'Priscilla' preps for the stage

I WAS perhaps the only person at the “Frost/Nixon” premiere who had so many acute personal connections to many of the principals in this true-life drama of recent U.S. history. Frank Langella, the star who gives an astonishing performance as Richard Nixon, is a personal friend of mine. I hope to see him at the Academy Awards accepting his Oscar. David Frost who is brought to vivid life onscreen by British actor Michael Sheen, was the man who gave me my first television job in 1978 on NBC’s “Headliners with David Frost,” an update of his original “That Was the Week That Was.” From there I went on to “Live at Five” and many years of television. I am still doing virtually the same kind of thing on Fox’s “Lips & Ears” show. Caroline Cushing, fresh from England, became my secretary in the late ’50s on the old Cholly Knickerbocker column. (She is aptly portrayed in the movie — as David Frost’s girlfriend — by Rebecca Hall, the actress who scored recently in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”) Ms.Cushing, also known as Caroline Graham, now lives in L.A. where she moves and shakes social events. We are still close friends. And President Nixon himself is a fixture in my memoir, “Natural Blonde.” He was always in Manhattan during the time he was busy rehabilitating himself after Watergate. In fact, we are shown sitting together at the old Le Cirque in the famous Robert Cenedella painting.

So I had a lot of special “feeling” for “Frost/Nixon” and I must say, I seldom see such crowds of VIPs turning out as for this film and the party after at the Four Seasons. (I wonder why the hosts had the lighting so dim that you could barely recognize anyone in the crush of people.) “Frost/Nixon” is not just “entertaining” in the manner of Oliver Stone’s “W.” It is riveting, full of Ron Howard-directed incredible suspense and the nuances of the all-too-well-known real-life characters are brilliantly portrayed. This is the “Don’t Miss” film of the year with a wonderful screenplay by the able Peter Morgan. (He wrote the “The Queen” for Helen Mirren.)

P.S. The living celebrity who won the most applause when introduced before the screening was — Kevin Bacon. The audience went wild. Kevin plays Jack Brennan, Nixon’s aide. As usual, he is great.

THE SUCCESSOR to that moneymaking hit “Mamma Mia!” may well be the stage musical of the cult movie, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” set to bow in London’s West End in March. (And once something is a hit there, it’s usually bound for Broadway,)

This adaptation of “Priscilla” mimics the 1996 Australian smash hit of the same name starring Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving. The campy movie was so popular that people wouldn’t stand for director-writer Stephan Elliott to tamper with it. He wanted to adapt it as a sequel to the movie, but nobody would let him. He had to go back to the original text — the story of aging drag queens going into the desert on a broken down bus.

Elliott says he didn’t much care for his own creation, saying, “I never made a cent from ‘Priscilla’ the first time around. That made me jaded and bitter.”

But the stage version in Australia took in more at the box office than “Mamma Mia!” Elliott recently told the London Telegraph: “The thing that works in the film is the feel-good factor and I’d forgotten about that. People go bananas. Also, this time around they gave me a ton of money. I was able to do a ‘MacArthur Park’ sequence that I couldn’t afford for the original. It’s breathtaking. And, it’s quite interesting: the old bitch is finally going to pay out. Suddenly I’m beginning to like her again!”

Stephan Elliott is a lucky duck. In 2004 he went skiing and fell down a precipice. Doctors told him he’d never walk again. But he persevered and he’s back! Ready for that musical ride into the desert. And what’s more, he just opened a starry adaptation of Noel Coward’s “Easy Virtue,” so things are looking up.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more