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New wave breaks in ‘Pacific’

Producers plan fresh take on classic tuner

So you’ve gotten the feature rights to “South Pacific,” more than half a century after Mitzi Gaynor dazzled moviegoers in 1958’s top-grossing film.

How in the world do you engage 21st century filmgoing audiences with a remake that, while still enjoying successful legit revivals, might seem a bit musty, to put it mildly?

Producers Ileen Maisel and Bob Balaban, who announced their rights deal on July 8, believe the key is to combine the fantasy world of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein songs with the gritty realism of wartime romance and racism. It’s a tall order but the duo believes it’s the path to a story that works for contemporary crowds.

Balaban, whose producing credits include “Gosford Park,” and New Line veteran Maisel are meeting with screenwriters in the U.S. and the U.K. in hopes of finding a scribe who can execute that vision.

They won’t go out to directors until they’ve got a completed script in hand.

“We want to show how people really did talk and act in 1944, which is something that the film and play don’t come anywhere close to showing,” Maisel notes. “What we’re going to do is to make the songs the emotional underpinning of the story. So the songs will be the emotional ying to the realistic yang.”

And unlike many modern musicals, the new “South Pacific” producers won’t delve into the realm of magical realism. “This isn’t going to be something like Martin Scorsese’s ‘New York, New York,’ ” Maisel notes.

Preliminary plans are to shoot “South Pacific” in Bali, home to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. But the new realism of “South Pacific” will only go so far, since Bali was occupied by Japan during World War II.

Balaban’s Chicagofilms and Maisel’s Amber Entertainment are the production entities along with Netherlands-based Imagem, owner of the Rodgers & Hammerstein copyrights. Maisel and Balaban will produce with Imagem chief financial officer Denis Wigman and Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein company.

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