Not the real one. That's still sitting between 44th and 45th streets, accommodating the Spamalot fans waiting for David Hyde Pierce's autograph. But a 1959 facsimile of the street, complete with adjoining marquees, has cropped up in Brooklyn's Steiner Studios for the benefit of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.
"The Producers" is about one-third done with filming, and the faux Shubert Alley is a major set piece for the film, according to "Producers" producer Jonathan Sanger, who has worked with Mel Brooks since serving as his assistant director on "High Anxiety" in 1977. Rather than do major reconstructions on the theatres and be confined to filming on their "dark nights" (Sundays and Mondays), Sanger decided to build his own Shubert Alley. "By building it, we could enhance it. We could make it more of our dream version."
That dream version appears to hail from an earlier era of moviemaking. “The models for the style of this movie are less 'Chicago' or 'Moulin Rouge,'" Sanger says, "and more the movie musicals of the 1950s — 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'It's Always Fair Weather,' 'Royal Wedding.'" Interestingly, all three of those classic musicals were directed by Stanley Donen, with whom Sanger collaborated on the Busby Berkeley homage in the 1978 film "Movie Movie." "We've taken [Matthew Broderick's] Act I song 'I Want to Be a Producer,' for example, and turned it into more of a 'Hollywood' musical number, in the style of 'Gotta Dance' from 'Singin' in the Rain.'"
Sanger had followed the progress of the stage musical for years — "I'd come to Mel's office and be an early audience for incarnations of his songs." He wasn't involved with the stage version, but after seeing an early preview of The Producers, Sanger took Brooks to lunch and said he'd like to produce the film if and when it ever happened.
With four of its six original leads reprising their stage roles, "The Producers" would appear to be an unusually faithful re-creation. ("Rent," which is scheduled to hit theatres November 11, six weeks before "The Producers," can make a similar claim.) From the beginning, Sanger says, "we knew we wanted to use as much of the original cast as possible, and we knew we wanted Susan Stroman to direct it. And then it was up to me to figure out how much it would cost and where we wanted to make it." Oh, right. That's what producers do when they're not washing their windows with coffee or singing 11 o'clock numbers from jail. ****
The big draw for New York theatre fans this month will likely be "Show Business" at the Tribeca Film Festival from April 25 to 29. Broadway producer Dori Berinstein's documentary charts the creation of four Broadway musicals — Wicked, Avenue Q Taboo and Caroline, or Change. Those who need a musicals-on-film fix before then are encouraged to head to the Duplex on April 3, where a benefit screening of "Camp" will include a performance by the movie's cast and an interview with writer-director Todd Graff.
And if your tastes run more to older movies, Film Forum has a one-night-only presentation of "The Letter," based on the Somerset Maugham play. And not the 1940 Bette Davis version; no, this is the original 1929 version, starring Broadway legend Jeanne Eagels (the original Sadie Thompson in Rain). It's one of only three surviving Eagels films and the only sound one, and it airs April 7. Earlier that week, Film Forum is featuring eight of Preston Sturges’ early screenplays, including adaptations of plays by Molnar ("The Good Fairy") and Sturges himself ("Strictly Dishonorable").
Playbill.com's James Inverne wrote the other day about how Nicholas Hytner and author Alan Bennett are sticking to their guns about keeping their original stage cast for the proposed film of Bennett's "The History Boys," which is now playing at London's Royal National Theatre. Hytner and Bennett hold up their sticking with Nigel Hawthorne as the star of "The Madness of King George" as a past example of their high-mindedness. Well . . . they did bring in Helen Mirren, Ian Holm and Rupert Everett for "King George." And Hawthorne, while by no means a megastar, was a bigger name than "History Boys" star Richard Griffiths, thanks to BBC shows like "Yes Minister." Griffiths has been in the Harry Potter movies, but so has every other British actor. And if The History Boys does move to Broadway, as is rumored, it will presumably go the route of fellow RNT transfers Jumpers and Democracy and use at least some American actors, which would make it a bit tougher to sell the idea that the original cast is irreplaceable. In other words, Hytner and Bennett have a harder case to make this time.
As if premiering 11 new plays in New York this year and another 23 in London isn't enough, Neil LaBute has announced his next movie. A TV miniseries called "Lilac Lane" and a Sandra Bullock-Ralph Fiennes romance called "Vapor" fell through for various reasons, but he’s now slated to start filming the remake of the 1973 cult horror film "The Wicker Man" this summer. Nicolas Cage, who has started to build a body of lucrative but mediocre remakes ("Gone in 60 Seconds," "City of Angels"), will star.
Maybe it stems from his connections as a Hollywood script doctor, but David Mamet has seen a lot of his plays make it to the big screen. I don't have hard numbers on this, but I suspect the number of Mamet adaptations equals the number of John Guare adaptations, August Wilson adaptations, Sam Shepard adaptations, Caryl Churchill adaptations, Paula Vogel adaptations, Wendy Wasserstein adaptations and Tom Stoppard adaptations put together. His latest one is 1982's "Edmond," a murky look at one average Joe's descent into a sexual and racial cauldron. Mamet regulars William H. Macy and Joe Mantegna will team up with Julia Stiles and Mena Suvari. Oddly enough, the film will be directed by Stuart Gordon, who's best known — and essentially only known — for such gore classics as "Re Animator" and "From Beyond." (Perhaps LaBute and Gordon could discuss swapping their projects.)
Joining "Edmond" in the on-deck circle is "Good," another early-eighties look at an average guy drifting into some pretty dark territory. This one's based on the 1981 C.P. Taylor play about a German citizen falling under the sway of Nazism. It’s notable primarily for the casting of Hugh Jackman, who continues to cement his status among theatre lovers but, truth be told, has yet to find a role that really tests his dramatic talents. "Good" could be the project that changes that, although the idea of someone leaving his one-man show in Las Vegas to film a Holocaust drama seems a bit odd.
One more "Edmond" reference: The last major production of the play came in 2003, when Kenneth Branagh starred in a production at the RNT. Branagh appears to have finally purged his memory of his "Love's Labour's Lost" (if only it were that easy for the rest of us) and is diving into his fifth Shakespeare film. This time he’s going with "As You Like It," and for the first time, he won’t take the lead role. Instead, Kevin Kline and Bryce Dallas Howard ("The Village") will headline the film, which will be set in the late 1800s; Branagh will likely play Touchstone, and the gifted Adrian Lester will also have a supporting role.
With all the talk of the exciting projects on the way, it might be time to officially bid farewell to "Damn Yankees." As if hoarding "Proof" wasn't bad enough, Miramax will likely let its musical follow-up to "Chicago" fall by the wayside when it and the Weinstein brothers part ways later this year. If there's a silver lining here, it’s that producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have the wherewithal to find a new home for the project if they choose to — especially if someone like Billy Crystal were to sign on as Applegate.
Finally, "Damn Yankees" isn't the only thing going away. After more than six happy years of charting the likes of "Quills," "The Fantasticks," "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," I've decided to call it a day. Michael Buckley's column will expand its purview to include film projects, but Stage to Screen will shut down after this column.
I wanted to thank David Lefkowitz, Robert Simonson, Andrew Ku and Andrew Gans at Playbill.com for their help over the years. Thanks to Ken Lonergan and John Cameron Mitchell and dozens of others for making movies that appeal to theatre and film aficionados alike. And a special thanks to all of you readers, who have chimed in over the years to correct me, scold me, thank me or just ask a question. Even if I didn't respond to every last question, I promise that I read each and every last e-mail. I'll continue to write about theatre for the publications below and a few other outlets, and I'm every bit as excited about seeing the movies of "Hairspray" and (someday!) "Sweeney Todd" as you are. Take care, guys.
Eric Grode writes about theatre for American Theatre, the New York Times and the Sondheim Review. He can be reached at [email protected]