Filmmaker Raymond De Felitta may be making a bicoastal awards-season push for his indie dramedy “City Island” — but he’s also got a legit project gaining momentum.
De Felitta penned the book to “Buddy’s Tavern,” a tuner with songs by composer Kim Oler and lyricist Alison Hubbard, based on his 2000 film “Two Family House.” If the “Tavern” title sounds familiar, it’s because the tuner, which has been kicking around for almost a decade, picked up steam this year, snagging a development slot at the summer’s National Music Theater Conference at the O’Neill Theater Center (where shows including “Avenue Q” and “In the Heights” have done stints) as well as scoring a Richard Rodgers Award.
That Rodgers kudo, administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, comes with funds for a staged reading presentation of “Buddy’s Tavern,” set for January. Warren Carlyle (“Finian’s Rainbow”) is aboard to direct, with Shuler Hensley (“Young Frankenstein”) tapped for the title role.
Pic, starring Michael Rispoli, Kelly Macdonald and Kathrine Narducci, won the aud prize at Sundance. Lionsgate released it at the end of 2000, and it “vanished almost immediately,” per De Felitta. Unusually, the filmmaker held on to stage rights, although he credits his lawyer rather than any conscious desire to work on a legit adaptation.
Still, when Oler and Hubbard, whose credits include TheaterWorks/USA versions of “The Secret Garden” and “Harriet the Spy,” contacted De Felitta about making the movie into a tuner, he was game to have a go at the book.
Like the movie that inspired it, “Buddy’s Tavern” centers on a wannabe singer’s dream to open a bar in the lower half of a two-story house on Staten Island in the 1950s.
De Felitta’s experience writing the musical hasn’t much influenced his film work, he says. But he did notice some similarities in scripting a TV pilot version of “City Island,” which he recently penned for Warner Bros.
“Writing a musical was very helpful in writing a 60-page pilot,” he says. “You have very little space to accomplish a lot, and working in the five-act structure is a lot like having to build to the moments when people sing.”
Also on the filmmaker’s plate is the start of production for his interlocking-storylines pic “Married and Cheating,” which aims to shoot this summer in Gotham and Paris.
But before that comes “Buddy’s Tavern.” New-musical development company Premieres will produce the January reading.
Given his experience with bootstrap fund-raising for indie films, De Felitta doesn’t rule out acting as a producer for “Buddy’s.” He even attended a Commercial Theater Institute seminar to get a feel for how it would work.
“They said that every show is like a startup business, and that was very encouraging to me,” he says. “I thought, Well, I can raise money for movies, so why can’t I do it for a musical??”
The show is supplanting the movie for De Felitta. “I feel like I don’t need to see the movie again now,” he says. “Now when I watch it, I miss the songs.”