Williams submerged in ‘Aquaria’

GOOD MORNING: The next big splash in Vegas will be — Esther Williams. Hold on to your water wings. Esther’s plunge into the desert will allow her to keep her powder dry, but she is co-producing with producer-entrepreneur Daniel Flannery a project, “Aquaria,” to cost $35 million (some of it his own). Williams, 78, tells me, “Just as I was getting ready to pack it in,” this opportunity surfaced. Flannery, who has credits at Universal Studio parks, Epcot, Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony of 1984, the Aquacade, Tokyo Dome Theme Park, Hollywood Bowl, Osaka “Water Fantastic” Peppermint Park and several TV specials, tells me he is acquiring properties behind Ballys and Paris for the building, a stadium-type construction to seat 2,000. The show will feature the love-triangle story of Greek goddess Persiphone and will combine “snowboarding and ice skating as part of the water show.” The theme will be international, he says — not a series of acts, but a complete story … Esther continues to be a well-known commodity around the globe, as her classic water-epics are shown constantly thanks to Turner, who bought the MGM library and shows Esther’s prize pix repeatedly. At a recent Dancers’ Society tribute, clips from her pix brought standing ovations. Among the many things she’ll do for “Aquaria” is the design of nude-looking costumes. On June 6 the Calif. Design College honors her for her swimwear designs. She reminds it was the greats Irene and Helen Rose who created those daring swimsuits for her. “They knew how to fit a crotch,” she laughs. Esther reminds she produced four TV specials and knows what a spectacular show is all about. “And to think I thought it was all over!” she laughed heartily.

AND WHAT’S HAPPENED with the Cirque du Soleil since its spectacular appearance at the Oscars? Daniel Lamarre, president-CEO, tells me, “We are negotiating multimedia offers since the Oscars. It opened a window of new opportunities. They include TV shows, movies and other projects. People want to know about the creative process behind what we do as well. Ten different TV projects have been offered to us. We were in the business before, but in a small way compared to what is happening now.” Meanwhile, the Cirque’s “O” show at the Bellagio continues to be a sellout and eight Cirque shows tour the world, from Singapore to San Diego. How did the Cirque’s Oscar opus come about? Laura Ziskin called “out of the blue and when we decided to do it, we said we would make it difficult for ourselves — and we would not extract from our existing shows.” They may have made it difficult for themselves but they made it memorable for both the audience in the Kodak Theater and the audience viewing at home … More on the live stage front: Rhea Perlman and Marilu Henner are set to replace Valerie Harper and Michele Lee on B’way in “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” as the Gotham troupe (Harper, Lee and Tony Roberts) heads to the Ahmanson in L.A. June 18-Aug. 11. The play has been a hit since its bow Nov. 2, 2000, (with Linda Lavin in the original cast) and can play forever beyond L.A., with SanFran already booked. Rhea’s husband, Danny DeVito will conveniently also be in N.Y., working in Woody Allen’s next. And thereafter he can work on post-production of “Duplex,” which he just directed.

JAMES BROLIN IS HOT: He joins the oft-disguised Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” having completed “Master of Disguise” with Dana Carvey, “A Guy Thing” with Julia Stiles and Jason Lee for Adam Sandler’s banner, and the Denzel Washington-directorial debut “The Antwoine Fisher Story” … For UCLA’s Film & TV Archive program hosted by Curtis Hanson, “The Movie That Inspired Me,” Diane Keaton’s chosen to talk about John Ford’s 1939 classic “Stagecoach,” which starred Claire Trevor, May 9. Keaton co-chaired, with Steve Guttenberg, the Wellness Community Tribute to the Human Spirit awards at the BevHilton, Tuesday. Keaton intro’d femcee Julia Sweeney, a survivor of ovarian cancer. Jami Gertz told about Gilda Radner, whom she portrays in ABC’s “It’s Always Something.” Dr. Armando Giuliano, chief of surgical oncology and director of the Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Breast Center at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, intro’d Rob Lowe, who told of his family’s experiences with cancer. Award-winner Lynne Silbert, daughter of Harvey & Lilian Silbert, received a standing ovation … “NYPD Blue’s” Sharon Lawrence and Dr. Thomas Apostle will wed at the end of May at St. Sophia’s Greek Cathedral — the same site where Sharon “married” Dennis Franz in the series. On Sunday, Lawrence was wedding-showered by Joan Hyler, Betty White, Dixie Carter, Leigh Brillstein, Leah Remini and Anne Volkh … Playmate Julie McCullough hostessed a “divorce party” at Dennis Morgan’s new Club, Platinum Live in Studio City. Helping her celebrate were Hugh Hefner, Judd Nelson, Paul Stanley, Kiefer Sutherland, Jon Lovitz, Tia Carrere, Marcus Allen, Jamie Foxx, George Eads and Kimberly Conrad Hefner. Starring at the club was Mississippi’s Patrick Smith, Ken Kragen’s newest discovery who plays “an incredible piano and sings like Elton John.” Kragen says Smith is destined for the big time. He should know.