Talk with producer Don Gregory; Hollywood and Broadway -- a link that's growing
Hollywood and Broadway are busily cross-fertilizing each other.Skip to next paragraph
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As always, the movies are borrowing material from the legitimate theater -- ''On Golden Pond'' and ''Zoot Suit'' being two recent examples.
And, in a more unusual trend, Hollywood filmmakers are turning their talents to the stage. Robert Altman, of ''M*A*S*H'' and ''Nashville'' fame, is opening his first Broadway show -- ''Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean ,'' which is even named after a movie star. William Friedkin, of ''Exorcist'' notoriety, also tried his hand at stagecraft not long ago, though the show (''Duet for One'') promptly closed.
Meanwhile, the versatile Arthur Penn, director of the classic ''Bonnie and Clyde'' and the current ''Four Friends,'' is slated to direct ''Monday After the Miracle'' for the New York stage, and the great Gene Kelly is in charge of the forthcoming ''Satchmo.'' A theatrical version of the 1954 movie favorite ''Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,'' now touring, is due on Broadway in April. French filmmaker Louis Malle, director of ''Atlantic City'' and ''My Dinner With Andre'' -- in retrospect, two of last year's very best pictures -- is helming a major Off Broadway production. Ulu Grosbard, whose last film was ''True Confessions,'' continues to commute between movies and plays.
And in the midst of this activity, subject matter as well as talent is making the switch from screen to stage. In a few weeks, one of the most famous figures ever to grace the movie world will be the subject of a major Broadway musical. ''Charlie Chaplin,'' now in preparation by producer Don Gregory, will focus on the most beloved of all movie comedians -- a man who didn't conquer the cinema, however, until he had learned and perfected his art on the music-hall stages of his native England.
The show will not concentrate on Chaplin's years as an international star, or on the controversies that peppered his career. Says producer Gregory, ''We're not taking the obvious tack. His later life, his stardom, his marriages, his politics -- all that's of no interest to me.'' Rather, he says, attention will be paid to ''the things that molded Chaplin's character, and inevitably led him to become 'the tramp' we all remember. That character is filled with the pathos and sadness of his early life.''
The musical, with John Rubinstein in the title role, is slated to begin Broadway previews May 29 for a June 3 opening night. Before that, an out-of-town tryout in Boston will begin April 22, after about five weeks of rehearsal. A company may also open in London at the same time as the Broadway premiere. It will be ''a visual show,'' says Gregory, since Chaplin was ''a visual person.'' If it realizes its potential, it could be a treat for movie as well as Broadway fans.
Where did the idea for a Chaplin musical come from? ''It's unlike a producer, I suppose,'' said Gregory during a recent interview with the Monitor, ''but I had the idea myself. In fact, I've had it for three years. But I had to look for the right people to write, develop, and direct it. For example, I wanted a dramatic writer who also had background in comedy. Ernest Kinoy fits the bill: He wrote 'Roots' for TV, yet he started out writing for Imogene Coca and Nat Hiken. So he had the right combination -- to show the Dickensian workhouse where Chaplin lived for a year, and also to show how he discovered that humor could be derived from sadness. . . .''