‘Ragtime’ just what Doctorow ordered

GOOD MORNING: E.L. Doctorow and I attended P.S. 70 in the Bronx. The school and the neighborhood are described in his book, “World’s Fair”; could that possibly be the next musicalized version of one of Doctorow’s books? E.L. now lives in New Rochelle, the setting for his “Ragtime” — first the book, then the movie and now the glorious musical at the Shubert. At Sunday night’s never-to-be forgotten opening night in Century City, Doctorow told me he was thrilled with the fact the musicalized version “caught the spirit” of his book and “broke the book open — a remarkable inversion technique.” On the other hand, he said, in the 1981 “Ragtime” movie Milos Forman “misread my text.” Despite Doctorow’s feelings, Daily Variety reviewer Stephen Klain on Nov.18,1981, said “Forman has cannily succeeded in capturing the essence of a structurally complex novel that many would have termed unfilmable.” And, “the movie may emerge as producer Dino De Laurentiis’ most signal contribution to the medium.” Well, Doctorow can now rest on dual laurels because, in my opinion, the tuner “Ragtime” may emerge as producer Garth Drabinsky’s most signal contribution to the medium of the modern theatrical musical. Sunday night at the Shubert was an emotional one, starting before the theater’s curtain rose and extending well into the night, across the street at a mammoth celebration party in the Century Plaza’s ballroom, which duplicated sites of the play, with music and menus to match. Forty-five minutes before the curtain, Drabinsky, director Frank Galati and musical stager Graciela Daniele gathered the company in a circle to tell them “what the journey is all about and what it can mean — that everyone in the cast represents everyone in the audience.” When the final curtain finally fell — after a prolonged standing ovation — “the entire company was moved to tears backstage,” said Drabinsky. He was joined onstage by Doctorow, Galati, Daniele, writer Terrence McNally and all the other principals. Drabinsky said, “I’ve been to enough of these (opening night reactions) to know what’s real. And this was inspired.” After a similar audience reaction at the invited dress performance, Brian Stokes Mitchell, who achieves superstardom as Coalhouse Walker Jr., exclaimed from the stage “America!” bringing even more cheers for the message the show delivers. Walker, by the way, will leave the show here to star in the B’way company, which will start previews Dec. 26 in the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts theater on 42nd Street. Live Entertainment has a 75-year lease in the $30 million theater. A third “Ragtime” company will bow the new Oriental theater in Chi in Fall 1988. L.A.’s production cost $10 million to mount, and had a $5 million advance as of Monday “Parade,” the next Drabinsky show, to be directed by Hal Prince from the book by Alfred Uhry, held readings last week in N.Y. with Matthew Broderick and Carole Lee Carmello skedded to star, starting workshop in February, mounting in Spring in Toronto before moving on to N.Y. the following year.

ANOTHER GREAT TEAMING is in the works — this one for a movie: Anjelica Huston to direct and star, Sharon Stone and Kristin Scott Thomas to star, Amy Ephron to write and produce and Mark Johnson to exec produce. The project: “A Cup of Tea,” a poor girl-rich girl short story by Katherine Mansfield, set during WWI in N.Y.’s high society. … Tommy Lee Jones will direct and star in Ruddy-Morgan’s “Dixie City Jam” from James Lee Burke’s book about a Cajun cop. Dan Gordon will screenplay. Andre Morgan’s en route to Hong Kong this week with R-M’s newest star, Shannon Lee, who will topline a Golden Harvest-Samsung (Korea) Chinese-language feature. Lee (26) follows in the theatrical footsteps of her father, Bruce. With the talk of the Chinese tapping into established Hong Kong film biz, Ruddy-Morgan is ahead of the game, with clients, directors Stanley Tong and Peter Chan, set for multiple U.S. features. … Bill Haber, living along the Saugatuck River in Conn., reports “a blessed event”: his resident ducks, Ronnie and Mikaela (get it? They probably do over at CAA) have produced “Doopy, Snoopy, Sleazy, Dummy and Dumpy.” You figure ’em out: I wouldn’t touch this one with a 10-foot pole. OVER 500 SCREENPLAYS were entered in the Nantucket Film Fest, which today presents its Tony Cox Award (for screenwriting) to Frederick Rendina’s “Kabi.” Showtime gets first refusal among the other prizes. Jill Goode and Jonathan Burkhart, founders of the fest, and Showtime Networks CEO Matt Blanc make the presentation. Longtime Nantucket resident and fest supporter actor-writer-director John Shea has completed “Brass Ring,” co-written by Jimmy Cummings, and starring Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan (“Scream”), Lawrence Tierney and Ann Meara. Shea takes it to the Toronto fest. … To commemorate APA’s 35th anni, prez Roger Vorce today donates $100,000 to UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & TV in memory of the late agency partner, Marty Klein.

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