‘Time’ taking toll on Wells

GOOD MORNING: Time is standing still on the DreamWorks/WB remake of H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine,” because director Simon Wells, Wells’ great grandson, is suffering from “extreme exhaustion,” says producer Walter Parkes. Gore Verbinski (“The Mexican”) has agreed to step in to complete the 18 days left to shoot principal photography, and Wells will return for post-production. Parkes says, “The movie ($80 million) is great — West had been working his ass off. It’s is a very arduous process — with every challenge to a director: the ‘live’ actors, animatronics, creatures, makeup, three different time zones.” It is now anticipated to resume shooting May 19 with a cast including Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons and Mark Addy. Release is planned for December … I thought Showtime had delayed the airing (May 26) of its version of Neil Simon’s “Laughter On The 23rd Floor” to take advantage of Nathan Lane’s hot “Producers.” But Richard Benjamin, who directed the film version of “Laughter” (Jerry Zaks did the legiter), says it was held to be closer to Emmy nomination time; Lane wound the film before bowing “live” in Chi in “The Producers.” I reached Benjamin on a Silvercup Studio stage of his current Par pic, Scott Rudin’s “Marci X,” co-starrring Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans. Benjamin claims the Showtime version is “a bigger Neil — more emotional” than the play. And Daily Variety‘s Robert Koehler reviewed thus, “This is Lane’s most developed and emotionally grounded film performance since ‘The Birdcage’ — revealing the exquisite control of comic timing that Lane has shown in his theater work, but never to (that) degree on camera.” So now with “The Producers” on stage and “Laughter” on screen, Lane exhibits his talents to all. And talking musical — Benjamin says “Marci X” has developed into “a musical in many ways,” with eight songs sung by Kudrow and Wayans, lyrics by Paul Rudnick and music by Marc Shaiman. They shot a huge rap scene in the 3000-seat theater (a cast of 900 was actually used) at 175th and B’way, where the Rev. Ike held forth.

THERE’S A PLAQUE IN THE TRAFFIC triangle on Santa Monica and Crescent Heights in West Hollywood dedicated to the memory of 19-year-old gay student Matthew Shepard. Shepard was murdered, his body strung on a post outside Laramie, Wyoming, and the two assassins have since been convicted to consecutive life sentences. But the memory lingers on — thanks to the Tectonic Theatre Project’s “The Laramie Project,” which continues to play a legit version with the eight players who made repeat visits back to the scene of the crime to gather dialog for their performances. And now HBO is incorporating the real story, joining the legit principals with an impressive cast of film-TV-stage players — all working for scale and alphabetical billing. I talked to Amy Madigan on Thursday at the Laramie location, where she is playing the Deputy Sheriff who cut down Shepard’s body from his death post “in the middle of nowhere.” She had been meeting with the real character, Deputy Reggie Fluty, to better play that “horrific” moment. Moises Kaufman of the Tectonic Theater Project is making his film directing debut. Madigan also worked for another first-time feature director — husband Ed Harris, in “Pollock,” in which she played Peggy Guggenheim to rave reviews. She next works for director Danny Glover in Showtime’s “Just A Dream.” As for “Laramie Project,” Madigan says, “It is very emotional. And all the people of Laramie have been wonderful.” The HBO cast includes Peter Fonda, Camryn Manheim, Summer Phoenix, Christina Ricci, Lois Smith, Frances Sternhagen, Mark Webb, Dylan Baker, Clancy Brown, Steve Buscemi, Kathleen Chalfant, Mark Webber, Nestor Carbonell (playing Moises Kaufman), Jeremy Davies, Clea DuVall, Noah Fliess, Edward Furlong, Janeane Garofalo, Bill Irwin, Joshua Jackson, Terry Kinney, Laura Linney, etc. Madigan says of the cast, “Everyone has his heart in the right place.” She is also involved with the Human Rights Council, the Lesbian Task Force and NARAL. “My politics are definitely on the left. I’m not the biggest fan of the current administration.” And, she added, husband Ed Harris’ politics “are the same.” Madigan will also be seen in HBO’s “Shot in the Heart” as the mother of murderer Gary Gilmore — who asked to be executed — as in “The Executioner’s Song.”

JIM CAMERON NOW HAS MORE REASON to delay following Dennis Tito as a civilian space traveler — he and wife Suzy Amis welcomed daughter Carol, born April 4 … Don Gregory heads to N.Y. to oversee his legit production of “The Woman In Black,” bowing June 4. Keith Baxter stars in the thriller that’s been scaring audiences for 12 years on London’s West End. A bigscreen version’s on the back burner … This year’s Angels’ Night 2001 at the Century Plaza Hotel, May 12, honors Music Center President Joanne Corday Kozberg. Ava (Mrs. Chuck) Fries chairs, and Pete and Gayle Wilson make the presentation. And Chuck Fries m.c.’s the live auction assisted by Dick Van Dyke, Julie Haggerty, Joan Van Ark and Cyndy Garvey … Oscar’s fashion director and longtime leader of Rodeo Dr., Fred Hayman will be honored by the California Design College May 20 at the Regal Biltmore. “Main Floor” host Nancy Stafford emcees … Sad to report that James Kersey, of Harry Winston on Rodeo Drive, died May 3. He was 47 and had been a favorite among celebs whom he often bejeweled for the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys.