Perry paves way for crossover

Hyphenate leapt from plays to hit films

The route from stage to screen isn’t always an obvious one, but Tyler Perry has proved that by nurturing and building a core theater audience, the rest of the entertainment universe can be yours for the taking.

At least that’s how easy Perry has made it look since he made the leap from producing, directing and starring in urban-themed plays to landing atop the movie box office with his debut film, 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” The $5 million pic grossed $33 million its opening weekend and went on to mint $50 million.

Perry’s follow-up film, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” grossed $65 million in 2006, and expectations are high for “Daddy’s Little Girls,” which Lionsgate (the franchise’s distributor thus far) unspooled last week.

“Daddy’s” is Perry’s first feature based on an original script and not adapted from one of his plays.

Though Perry has taken Hollywood by surprise, his success is hardly news to the devout theater fans who have followed him since 1998, when the multihyphenate became a tour de force among churchgoing African-American communities through his plays. Or, rather, through Madea — the most ungrandmotherly of grandmothers — whom an in-drag Perry portrays in most of them.

Those fans helped put Perry on the map, but his Hollywood exposure has helped grow his now-sprawling business, which today more closely resembles an empire — one that he controls and for the most part owns.

Lionsgate has sold more than 11 million DVDs of Perry’s first two pics and has a deal to release the following five. (Next month, Perry starts shooting the feature version of his play “Why Did I Get Married?” Next up is the period feature “Jazz Man’s Blues.”)

Perry also makes a pretty penny selling homevideo releases of his plays on the Internet and in local stores.

His book “Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life” debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times’ bestseller list and spent 15 weeks in the top 10.

And in a nine-figure deal, the Turner Network has made a 100-episode commitment to Perry’s sitcom “House of Payne,” which he writes, directs and produces. Show already has a syndication deal set up with Fox.

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