STAGE TO SCREENS: Menken & Schwartz Are "Enchanted"; Plus Bosco, Chenoweth, "Hairspray"

By Michael Buckley
18 Nov 2007

"Hairspray," the 2007 movie musical starring John Travolta, Nikki Blonsky, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Queen Latifah, is being released Nov. 20 as a New Line double-disc DVD, accompanied by a two-CD collectors' edition soundtrack. Exclaim the film's co-producers — Storyline Productions partners Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — "Fans are really in for a treat!"

Zadan: There's a lot of new material, including a two-hour documentary that covers the original John Waters film [1988], the Broadway show [which won eight Tonys, including Best Musical of 2003], and the making of the movie. Everyone involved was interviewed.

We have "Hair-extensions": the rehearsals, Adam [Shankman] choreographing and directing, videos, recording sessions, and several musical numbers seen simultaneously from different angles. There's a number shot for the movie that was cut — sort of like "Class" in "Chicago" [the Zadan and Meron musical that received six Oscars, including Best Picture of 2002]. That didn't end up in the movie, but it's on the DVD.

Meron: That [cut] song is "I Can Wait," sung by Tracy [Nikki Blonsky]. She's on the lam and goes to Penny's [Amanda Bynes] house, where Prudy [Penny's mother, played by Allison Janney] puts Tracy in the bomb-shelter basement, telling her, "You're going to be waiting a long time, Missy." Tracy sings "I Can Wait," a gorgeous ballad that unfortunately stopped the movie from progressing.



Zadan: One disc of the CD set is the released soundtrack. The second is all extras: Nikki singing "I Can Wait"; an instrumental, "Mr. Pinky's Theme"; outtakes; alternate recordings; and two songs written as potential replacements for "Miss Baltimore Crabs." While putting together the [original] score, [songwriters] Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman] asked friends to do demos, which no one's ever heard. For instance, there's a terrific version of "Timeless to Me," sung by Nathan Lane, and Christine Ebersole does one of Velma's songs that was cut. There are karaoke-instrumental versions of five songs. For fans of Marc and Scott, the second CD's a treasure chest.

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Nikki Blonsky, the Long Island teen who, somewhat surreally (without any screen experience), landed the part of Tracy Turnblad in the movie of "Hairspray," expresses excitement about the musical's DVD release. "People will get to see [and hear] 'I Can Wait,' which is a hidden gem. I had so much fun doing it. I think it stands on its own."

Does she have a favorite scene in the film? "Yes, when I'm doing 'Welcome to the '60s' with John [Travolta, as mom Edna] — the biggest musical star of our time. I was in awe that I was playing his daughter. I thought: Oh, my God, I really got the part." At 14, she'd auditioned for the Broadway show: "I got a callback, but I didn't get the part, because I was too young."

Blonsky's second movie, "Harold," is "a comedy, with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ally Sheedy, and Spencer Breslin," and she's just finishing "Queen Sized," a fact-based TV drama.

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ABC's innovative "Pushing Daisies" (Wednesdays, 8 PM ET) features Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook. What attracted her to the role? "I knew she was going to be fun and interesting. Bryan Fuller [the series' creator] is a genius, and I wanted to be a part of [the series]."

Chenoweth chose "Daisies" over Young Frankenstein, for which she'd done the workshop. "Not doing [the musical] was very hard for me. I love the people involved, and I really loved the part [now played by Megan Mullally]. Every actor makes tough decisions; that was the toughest."

In 1999, she had to choose between two Broadway revivals: a featured part in Annie Get Your Gun (for which Bernadette Peters earned her second Best Actress Tony in the title role) and the role of Sally in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. "I had a gut feeling to choose Sally," which won her the '99 Best Featured Actress Tony, "and that led to a sitcom" — 2001's unsuccessful "Kristin."

From 2004 to 2006, Chenoweth played Annabeth Schott on 27 episodes of NBC's "The West Wing." She notes, "That was awesome! It was a total blast to act with every single person on that show — Stockard [Channing], Allison [Janney], Brad [Whitford], Richard [Schiff], and of course Martin [Sheen] and my beloved John Spencer. He and I got real tight. Losing him [due to a 2005 heart attack] was devastating, but I'm so thankful for having known him."

Turning down the title role in 2002's Thoroughly Modern Millie was "another tough decision. Again, I loved the people involved. But it always works out for the better. Millie made Sutton [Foster] a star [and a Tony winner], while I got to experience movies and TV."

Andrew Lippa, who wrote her big Charlie Brown song, "My New Philosophy," conducted Chenoweth's (January) debut at the Metropolitan Opera. "That was the most nervous I've ever been," recalls Chenoweth. "My love for an audience freaks me out. There's no place I'm happier than onstage. That's my comfort zone. I miss New York."

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VARIOUS AND SUNDRY

The feature film "Atonement", for which Tony Award winner Christopher Hampton (lyricist and librettist of Sunset Blvd., and author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses) wrote the screenplay, opens in select cities Dec. 7 and wider on Dec. 14…There was a Nov. 14 private reading (directed by Kenny Leon) of the forthcoming (fall 2008) Broadway version of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", the 1967 film that starred Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier, whose roles (for the reading) were played by Larry Bryggman, Blythe Danner, and David Oyelowo (who's in Leon's ABC-TV version of "A Raisin in the Sun," airing in February). Other participants included Tony winners James Naughton and Leslie Uggams...The Farnsworth Invention by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin features music by Andrew Lippa (jon & jen, the MTC's Wild Party) who is hoping his A Little Princess will make a bow on Broadway…Jeremy Sisto (Broadway's Festen) plays the new "Law & Order" partner of Jesse L. Martin. Appearing on upcoming "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" episodes are Ben Vereen, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Debra Monk.

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MEMORABLE STAGE PERFORMANCES

I've been asking actors to recall the three most memorable stage performances that they've seen. Chita Rivera, the Broadway legend currently appearing (through Nov. 24) at Feinstein's in a sensational new act. Part of the show celebrates West Side Story, and Rivera recollects her audition for Leonard Bernstein: "That was 50 years ago. I was 4."

In both of Rivera's movies — "Sweet Charity" (1969) and the "Chicago" (2002) cameo — she played characters named Nickie. She just taped a segment of the Disney Channel's "Johnny and Sprites," which stars John Tartaglia, and for which Stephen Schwartz composes music. Come April, Rivera begins "rehearsals for The Visit," the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical (originally set to co-star Angela Lansbury and Philip Bosco) that is scheduled for the Washington, DC-area's Signature Theatre.

Chita's Choices: I remember clearly Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons. His performance [which won a Best Actor Tony] and the play [1962's Tony winner] blew me away. I'll remember it forever! When I saw Gwen [Verdon] in Sweet Charity, it was a revelation. Gwen's [turn] was absolutely pure! I cried, I laughed, I loved it! My third is [Mikhail] Baryshnikov in concert. I'd never before seen a performance like that!"

(Michael Buckley, a longtime theatre journalist, has written this column since 2002. Write him at stagetoscreens@aol.com.)