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Theater producers turn to Hollywood

THE new Broadway season is full of stage projects inspired by Hollywood films, including the much-anticipated "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," writes John Caruccla.

There was a time when Hollywood turned to Broadway for movie ideas, transforming such shows as "Chicago," "The Sound of Music" and "Amadeus" into box-office gold and Oscar winners.

These days, theater producers look to films for juicy stage projects, turning movies like "Billy Elliot," "The Producers" and "Hairspray" into Tony winners.

The new Broadway season is no exception. Among shows opening this fall are "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," based on the comic book and movie franchise; "Elf: The Musical," inspired by the outrageous Will Ferrell comedy; and Pedro Almodovar's 1988 film farce, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

Meanwhile, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical," adapted from the 1994 road movie about drag queens and a transsexual and their cabaret act, opens for a pre-Broadway run in Toronto, Canada, on October 26. It was first adapted for the stage in 2006 for a run in Sydney, Australia, and most recently had a successful turn on London's West End.

Many eyes, though, are on the US$50 million-plus "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which was in the works for six years. Based on the Marvel comic book hero, "Spider-Man" features music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge, with a book by its director, Julie Taymor, and Glen Berger.

U2's Bono and The Edge are cutting their teeth writing show tunes. The jump may not be so far, given the appeal of the hit series "Glee" and its occasional ability to transform rock anthems into show music. So it is not hard to believe that the Irish rockers can retrofit their stadium-oriented rock into the more intimate musical theater.

The big budget musical extravaganza boasts one of the largest budgets in Broadway history and its producers include Marvel Entertainment and Sony Entertainment. Above the pack is lead producer Michael Cohl.

"Spider-Man" opens in the newly named Foxwoods Theater, formerly the Hilton Theater.

"Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" begins previews on November 14, and will open on December 21.

"Elf: The Musical" begins previews on November 2 at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, opening on November 10 in time for the holiday season. Based on the 2003 comedy, the musical tells the story of Buddy, a human raised as an elf at the North Pole.

Madness ensues after he is sent to New York to live with his biological father. After adjusting to his new world, the giant elf goes on a mission to save Christmas.

The musical stars George Wendt ("Cheers") as Santa Claus. Tony winner Beth Leavel co-stars and is reunited with her "Drowsy Chaperone" counterpart, Bob Martin, who wrote the book with Thomas Meehan ("Hairspray," "Young Frankenstein"). Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin ("The Wedding Singer") supply the music.

Even foreign films are not outside the realm of what producers will adapt for the stage. "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" tells the story of a soap opera actress and her philandering boyfriend.

In some ways, it's like "Sex and the City," though with less sex and a different city.

The cast includes Tony winners Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Laura Benanti, as well as Tony nominees Danny Burstein and Sherie Rene Scott.

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" starts previews on October 2 at Belasco Theater, and opens on November 4.

The classic Pee-wee Herman TV show, "Pee-wee's Playhouse," was based on the film, "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." Now "The Pee-wee Herman Show" will have a limited run at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, opening on November 11.

And, as in previous seasons, Broadway welcomes a bevy of stars that include: James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave ("Driving Miss Daisy"); Laura Linney and Christina Ricci ("Time Stands Still"); Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight ("A Life in the Theatre"); Cherry Jones ("Mrs Warren's Profession"); and David Hyde Pierce ("La Bete").

The season will also see the last collaboration of musical theater greats John Kander and Fred Ebb ("Chicago," "Cabaret") with "The Scottsboro Boys." It's based on the true story of nine young black men accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the early 1930s and their tale of justice repeatedly delayed and denied. The show played off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theater, winning good reviews and a Drama Desk prize for Kander and Ebb.

The score for "The Scottsboro Boys," which opens on October 31 at Lyceum Theater, was written before Ebb died in 2004.

One of the most talked-about plays for the new season is the Broadway premiere of "Driving Miss Daisy," starring Tony winners Redgrave and Jones. Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play ran off-Broadway in 1987 before becoming an Oscar-winning movie starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman.

"Driving Miss Daisy" begins previews on October 7 at the Golden Theater, and will open on October 25.


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