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Helmer captures ‘Caesar’

Sullivan stages three prod'ns within a 15-week frame

If his Broadway schedule looks busy, that’s because Daniel Sullivan is busy. In a scrunched 15-week period, the director delivered the New York premiere of Donald Margulies’ “Brooklyn Boy” (Feb. 3), to be followed by the Denzel Washington-starrer “Julius Caesar” (April 3) with the world premiere of Elaine May’s “After the Night and the Music” (May 19) waiting in the wings.

“It is a little bit crazy with the scheduling, not terribly well thought out,” admits Sullivan, who doesn’t always have control over the Broadway clock. As late as October 2004, the director had a relaxed three-month window between the two Manhattan Theater Club projects by Margulies and May. Then, on the opposite coast, Universal Pictures canceled “American Gangster,” freeing up its headliner, Denzel Washington.

On “Julius Caesar,” the stars haven’t aligned so much as crash-landed in perfect synchronization after a long wait.

Producer Carole Shorenstein Hays first talked to Sullivan three years ago about a Broadway production of the political drama, and in 2003, he staged it at the Old Globe.

He and she agreed: The San Diego production’s modern-dress approach would be replicated for Broadway. “The most radical thing today would be to set ‘Julius Caesar’ in its Roman era,” says Sullivan, “but then it looks like you’ve put it in a bath house.” A more contempo look also highlights the play’s parallel to current events. “It’s about an ill-planned pre-emptive strike and its consequences,” he adds.

Not that topicality has ever translated into B.O. insurance in the theater.

Although Shorenstein Hays is one of the theater’s most devoted producers, even her pockets (together with Freddy DeMann’s) don’t cover a $2.5 million capitalization. “We always knew, you can’t do Shakespeare without a star,” says the producer.

Washington was approached to play Brutus, but couldn’t commit until 2007 or 2008. Shorenstein Hays replied, “I’m in no rush. We can wait.”

Then Universal pulled the plug on “American Gangster,” and “Julius Caesar” was all rush and no wait.

Sullivan thought he could handle the time crunch. “Then you realize you’re starting one project while trying to finish another.”

The first week of rehearsals for “Julius Caesar” coincided with the last week of previews on “Brooklyn Boy.” That overlapping sked repeats itself this week (Mar. 28-Apr. 3) with the Bard and the May.

Back to the Biltmore

“After the Night” takes the director back to home turf, MTC’s Biltmore Theater, where his legit career began. In 1968, Sullivan was stage manager there (and later assistant director) for “Hair.” Only in hindsight does it look like severe miscasting.

“My father put me in ballet school at age 7. It was a disciplinary action,” he surmises. In college, Sullivan danced in musicals. Which may explain why this play director doesn’t find time for them in his busy schedule.

“I read musicals. People send me musicals,” says Sullivan. “I haven’t found anything that turns me on.”

Plays, of course, do. Sullivan reads up to 50 new ones a year, and his resume includes such Pulitzer Prize winners as “The Heidi Chronicles,” “Dinner With Friends” and “Proof.”

His choice of projects is predicated on the question: “Can I spend five weeks with it?” His rejection of friends’ plays is equally simple and tough. As Sullivan explains, “I can be hard on them because they can be hard on me.”

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