'Tiger,' Lee tuner heading to the stage

CHICAGO — By 2008 or so, Broadway might be looking like downtown Shanghai. Two massive Asian-themed shows are in simultaneous development. But only one dangles the possibility of an international space oddity from the West: David Bowie.

The first of two China-themed projects is a legit version of Ang Lee-helmed pic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” now under development from Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein told Daily Variety (March 10) that he sees the show — an adaptation of the work of Chinese author Wang Du Lu and part of the “Crane — Iron Pentalogy” series — as an epic spectacle in the vein of Cirque du Soleil, with a heavy reliance on martial arts, albeit within a cohesive narrative.

Then there’s the new musical based on the life story of kung fu legend Bruce Lee, under development by Chi-based Elephant Eye Theatricals. That show’s profile took a leap when Bowie was spotted in Toronto, yakking with director Matthew Warchus. Warchus is helming the “Lord of the Rings” musical in Toronto and was previously announced as director of the Lee project (David Henry Hwang has been tapped as book-writer). If the Bowie angle pans out, this will be the chameleon-like rock star’s legit debut.

Producer (and former Disney Theatricals exec) Stuart Oken had no comment on Bowie’s involvement as the writer of music and lyrics. He did say, though, that the Lee show will be a very different project from “Crouching Tiger,” despite Lee’s iconic status in the world of martial arts.

“Our showis a legit show,” says Oken. “No flying. No wires. No Cirque-type stuff. I see us doing something far more in the mode of ‘The Lion King.’ Something low-tech.” Oken says he’s aiming for 2008 — and plans at least two tryout cities prior to Gotham.

While a race to completion between competing chopsocky tuners appears likely, in all probability, there’s room for both shows. Chinese culture is likely to get a major boost from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And even before all that publicity, Asian entertainment already is hot.

In Las Vegas, MGM Grand has scored solid success with Robert Lepage’s Asian-themed Cirque epic, “Ka.” On Feb. 23, MGM Grand declared a 33% increase in entertainment revenues, which the company attributed “largely as a result of the contribution from ‘Ka’.” And when MGM opens its new casino in Macau in 2007, “Ka” can easily be duplicated for a massive new market likely to crave entertainment as well as gambling.

In essence, the Weinsteins are following the MGM pattern of creating a spectacular semi-legit attraction without language barriers — which thus can easily move around the world. Elephant Eye seems to be going a more traditional legit route.

But then neither Lee nor Bowie need a lot of translation anywhere in the world where people have money to spend.

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