At last week’s Tony Awards, some folks in the entertainment industry may have been surprised to see Harvey Weinstein onstage among the winners collecting trophies.
What many in Hollywood — and even a few in the legit community — don’t know is that Weinstein has in the last decade become a prolific producer of stage fare.
Until now, he has maintained a low-key role in the creative process. But with a series of new projects in active development, he intends to step into the spotlight.
Under the aegis of the Weinstein Co., the production org he co-runs with his brother Bob, Weinstein has developed an ambitious slate of projects, likely to kick off with the upcoming tuner version of “Finding Neverland” in 2010 followed by a stage incarnation of Pink Floyd album “The Wall.” Also in the hopper are musicals based on Miramax pics “Shakespeare in Love,” “Chocolat,” “Cinema Paradiso” and “Shall We Dance?”
With that lineup, TWC joins a growing roster of major film players with a hand in theater production. In addition to Disney, which has made musical theater a lucrative part of its operations, Universal, Warner Bros., MGM and New Line all have been involved in Broadway shows adapted from their screen properties, while DreamWorks Animation steps into the fray this year with its inaugural offering, “Shrek.”
“We own all these properties that lend themselves to musicals,” Weinstein says. “Now it’s time for us to really take the lead on things.”
Although plays also are on the radar of TWC, the growing lineup right now consists of large-scale musical projects — which these days can cost $10 million-$15 million on the Rialto.
Unlike in the film world, where complete funding is secured early in the development process, legit lead producers shepherd artistic teams and fund workshops until, at the point when the creative elements have come together, other producers and investors are recruited to raise the capitalization costs. TWC projects will proceed on that model, with the company likely to team with past collaborators.
After the Tonys bestowed multiple trophies on play “August: Osage County” and revival “Boeing-Boeing” — both of which list TWC as a producer — the timing felt right to forge ahead with the org’s legit endeavors.
The expansion falls in line with the company’s long-standing multiplatform ambitions. In addition to movie work — including the upcoming film version of musical “Nine” — TWC also has a TV branch, whose “Project Runway” recently won a Peabody, and a publishing arm, whose output includes Kathy Freston’s health guide “Quantum Wellness” and Jules Asner’s novel, “Whacked.”
Theater is not a new element in Weinstein’s business plan. Since he helped bring the 2000 revival of Tom Stoppard’s play “The Real Thing” to Broadway and then became involved the following year in Mel Brooks juggernaut “The Producers,” Weinstein has invested in and produced legit fare, both personally and with the Weinstein Co., which was co-founded by the brothers in 2005 after parting ways with Miramax owner Disney.
“August” nabbed five Tonys overall, including the top play award, and “Boeing” scored two, including best revival. During the past season, the company also co-produced the Broadway staging of Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” nommed in four of this year’s categories. As an investor in “Young Frankenstein,” Weinstein picked up another three noms.
“He’s really branched out,” says Rob Marshall, the legiter who made the leap to Hollywood when he helmed the 2003 Miramax Oscar winner “Chicago.” “We’ve talked about a series of projects onstage.” (Marshall is now directing TWC’s film “Nine.”)
Last season, TWC co-produced “Frost/Nixon,” which won the lead actor Tony for Frank Langella. “The Color Purple,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Wonderful Town,” the Sam Mendes-helmed 2003 “Gypsy” revival and “La Boheme,” directed by Baz Lurhmann, are among the dozen or so prior projects on Weinstein’s legit resume during the Miramax years, when Weinstein was credited mostly as an individual.
“I’m there for advice, counsel, holding hands. Not really being the lead in any sense,” Weinstein says of his past involvement in the theater world.
Ben Famiglietti, veep of production and development, spearheads the development of legit projects for TWC. Bob Weinstein, though, mostly leaves the boards to his brother.
“Bob really concentrates on his films,” Harvey Weinstein says. “He’s supported my theater habit a number of times.”
The siblings founded Miramax in the late 1970s, and the majority of tuners on TWC’s development slate are Miramax properties.
Aiming for a 2010 preem, “Finding Neverland,” based on the 2004 Miramax pic about the backstory of author J.M. Barrie’s creation of “Peter Pan,” has a book by Allan Knee, the Brit scribe from whose play the movie was adapted. The score is by the “Grey Gardens” duo of composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie.
Likely to materialize after “Neverland” is “The Wall,” with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters onboard with playwright-screenwriter Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) to adapt the book from the cult album, which was the basis for a 1982 Alan Parker film. Former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola also will be a producer on the project.
Weinstein anticipates luring Hollywood talent over to Broadway, saying he’s already sussing out Juliette Binoche on whether she’d want to play a season in a “Chocolat” musical on Broadway. He’s also begun talking to Gwyneth Paltrow about a stint on the Rialto.
“I can bring that world into it,” Weinstein says of his film connections. “But I’m also fascinated by these amazing regional theater actors who are unheralded.”
Meanwhile, Weinstein has no doubt Stoppard, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Shakespeare,” would be involved in the musical version of the 1998 film.
“Harvey’s the real link between the theater world and film,” says director Susan Stroman, who worked with Weinstein on “Producers” and “Frankenstein.” “He understands what it is to put on a giant production.”
The producer says it makes sense for him to be drawn to theater, where the playwright is given a place of primary importance not granted in the film world. “I’ve always credited our success over the years to the writer and the words,” he says.
Although he’s devoted to theater now, stage musicals were not, by a long shot, his first love.
“When I was 10 years old, my mom took me to see ‘Sound of Music,’ and I ran out of the theater to go see ‘Goldfinger’ instead,” he says.
After that, “I fell in love with the theater,” he continues. “I became very proactive.”