Helmer leaping to stage

Taylor made for new tuner

“Ray” director Taylor Hackford will make his stage directing debut with “Leap of Faith,” a Broadway musical version of the 1992 film that starred Steve Martin.

Show will debut during the 2007-08 season.

Alan Menken has written the score, with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Janus Cercone, who wrote the original movie, has penned the tuner’s book.

Michael Manheim will produce with James D. Stern, Douglas L. Meyer, Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, Marc Routh and Thomas Viertel.

Pic starred Martin as Jonas Nightingale, a conman who preys upon a drought-stricken farm-belt town, claiming he can deliver rain. The musical will hew close to the film’s storyline but accentuate the relationship between Nightingale and a young widow and her son, who give the cynic a reason to finally believe in something.

Hackford said he will direct a film first, then devote himself fully to the musical. His most recent bigscreen effort, “Ray,” is being groomed for a stage adaptation by Benjamin Prods. and Baldwin Entertainment Group, but Hackford declined to take part.

Though Hackford has directed or produced movies that have spawned six No. 1 hit songs, he said he had waited for the right opportunity to do a full-blown tuner.

“What got me here was Alan Menken’s score and how it so beautifully fit the book,” Hackford said. “I wasn’t interested in doing this with ‘Ray,’ though I wish them well. I felt that Jamie (Foxx) was my creative partner in that one, and that we said everything we wanted to with the movie. I love musical theater, though, and will focus on developing other shows in the future that I’ll direct.”

Manheim, who produced the original film and is married to its writer, said they began thinking “musical” when the pic came out and courted Menken for years to write the tunes.

“The essence of the story, the ultimate cynic who gets to believe in something, hits the zeitgeist, particularly in the present,” Manheim said.

The musical is the fourth Stern has produced recently from bigscreen material, after “Hairspray,” “The Producers” and the soon-to-bow “The Wedding Singer.”

“The form of the musical is difficult when you start from scratch, and movies now so often present topics with larger-than-life themes that you want to sing about,” Stern said.

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