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‘Chicago’ duo brushes up ‘Hairspray’

Oscar pair move on to Baltimore musical

New Line Cinema has set Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to produce “Hairspray,” the film version of the hit Tony-winning musical that is set for a mid-2005 start in Baltimore and 2006 release.

Musical feature will be the first for the producers since they guided the Oscar-winning “Chicago” for Miramax.

Zadan and Meron are new members of what otherwise will be a very familiar creative team. New Line previously hired original stage architects Jack O’Brien to direct and Jerry Mitchell to co-direct and choreograph. Marc Shaiman is back to supply music and lyrics that will include new tunes; Scott Wittman is co-lyricist. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who wrote the stage libretto, are penning the script. Shaiman and Wittman are exec producers on the film.

By contrast, the pic’s cast will almost certainly be different. New Line production president Toby Emmerich said Tony winner Harvey Fierstein was the only one being considered for a reprise. He is among several actors being eyed for a drag turn as Edna Turnblad. They will recast the role of Edna’s pudgy teen daughter, Tracy. Marissa Jaret Winokur won a Tony for the role.

The company is developing “Always a Bridesmaid” as a star vehicle for her. That pic will be supervised by Emmerich and Mark Kaufman, who with Michael Disco are shepherding “Hairspray.”

‘Chicago’ success

New Line co-chairman Michael Lynne said the company turned to Zadan and Meron for the obvious reasons: “Chicago” revived the film musical and became the highest-grossing film in Miramax history along with the first tuner to win best picture in 34 years. Another major factor, he said, is the experience the producers have, which will be helpful in easing the transition from stage to screen for first-time film directors O’Brien and Mitchell. Rob Marshall made his feature directing debut on “Chicago” after Zadan and Meron employed him as choreographer on “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and then as neophyte director on the ABC telepic “Annie.”

The film musical market is hopping, and Zadan and Meron turned down several musicals before jumping at “Hairspray.”

“Whenever ‘Cinderella’ is reinvented, the triumph of the underdog story is always successful,” Meron said. “Like ‘Chicago,’ this is a stage musical which has great energy and music, and will transfer well to location shooting.”

Zadan said he and Meron will produce the film via their newly formed Zadan/Meron banner. They’ll keep their familiar Storyline shingle for TV projects, the next of which will be an ABC adaptation of animated Disney pic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The producers will use the new moniker for other in-development musicals, “Footloose” at Paramount and “Damn Yankees” at Miramax.

“We jumped at ‘Hairspray,’ because we didn’t want something remotely in the gene pool of ‘Chicago,'” Zadan said. New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye said he continues to be surprised that the original modestly performing John Waters film has morphed into such a profitable enterprise.

New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye said that after one profitable stage transformation, New Line is prepping the musical version of “The Wedding Singer” and may follow by giving the tuner treatment to the 2003 Michael Caine-Robert Duvall pic “Secondhand Lions.” If successful, both would be candidates for future movie versions.

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