‘Boheme’ is B’way bound

'Rent's' Seller, McCollum to produce

NEW YORK — Puccini’s “La Boheme” is expected to make its Broadway debut sometime in 2002, courtesy of director Baz Luhrmann.

“The producers of ‘Rent’ have always wanted me to do this on Broadway,” Luhrmann said, referring to Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum. The “Rent” duo will be producing the Broadway “Boheme” with longtime legit producer Emanuel Azenberg, who is currently represented on Broadway with productions of Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party” and Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pockets.”

Luhrmann said “La Boheme” will be his next project after the film “Moulin Rouge,” which opens the Cannes Film Festival on May 9, with a May 18 release in New York City and Los Angeles. The Fox film, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, goes wide on June 1. The director, who also helmed “Strictly Ballroom” and “Romeo + Juliet,” said he expects the production to make it to Broadway by end of the year.

Maybe later on

Azenberg put the opening date somewhat later. “We’re looking to come in probably a year from now,” he said. “Until Luhrmann finishes ‘Moulin Rouge,’ we can’t even begin casting. We don’t have a theater. It is premature, but our intention is to do the opera on Broadway.”

In an unusual move for a Broadway show, Opera News recently published a casting ad for the production.

The Broadway “Boheme” will not be Luhrmann’s first crack at the opera. In 1993, he staged Puccini’s classic at the Sydney Opera House, updating it from the 1830s to the 1950s. It is this version that captured the attention of Seller, McCollum and Azenberg.

“These are hot, young, sexy people on stage,” Azenberg said of the Sydney Opera production. “Its success there was stupefying. You could not get tickets.”

Making the classics young

Referring to Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo + Juliet,” the producer added: “Luhrmann is able to transcend time. He takes classics and makes an effort to find a young audience. That is his strength.”

If the producers wait until spring 2002 to open their “Boheme,” they will avoid direct competition from Lincoln Center, where the opera about impoverished Parisian artists receives frequent stagings at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as the New York State Opera.

Next season, the Met lists 18 perfs of Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish production of “La Boheme,” the last skedded for February 2002, while the New York City Opera’s new production will return next fall but not the following spring. NYCO’s version, directed by James Robinson, updates the action to the eve of World War I, and was telecast live by PBS.

Paying homage to the originator

Azenberg did not regard the Lincoln Center performances as competition, regardless of the timing. “We’re going for an audience that does not attend opera,” the producer said.

He also joked about McCollum and Seller’s involvement with the Broadway “Boheme,” which serves as the story of Jonathan Larson’s rock opera “Rent.”

” ‘Rent’ is a paean to the original,” he said, “so they owe it to Puccini to give him another shot.”

While the Puccini work is a perennial at Lincoln Center, it also received an Off Broadway production at the Public Theater in 1984, with Linda Ronstadt alternating with Patti Cohenour and Caroline Peyton as Mimi. David Carroll and Gary Morris alternated as Mimi’s lover, Rodolfo.

That production was director Wilford Leech’s follow-up to his hugely successful “The Pirates of Penzance,” which first performed at Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre in 1980 and transferred to Broadway for a long run. It headlined Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Rex Smith.

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