GOOD MORNING: When you’re hot, you’re hot. So, who is? Napoleon, that’s who. Tuesday, I told you Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi”) was readying to star in and produce a feature biopic covering Napoleon’s final years on St. Helena. Now comes news that the Tony Award-winning trio of Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel (“City of Angels,” also best musical Tony winner) have reteamed to bring Napoleon and Josephine to B’way in a musical comedy-drama. They hope to have it written and tuned in six months. Gelbart admits, “I’ve wanted to write this story for years and I’ve never been more excited about a project.” It’s the story of the duo’s tempestuous 11-year relationship “when the whole world listened at their bedroom door.” As you may recall, neither was French: Josephine was a dark-skinned Martinique, he was Corsican. They were married twice; his mother refused to attend the civil ceremony. She also was missing from the church wedding on which the Pope insisted before condoning Napoleon’s ascension as emperor. But Napoleon was such a good son, he had his mom’s likeness inserted in the wedding painting! His mom was tough like Tony Soprano’s mom, and scenes between mother and son will remind us of confrontations between the HBO characters (played by James Gandolfini and Nancy Marchand) — but in a musical. Another principal is the play is the Marquis de Sade. The Napoleon-Josephine story is timeless and plans for a really big, new B’way musical are under way with blockbuster cast possibilities.
TALKING ABOUT “SOPRANOS” (and who isn’t?), it’s no wonder that James Gandolfini is being pitched to step into dozens of (contrasting) bigscreen roles now that the series’ second season filming winds next week. Among the roles offered is one James Mason played in “Heaven Can Wait,” to be remade by Chris and Paul Weitz (“American Pie”) with Chris Rock at Par. Rock has the role played by Warren Beatty in Par’s 1978 version, which itself was a remake of the 1941 “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” starring Robert Montgomery and Claude Rains … Speaking of remakes: Ray Bradbury says his “Fahrenheit 451” pic, to be directed by Mel Gibson (redoing the 1966 Francois Truffaut film), is undergoing its “10th rewrite.” Bradbury adds “Martian Chronicles” (1980 NBC mini) is also undergoing its “10th rewrite,” to be feature-filmed at Universal. Bradbury, who will be 80 this year, writes on with two novels upcoming from Avon: “Let’s All Kill Constance,” followed by “From the Dust Returns,” which he says he started writing 50 years ago with illustrations by Charles Addams. Bradbury is making good progress following a stroke a month ago. He has also written “A Chat Book for Burned-Out Priests, Rabbis and Ministers — For Weekends When They Are Bored Silly.” Ray continues to help creative causes — and lent his compliments and on-camera praise for “Amargosa,” one of the 12 finalists in the Oscar feature docu race. He discovered dancer Marta Becket’s Death Valley opera house/theater five years ago, “by accident,” and has added his presence to the film by director/writer Todd Robison, producer Sidney Sherman. The pic will screen Jan. 14 at Raleigh and next week at Slamdance Film Fest … It was only natural that I was enthralled with director Mike Leigh’s Gilbert & Sullivan “Topsy-Turvy,” a behind-the-scenes cinema saga of the creation of “The Mikado.” As a boy in Boy Scout camp, I was part of the all-boy cast of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I played “Little Buttercup” (before my voice changed). Later, in my P.S. 70 graduation play, I was the miniature, over-uniformed Major General in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” Leigh’s making of the “Mikado” proved a treat, not only for me but for any lover of theater converted to film. Leigh, in L.A. on a quickie trip to help his Oscar cause, said he plans to keep making his pix on British soil (with stories to match) to help keep British film business alive. But Leigh, the winner of two N.Y. Film Crix awards, did allow it’s hard to get go-aheads for his films. “After all,” he reminded, “I do get final cut.”
PUERTO RICO SUBS FOR CUBA in “Havana Nocturne” the Arturo Sandoval HBO biopic, with Andy Garcia playing the world-famous trumpeter who defected to the U.S. Montreal will double for Europe and N.Y. in the pic directed by Joe Sargent. He follows with “Bojangles,” the Bill Robinson biopic for Showtime starring Gregory Hines. Yes, the story will include Robinson’s film segs with Shirley Temple and Sargent is hopeful they can use CGI technique to insert Hines as Robinson into the real footage of him dancing with her. (After all, who could play Shirley Temple but Shirley?) Sargent receives the National Board of Review TV feature of ’99 award Jan. 18 for his “A Lesson Before Dying” And his Italy-made “Shoo Shoo” is chosen as Italy’s entry in the Monte Carlo TV fest Feb. 17 … Although Paul Newman fractured a rib in an auto race crash last week, he assures he’s OK and will compete in the Feb. 5-6 Daytona 500 miler … Rosemarie (Mrs. Robert) Stack’s oil paintings — of tins of Beluga caviar — go on exhib/sale in Paris’ Caviar Casba in June. They’ve been sold in N.Y., L.A. and Palm Beach for $10,000-plus. Yanou Colart’s arranged for Rosemarie’s Paris exhib to contribute a percentage to UNICEF.