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B’way wins a gang war

Denzel goes center stage

Denzel Washington will play Brutus in a limited Broadway run of “Julius Caesar” that will begin rehearsals Jan. 24 and start previews March 1 at the Belasco Theater.

Thesp had expected to be in Harlem during the fall and winter starring in period drama “American Gangster,” until Universal Pictures abruptly canceled that film over budget concerns.

Unfortunately for the studio, that U-turn came after the ink had dried on pay-or-play deals for Washington and co-star Benicio Del Toro.

Washington will collect installment payments totaling $20 million from late October through March, which enabled the two-time Oscar-winning actor to do the play for the bargain-basement salary of $1,200 a week.

Pay-or-plays buy timeslots, and while some commitments are rolled into subsequent films, most are settled for cents on the dollar so the actor can take another film job. Thesps cannot double dip, because studios can nullify whatever funds are payable while the actor works on the other project. That statute apparently does not translate to Broadway.

‘Great’ on his plate

Washington did not have a project at Universal that warranted a rollover. He does have another project on the docket with U and “American Gangster” producer Imagine, a biopic of Sammy Davis Jr. But Washington is slotted only to direct that film.

Washington hopes next to work as director of “The Great Debaters,” the fact-based story of how Wiley College of East Texas put together a debating team from its black students and defeated Harvard in the national championships in 1935.

Tentatively set for a fall start, that project has itself become a subject of debate: It is set up at Miramax Films, and its production start roughly coincides with the expiration of Disney’s contracts with studio founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein. That has placed every development project there on shaky ground.

Washington, who made his directing debut with biopic “Antwone Fisher,” also plans to helm “Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes.” That project is set up at Alcon, which bought the book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton. David Chisolm scripted the story of an all-black tank battalion that spent 183 days on the front lines and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

While Washington figures out what film will occupy his time later next year, his immediate focus will be the stage, where he developed his acting chops before moving to a run on TV series “St. Elsewhere” and then film stardom.

Washington drew his first stage accolades playing Malcolm X in “When the Chickens Came Home to Roost” and won an Obie Award for “A Soldier’s Play.” He last appeared on Broadway in “Checkmates” in 1988 and followed with “Richard III” in Central Park in 1990.

“Julius Caesar” is being produced by Carole Shorenstein Hays and Freddy DeMann, who with director Daniel Sullivan will begin the process of casting the 25 or so roles in the play.

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