A few random Oscar thoughts:
• If Toni Collette were to win Best Supporting Actress for "The Sixth Sense," it would mark a mini-streak for Broadway: Last year's Supporting Actress winner, Dame Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love"), was rehearsing for Amy's View at the time of the ceremony. Collette's The Wild Party -- that's the Michael John La Chiusa/George C. Wolfe one -- opens April 13, which could mean two consecutive winners would be starring or preparing to star on Broadway at the time. Of course, "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes was almost represented on Broadway as well, with Wise Guys.
• If "American Beauty" wasn't already the odds-on Oscar favorite; the post-nomination boost in box office clinched it. In general, the Academy likes to reward financial success but not too much success. Over the last 20 years, the Best Picture award has generally gone to a well-performing prestige picture, not a mega-grossing juggernaut and not an obscure boutique film. "Titanic" is the obvious exception to this, along with "Forrest Gump" and "Silence of the Lambs," but doubles and triples tend to do better than grand slams or bloop singles. By delivering the only "quality blockbuster" (i.e., an estimated $90 million to $110 million by Oscar time), Mendes has turned both his film and himself (for Best Director) into the ones to beat.
• "Titus," "Anna and the King" and "Topsy-Turvy" did well in the technical categories. All three are up for Best Costumes; if you ask me, it's a lot harder to create a visual world, a la "Titus," than to re-create a visual world, like the other two, but that's just me. "Anna" and "Topsy Turvy" are also up for Art Direction, but I have a hunch "Sleepy Hollow" will walk away with that one.
• If you haven't seen Foreign Film nominee "All About My Mother" yet, it's well worth your time. Theater plays a major role: Tennessee Williams and Federico Garcia Lorca get a lot of screen time, with several shots of a production of A Streetcar Named Desire featured. • "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," the best film musical score since "The Little Mermaid," was almost eliminated from consideration entirely, thanks to a little Academy skullduggery. (The Academy opted to eliminate the category that would have included it and "Tarzan" since they were the only contenders.) However, "Blame Canada," one of the (relatively) inoffensive songs, got a Best Song nod -- and co-writer Trey Parker is reportedly tweaking the lyrics before the March 26 broadcast.
I learned a bit more about "Stage on Screen," the planned PBS platform for filmed stage productions. Details are still fuzzy, but don't expect to see anything until what is being called "the 2000-01 season." My guess is that details will be announced in late spring for a season beginning in September. It's going to work like this: The year will consist of six shows. Two will be new filmed productions of stage shows, much like the "Passion" and "Master Harold ... and the boys" that you remember. In fact, those archival shows will make up three of the remaining five slots. The last component will be a feature film-style adaptation of a play.
By my count, then, the first season is largely in place. The Marc Levin film of Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight" will be the feature film, and A.R. Gurney's "Far East" will be one of the two new productions. Any suggestions for the third slot? A currently distributor-less film of David Hare's Via Dolorosa debuted to good notices at Sundance, but I have a hunch that won't be it; two monodramas could be a bit much, and the PBS viewership might not take kindly to Hare's nonpartisan look at the Middle East conflict. It's probably too late to get Stop Kiss or In the Blood on tape. Maybe The Price before it closes on March 5? And before Kathleen Chalfant walks away from Wit for good, her performance (and that play) desperately needs to be immortalized.
Meanwhile, at least one of the other two Broadway services appears to be in place. The Broadway Television Network (BTN), which plans to air pay per-view performances of musicals after they've closed, has already filmed "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and "Putting It Together." At the same time, Broadway Tonight maintains that it will assemble and film four revivals a year starring major names, then move the productions to an unnamed Nederlander house for a limited run. (BTN has contested the Nederlanders' involvement with the BT project.) The four-show season is projected to start in fall 2001 and will cost $79.95. But am I the only one who has suspicions about this enterprise, by far the most adventurous of the three? If BTN broadcasts four shows a year and "Stage on Screen" airs another six -- plus the promised videos of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows -- how big is the market? It all depends on the caliber of stars Broadway Tonight can snag. I'm sure Playbill On-Line will continue to provide information on these various ventures, and I'll pass on any new details as they come my way.
Cutting-Room Floor: W. Somerset Maugham's Home and Beauty is coming to the big screen -- sort of. Columbia is developing "One Too Many," a remake of the 1940 comedy "Too Many Husbands," which in turn was based on the play. Jean Arthur and Fred MacMurray starred in "Two Many Husbands"; the new version has not yet been cast. ... After going moody this holiday ("American Beauty," "Titus"), theatre directors are lightening up in Hollywood again. First comes Des McAnuff's "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" this summer. And now Rob Marshall, Mendes' co-director on the Broadway Cabaret, is slated to direct the live-action/animated comedy "Enchanted" for Disney this spring. Work on the animated sequences could begin in the next month or two. ... Andrew Lloyd Webber is reportedly collaborating with Shekhar Kapur on a Bollywood musical called "Bombay Dreams." Does this have any impact on the "Phantom of the Opera" movie, to which Kapur is allegedly attached? ... Theatre notables on their way to the big screen include Gary Sinise in "Mission to Mars" (March 10); Camryn Manheim in the Mike Nichols alien comedy "What Planet Are You From?" (March 3); and Josef Sommer, Lynn Redgrave and the currently previewing Illeana Douglas (The Moment When) in "The Next Best Thing" (also March 3).
My Favorite Thought: Bill remembered an "American Playhouse" that I had no idea even existed:
"As far as "American Playhouse" memories go, their finest hour came several years ago with the TV adaptation of Stephen Schwartz's "Working." It had a phenomenal all-star cast (Barry Bostwick, Rita Moreno, Eileen Brennan, Barbara Hershey, Patti LaBelle, Scatman Crothers, Charles Durning, Lynne Thigpen, Charles Haig, etc.), and it was true to the source material and uncommonly entertaining. It veered away from just videotaping the show onstage and set the show on various sets in a TV studio.
"They did with a stage musical what should be done—do it well, do it right and capture it forever on tape.
"If motion picture studios are still brain-dead when it comes to green lighting musicals (what are they afraid of? Phantom made -- and is still making -- more money than any single movie in the whole 20th century), then this is a good way to preserve them."
Your Thoughts: Will you shell out $80 to see musicals that have already closed? Any suggestions for shows worth taping (in the case of the Broadway Television Network and "Stage on Screen") or creating (for Broadway Tonight)?
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theater critic for Back Stage.