystic River"
7. "In America"
8. "American Splendor"
9. "Master and Commander"
10. "28 Days Later"

No theatre-based fare this year, sadly, although I would certainly put "OT: Our Town" on an honorable mention list. And speaking of the Oscars, I was right about Supporting Actor nominee Alec Baldwin taking some time away from Twentieth Century. Rather than lose their leading man, the Roundabout decided to cancel the weekend’s performances until Baldwin gets back from L.A. Oscar Jaffe would approve.

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The biggest release for theatre buffs this month by default is "Spartan" (March 12), simply because it’s written and directed by David Mamet. It’s cut from the "Heist"/"Spanish Prisoner" school of twisty, terse Mamet movies, and William H. Macy has a small but juicy part. (Clark Gregg, Jim Frangione and Neil Pepe are among the other familiar Atlantic Theater faces.) "Dogville" (March 26), the first in Lars von Trier’s promised trilogy of movies about America, features Nicole Kidman and a huge cast (Lauren Bacall, Blair Brown, Stellan Skarsgard, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson) in a highly stylized setting that allegedly takes several pages from Our Town. The Sweeney Todd fan in me always like it when Len Cariou surfaces in a thriller, and he has a small part in March 12’s "Secret Window." We won’t get to see Tim Blake Nelson bring his acclaimed portrayal of Shakespeare to Broadway now that the Beard of Avon transfer has fallen through; we will, however, get to see him as the Pterodactyl Ghost in "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed." It opens March 26, the same day as his limited-release romantic comedy "A Foreign Affair."

And keep your eyes peeled for "The Reckoning," which was filmed in 2000 and will finally open in New York and Los Angeles on March 5. It’s based on a Booker Prize-winning book called "Morality Play," and the premise sounds intriguing. Paul Bettany, recently of "Master and Commander," plays a disgraced 14th-century priest who links up with a troupe of actors. In a Hamlet-style twist, the actors end up doing a play that reenacts a recent murder in the hopes of exonerating an accused girl and unmasking the actual killer. Simon McBurney, artistic director of Theatre de Complicite, is among the costars. Three years on the shelf is never a good sign, but this may surprise.

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Your Thoughts: Who’s excited about the prospect of a "Forever Plaid" movie? Care to pick four young stage talents to play the Plaids? And this column goes up on Oscar night, so feel free to write in with your thoughts. Go, "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow!"

Eric Grode is associate editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage. He can be reached at egrode@hotmail.com.

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