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Friday, November 25, 2011

Who'll play tragic Amy? Winehouse's life and death could be made into a sensational film

Amy Winehouse's extraordinary life, and death, could be made into a sensational film (pictured with Tony Bennett)

Amy Winehouse’s extraordinary life, and death, could be made into a sensational film.

Several Hollywood producers are considering buying the screen rights to a book about the hugely gifted, but fatally flawed, North London singer.

There’s no screenplay and there isn’t a director yet, and any film is still a long way off.

But there is a tome called Saving Amy, written last year by celebrity journalist Daphne Barak, who also made a documentary of the same name for Channel 4.

It details Barak’s friendship with Amy and how she accompanied her to St Lucia and kept an eye on her while she was ‘resting’ at various hospitals in England.

Barak also befriended Winehouse’s ex Blake Fielder-Civil and her father Mitch.

If the right calibre of script writer can be found to turn Ms Barak’s jottings into a decent screenplay, and an A-list director hired to direct, then there might be hope for such a project.

But the most important factor is to find an actress to portray Winehouse.

It should be someone who can sing and act and she would need to be someone with spirit, energy and talent, not some nobody  from some TV talent show and certainly not Lady Gaga — that would be a travesty. 

David Hare pointed out the other night, at a fabulous tribute to Vanessa Redgrave hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that actors are vital contributors to any movie, often more vital than the director.

Such a person is needed for the Winehouse film.

I gather that Tessa Ross from Film4, one of the executive producers of the Margaret Thatcher film The Iron Lady, and Jeff Berg from ICM in Los Angeles are in talks about the Winehouse film and how to develop it.

A stage musical version of the film Finding Neverland, which starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, is being planned for the West End.

Julian Ovenden as J. M. Barrie and Jenna Russell as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (her sons inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan) will perform in two workshops of the show with a full cast in London on December 12 .

Film version: Kate Winslet (left) and Johnny Depp (right) starred in the 2004 film Finding Neverland

Rob Ashford, who will direct and choreograph the show, told me that initially it was going to open in the U.S. but he suggested to Harvey Weinstein — who was behind the film and is producing the musical — that they work on it in London.

The show’s composer is Scott Frankel, who wrote Grey Gardens.

Lyrics are  by Michael Korie and the book is by Allan Knee, whose novel was adapted into the film.

‘It’s more a character piece with music and dancing than a full-blown piece like 42nd Street or Singing In The Rain,’ says Ashord.

A friend who heard the score at a workshop in New York described it as ‘beautiful and moving’, a point echoed by Ovenden, who said he was struck by how much the piece moved him.

He hailed Frankel and Korie as ‘musical heirs to Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Lerner and Loewe’. 

The idea is to run Neverland at a regional theatre, then bring it to the West End next autumn or early in 2013, or as theatre availability permits.

Directorial debut: Dustin Hoffman is directing Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay (pictured)

Dustin Hoffman is on the set of Quartet and the joint’s jumping.

There’s a chap playing rag on the piano and another on saxophone.

This is during a break from filming. There’s energy in the room and everyone is smiling.

Dustin seems to be having the time of his life. He’s 74 and making his directorial debut working with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay (above) — who suggested to Ronald Harwood that his play Quartet, set in a home for retired opera singers and musicians, be turned into a movie — Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and a host of great character actors.

Producer Finola Dwyer looked on and marvelled. ‘To have had the career he’s had and to be doing this in this act of his life is remarkable,’ she said.

Courtenay said Hoffman is a master of timing. ‘He makes jokes the whole time and it keeps the energy levels up. Maggie loves being directed by him.’

An executive from film distributor Momentum watched the rushes and told Dwyer he’d just seen the movie’s main action scene. ‘What’s that?’ she asked. ‘The croquet,’ he replied.

Francesca Annis at 'Company' Rehearsals at The Youth Arts Theatre in Battersea

As rehearsals for Stephen Sondheim’s seminal musical Company kicked into action, Francesca Annis (left) lifted up her knee and grabbed her derriere as her fellow actresses launched into a song about poor Bobby, a friend they believe is stuck at home playing solitaire.

‘The women have a view of Bobby. They think he’s on his own waiting for the phone to ring,’ says Francesca’s co-star Samantha Spiro. ‘But the men know he’s out fornicating.’

Bobby, or Robert, as he’s variously known by his married friends, is played by Daniel Evans.

As Francesca and Samantha join Anna-Jane Casey, Samantha Seager and Claire Price to lament about their ‘poor baby’ being all alone, he is romping on a bed with Lucy Montgomery, who plays an air hostess.

Lynne Page, the choreographer, moved in to suggest that Daniel and Lucy rough up the sheets a bit more and that her ladies ‘thrust’ out this way and that so the dance movements represent, she later explained to me, ‘their sexual frustration and their longing for Bobby’.

Observing all of this was Jonathan Munby, who is directing Sondheim’s 1970 show about Bobby, who, through the course of the musical, goes on a journey of self-discovery.

Munby was rehearsing with his cast in Battersea, South London, before decamping to Sheffield, where Company will begin previews at the Crucible on November 29.

Munby, Samantha and Francesca explained that though Company is set at the heart of cultural change, Bobby would have gone to university in the Fifties and so would have spent his formative years in a conservative milieu.

‘He’s not the generation of change and he’s under pressure from his peers to get married,’  said Munby.

The director has cast his production with actors armed with the ability to probe Sondheim’s lyrics.

And it’s hard to fathom that Company was considered such an experimental piece when first staged in New York 40 years ago.

‘It’s not a show of standard chorus numbers or linear narrative. They  thought they were going to be laughed out of the room,’ Munby told me.

Daniel, who’s also the artistic director of the Sheffield Theatres, already has two award-winning Sondheim roles under his belt — Merrily We Roll Along (which he did with Samantha at the Donmar) and Sunday In the Park With George.

And all of the cast have real humdingers to sing.

One of the most famous is The Ladies Who Lunch, which brings Francesca (who plays the acerbic Joanne) back to musicals after a long gap.

This is her first foray into the genre since she appeared in John Barry’s Passion Flower Hotel in the Sixties.

‘I did that when I was very young — ugh,’ she told me, making a gagging noise.

‘It was a nightmare, so I haven’t sung since, until now,’ she said. Singing teacher Mary Hammond advised her to sing at home.

‘But I was so traumatised from that early musical that I couldn’t think of a single song. I’ve never sung in the bath or in my car. I think I blocked it,’ she said, as Munby declared that he and the cast have liberated her.

As well as her musical trauma, Francesca also suffered physical aches and pains after rehearsals when she awoke to find her sides, knees and back hurt because of the singing and dancing.

She said: ‘It has taken some time, but I’m getting there. Now I sing all the time!’

Sally Hawkins will be in Nick Payne's play Constellations

Sally Hawkins, who will join Rafe Spall in Nick Payne’s play Constellations at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, from January 13.

It’s a return to the London stage for the actress, who won a Golden Globe for her role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and acclaim for parts in Dagenham Girls, Never Let Me Go and the movie Submarine, which has garnered her a nomination in the forthcoming Moet British Independent Film Awards.

Sally said the stage part came up very quickly. She read for the playwright and director Michael Longhurst to get the role.

The play charts the beginnings of a relationship between the characters played by Sally and Rafe. ‘It deals with various things in their life such as love and death and illness across many different dimensions, universes and timelines’, the actress told me.

As we chatted we both agreed that the piece reminded us of Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York and, perhaps, a little of Terrence Malick’s work. First, though, Sally will play Mrs Joe, Pip’s violent sister in Mike Newell’s film Great Expectations. She will use a tickler, more like a whip, she said. ‘Can’t wait to use it’!

Jacqueline Bisset who will join leading men Chiwetal Ejiofor and Matthew Goode in Stephen Pioliakoff’s five-part drama Dancing On The Edge for BBC2. It’s a drama set in the Thirties about a popular black jazz band that gets caught up in high society, royal patronage and a mysterious death.

The cast also includes Angel Coulby (Guinevere in Merlin), Janet Montgomery, Mel Smith, Anthony Head, Jane Asher, Tom Hughes and Caroline Quentin.

Jacqueline Bisset who will star in in Stephen Pioliakoff's five-part drama Dancing On The Edge for BBC2

Emma Fielding, Joss Ackland and Ian McNeice who will portray, respectively, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), George V and Winston Churchill in the stage adaptation of The King’s Speech by David Seidler who won an Oscar for his screenplay.

I told you a while back that Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde would be playing George VI and Lionel Logue the speech expert who helped the monarch cope with his speech impediment.

The production, directed by Adrian Noble and designed by Anthony Ward will run at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from February 1 through February 11 before touring Nottingham, Bath, Brighton, Richmond and Newcastle — and then it will head into the West End.

Anna Chancellor and Nicholas Farrell who will bring into the West End the David Hare-Terence Rattigan double bill of Hare’s South Downs, written in response to Rattigan’s The Browning Version. Both works played to much acclaim at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the summer.

Hare told me the plays would move into ‘town’ once Ms Chancellor completes a second series of Abi Morgan’s BBC TV drama The Hour.

Jackie Mason, the famed Jewish stand-up comic, will be making what he insists will be his last appearance on the London stage when his new show Fearless! comes to Wyndham’s Theatre for a five-week season from February 13.


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