‘Rent’ duo bringing ‘Boheme’ to B’way

Luhrmann able to transcend time, producer sez

NEW YORK — Puccini’s “La Boheme” is expected to make its Broadway debut sometime in 2002, courtesy of director Baz Luhrmann.

“The producers of ‘Rent’ have always wanted me to do this on Broadway,” Luhrmann says, referring to Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum. The “Rent” duo will be producing the Broadway “Boheme” with longtime legit producer Emanuel Azenberg, who is currently represented on Broadway with productions of Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party” and Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pockets.”

Luhrmann says “La Boheme” will be his next project after the film “Moulin Rouge,” which opens the Cannes Film Festival on May 9, with a May 18 release in New York City and Los Angeles. The director, who also helmed “Strictly Ballroom” and “Romeo + Juliet,” said he expects the production to make it to Broadway by the end of the year.

Azenberg puts the opening date somewhat later. “We’re looking to come in probably a year from now,” he says. “Until Luhrmann finishes ‘Moulin Rouge,’ we can’t even begin casting. We don’t have a theater. It is premature, but our intention is to do the opera on Broadway.”

The Broadway “Boheme” will not be Luhrmann’s first crack at the opera. In 1993, he staged Puccini’s classic at the Sydney Opera House, updating it from the 1830s to the 1950s. It is this version, seen on PBS, that captured the attention of Seller, McCollum and Azenberg.

“These are hot, young, sexy people onstage,” Azenberg says of the Sydney Opera production. “Its success there was stupefying. You could not get tickets.”

Referring to Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo + Juliet,” the producer adds: “Luhrmann is able to transcend time. He takes classics and makes an effort to find a young audience. That is his strength.”

If the producers wait until spring 2002 to open their “Boheme,” they will avoid direct competition from Lincoln Center, where the opera about impoverished Parisian artists receives frequent stagings at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera.

Next season, the Met lists 18 perfs of Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish production of “La Boheme,” the last skedded for February 2002, while NYCO’s new production will return in the fall but not the following spring. NYCO’s version, directed by James Robinson, updates the action to the eve of World War I, and was telecast live by PBS on March 28.

Azenberg does not regard the Lincoln Center performances as competition, regardless of the timing. “We’re going for an audience that does not attend opera,” the producer says.

He also jokes about McCollum and Seller’s involvement with the Broadway “Boheme,” which serves as the story of Jonathan Larson’s rock opera “Rent.”

” ‘Rent’ is a paean to the original,” he says, “so they owe it to Puccini to give him another shot.”