Casting looms for New Line’s younger-skewing ‘Hairspray’

Pic's creative team eyes some heavy hitters to take star turns

NEW YORK — With Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman’s “The Producers” starting production for Universal and Sony, New Line is making some bold plans to primp its own film-to-Broadway-and-back project “Hairspray.”

Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan — the duo that penned the book for the musical — turned in a first draft, but New Line has now hired Leslie Dixon (“Mrs. Doubtfire”) for a rewrite.

The creative team behind the pic is eyeing some pretty heavy hitters to take star turns, and has had conversations with John Travolta and Billy Crystal, among others. However, the pic’s creators caution that no formal offers will go out before Dixon’s script is done, and that they’ll also likely cast an unknown in the starring role of short and pudgy teen Tracy Turnblad.

“The part that’s daunting,” says producer Craig Zadan, “is the girl. We will likely look at all the girls out there who can sing and dance and are the right age, and we’ll do a number of screen tests.”

Partner Neil Meron adds: “It’s all completely open. The best people will get the job.”

New Line production topper Toby Emmerich says he’s expecting to see Dixon’s version in a month or two. Pic is expected to go before the cameras by September.

“They’re making ‘Producers,’ ‘Dreamgirls,’ ‘Rent’ and ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ ” Emmerich says. “There’s a little bit of a renaissance right now with the musical, so we want to get there sooner rather than later. It’s hard to find movies that are good and profitable, and we feel that this one is.”

Emmerich sees “Hairspray” as skewing younger than some other movie musicals prepping to hit the bigscreen.

“I do think ‘Hairspray’ plays a little bit young,” Emmerich says. “We’re hoping it’s closer to ‘Grease’ than ‘Chicago.’ ”

Pic still needs to be budgeted once Dixon’s draft is in.

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