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‘Hairspray’ meeting its maker

Shankman dances into pic version of B'way tuner

New Line Cinema has set Adam Shankman to direct and choreograph “Hairspray,” the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are producing.

Shankman, who’s finishing the holiday opener “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” for Fox, will begin working immediately with screenwriter Leslie Dixon and lyricist-composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the Tony-winning team that wrote the “Hairspray” score. Production will begin early next year in Baltimore, for a summer 2007 release.

Casting will now begin in earnest. John Travolta is expected to play Edna Turnblad, the role Harvey Fierstein originated onstage. The involvement of Shankman, who directed “Bringing Down the House,” makes Queen Latifah an instant front-runner for the role of Motormouth Maybelle.

Shankman fills a vacancy created when original choreographer Jerry Mitchell and stage director Jack O’Brien bowed out as the pic’s co-directors (Daily Variety, June 21, 2005). Zadan and Meron then offered the job to their “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, who once planned to choreograph and direct the stage version of “Hairspray” before he took the “Chicago” job. He declined to do the “Hairspray” movie.

Since then, the studio and producers took Dixon’s script to talent agencies for suggestions. They interviewed 15 filmmakers wanting the job before choosing Shankman. His qualifications go beyond his commercial success as a director, and the fact that Dixon wrote “Bringing Down the House.”

“I have worked with Marc and Scott on a variety of projects over 15 years, and the idea we get to work on the mother of all their projects, I consider it a great leap of faith in me,” Shankman said.

Though best known for comedies, Shankman trained as a dancer at Juilliard, and danced in videos of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul before becoming a prolific choreographer on nonmusical films. His efforts included helping Brendan Fraser move like an ape in “George of the Jungle” and assisting the cast of “The Flintstones.”

“It is rare to find a director who can speak the language of musicals,” Meron said. “He lives and breathes this language.”

“He’ll be a talent magnet for cast,” Zadan added.

The choice of Shankman passed muster with studio toppers Bob Shaye, who produced the original John Waters-directed film, co-chairman Michael Lynne and production president Toby Emmerich, who made the deal.

New Line’s Mark Kaufman, Michael Disco and Daryl Freimark are overseeing the pic with Travis Knox.

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