Coens croon feature tune for Turturro

Are Joel and Ethan Coen angling to become the Rodgers and Hammerstein of this millennium?

Albeit, that’s a reach. But after scoring a hit with their quirky musical fable “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” the Coens are jumping into the bigscreen musical genre again with “Romance and Cigarettes,” a musical written by John Turturro that they are producing.

The list of actors being courted for roles includes James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Julia Stiles, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi and Aida Turturro. John Turturro is talking to his “Mr. Deeds” co-star Adam Sandler about making a cameo. Word is that the film might find its way to United Artists as a negative pickup, but that studio is denying they’ve made any deal.

Though his reps would not confirm, “Sopranos” star Gandolfini looks likely to make “Romance and Cigarettes” his hiatus film. He starred in the last Coen pic “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” and would topline the musical as a Brooklyn guy in what is being called “Pennies From Heaven” meets “The Honeymooners.”

All of the participants will dance and sing. John Turturro, who was part of the “O Brother Where Art Thou” ensemble as well as “Barton Fink,” has set the tale in his home base of Bensonhurst.

The Coens are shooting “Intolerable Cruelty,” and a successful mounting of “Romance and Cigarettes” would put them alone as filmmakers who are bringing musicals to the bigscreen with any regularity. One of the surprises of “Brother” was the success of its Grammy winning soundtrack.

The road to making a movie musical has lately been paved with futility, particularly when the attempt is on a straight-ahead adaptation of a stage blockbuster. Miramax hopes to end that streak with the screen version of the Bob Fosse musical “Chicago” with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere, and there has even been rumor that Mel Brooks’ Tony winning revival of “The Producers” might be redone onscreen, though not as long as the Broadway version keeps selling out and not until it finishes its upcoming national tour.

But Andrew Lloyd Webber has so far been unsuccessful in mounting movie versions of stage hits like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Sunset Boulevard.” And Broadway hits “Rent” and Dreamgirls” stalled after much initial enthusiasm.

But Studios are still trying: Columbia is exploring a new “Bye Bye Birdie,” while Focus and producer Laurence Mark are giving movie treatment to the Tony-winning Susan Stroman musical “Contact.” John Weidman is writing and Stroman is skedded to make her feature directing debut and choreograph that pic. The film will focus on the third act of the musical, taking place in a “Saturday Night Fever”-like dance club. Still, it’s 50-minutes of hoofing in a 90-minute film and is considered to be unlikely enough of a film adaptation that even the Coens would love it.

WB’S SUPERHERO PLANS: The arsenal of DC Comics-generated superhero films at Warner Bros. is expansive and it’s with good reason that “Batman vs. Superman” will be the first one out of the gates. WB is counting on helmer Wolfgang Petersen’s “Batman vs. Superman” pic to rehabilitate characters that were nearly ruined in the last Batman and Superman pics. They’ll get a last hurrah before new versions of both heroes are ushered in. There are five other DC projects that should keep the pipeline filled through at least 2010. It’s a race to see whether the next in production will be the McG-directed “Superman” or the Darren Aronofsky-directed “Batman: Year One.” The latter has time, given the postponement of Aronofsky’s Brad Pitt pic for WB, “The Fountain,” which will not get made unless its budget can be pared to $70 million. Also viable are “Batman Beyond,” “Catwoman” (which still has Ashley Judd purring), and “Wonder Woman,” which George Miller might direct.

MORE BALTIMORE FOR BARRY: Barry Levinson’s passion for his Baltimore origins has gone beyond the trilogy of films he’s made. It will now hit the printed page. Levinson will make his debut as a novelist with “66,” which was just acquired by Random House editor-at-large Peter Gethers. He’ll edit the book and it will be published by Broadway Books. Levinson, currently shooting the Ben Stiller/Jack Black comedy “Envy,” began writing “66” as a script but changed his mind. “He is serious about being a novelist and he’s written a superb first novel,” Gethers said. “We think this will be a major book for fall 2003. It takes his Baltimore series to the next level, as a group of young men and women deal with the Vietnam War and the beginning of the drug culture. There is also some wonderful stuff about the early days of local television. There hasn’t been a really good coming of age ’60s novel in a long time.”

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