Cinematic theatrics: A LaGravenese musical?

This holiday weekend I saw some movies on the big screen (Indiana Jones and the blah blah Crystal Skull – exactly what you think it would be, enjoyable but nothing more; Iron Man, which made me love Robert Downey Jr. all over again – oddly more human than Indiana Jones) and at home.

One of the movies I watched at home was P.S. I Love You, a movie I had avoided in theaters because the review chatter was so negative. Why do I listen to reviews? I know better. My mother loved the movie, which should have been my first indication that I should see it. And it was co-written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, the man responsible for one of my favorite movies of all time: Living Out Loud, which is inspired by two Anton Chekhov short stories (“The Kiss” and “Misery”). LaGravenese also co-wrote another favorite, the 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

One of the things I love about Living Out Loud, A Little Princess and now P.S. I Love You is their use of music. LaGravenese clearly cares about music. He doesn’t just throw pop songs haphazardly onto the screen. He practically writes musicals, but they’re cleverly disguised as straightforward movies. In Living Out Loud, Queen Latifah is a nightclub singer, and actually demonstrates her chops by singing some standards (“Lush Life,” “Goin’ Out of My Head”), and there are a couple scenes in which leading lady Holly Hunter is lifted by music: once (on Ecstasy) at a lesbian dance club and once to the strains of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”

Here’s the Ecstasy scene from Living Out Loud:

A Little Princess is a musical in many ways, even if the young stars aren’t singing and dancing around. Patrick Doyle’s enchanting score includes some beautiful songs, though they’re on the soundtrack rather than in the characters’ mouths.

In P.S. I Love You, even star Hilary Swank sings (albeit in a karaoke bar – the one way modern audiences will accept characters breaking into song), as does her leading man, Gerard Butler (whose varied film career includes the title role of Phantom of the Opera and the gladiator epic 300). The movie’s soundtrack includes some great songs by the likes of Flogging Molly, the Pogues (with the divine Kirsty MacColl),Toby Lightman and a band I have discovered great affection for, Camera Obscura. Even co-star Nellie McKay (a formidable singer-songwriter-actress whom you should check out if she’s unknown to you) gets to sing the title song. I could have done without the James Blunt song, but that’s just me.

So my point here is that Richard LaGravenese should just go ahead and make a musical already. It appears that among his next projects is the film adaptation of Douglas Carter Beane’s hilarious play As Bees in Honey Drown (rumored to star Cate Blanchett). That’s wonderful. But how about an honest-to-God LaGravenese musical? Now that’s the movie I want to see.

Here’s a montage from A Little Princess set to the song “Kindle My Heart.”

Katie Holmes is actually a live actor!

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images / Jan. 9, 2008

It’s true! Katie Holmes isn’t just a pretty, skinny Victoria Beckham-wannabe clothes horse; nor is she simply a trophy wife capable of possibly giving birth to her movie star husband’s adorable progeny.

No, it turns out that Katie Holmes is actually a three-dimensional acting person. How do we know this? She’s doing what most failed movie actresses do when their managers tell them it’s time for an image improvement.

She’s going to Broadway.

As had been rumored for a while, Holmes will make her Broadway debut in a revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 drama All My Sons.

So let me just make sure I’ve got everything straight here. Great play about a manufacturer whose greedy sloppiness may have cost American soldiers’ lives — check. Great, capable actors — Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow and Patrick Wilson, check. Presence of Tom Cruise’s wife, whose theater chops are completely untested — check. Now don’t get me wrong. Back in the day I was a huge “Dawson’s Creek” fan, watched every episode and developed some affection for the young Ms. Holmes, whose gawky charm was just right for her character, Joey Potter. But it takes a giant leap of imagination to see that kind of small-screen acting translating well to the stage. In her checkered movie career, Holmes actually registerd in Pieces of April, though my favorite of her movie roles is in Sam Raimi’s 2000 The Gift. That’s the Holmes I’d like to see on stage.

The Simon McBurney-directed All My Sons will bow later this fall. Theater tbd.

It’s probably not at all surprising that Holmes’ jump to the stage follows two things: a flop movie (Mad Money alongside Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah) and Jennifer Garner’s successful stint in Cyrano opposite Kevin Kline. All those tabloid shots of the grinning Garner and hubby Ben Affleck playing in New York parks with daughter Violet were probably more than Holmes could stand: credibility and maximum exposure.

You can’t stop the beat!

Brooklynn Pulver (above center) is Tracy Turnblad in the touring production of Hairspray. Photo by Phil Martin

Last summer, it was yet another musical breathing new life into the revival of movie musicals.

This summer, it’s an actual, three-dimensional live musical happening before your very eyes.

Hairspray, one of the happiest musicals around, is returning to the Bay Area. The show — described as “Broadway’s big fat musical comedy hit” — will play San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre June 10 through 22.

This tour — the same one that was in Cupertino in February — is based on Jack O’Brien’s original direction and Jerry Mitchell’s original choreography, recreated, respectively, by Matt Lenz and Danny James Austin.

Sorry to report that John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah and Zac Efron are unavailable for the tour and will, for the moment, confine their performances to the silver screen. But wouldn’t it be fun to see if they could do it as well LIVE?

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K-K-K-Katie Holmes on Broadway, `Tales’ in tune

Yes, Katie Holmes, late of Dawson’s Creek, she of the couch-jumping husband, the ever-changing cute hairdos and the impossibly adorable Suri parentage, is being rumored to be heading to Broadway for a revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons starring John Lithgow and Dianne Weist. Ms. Holmes must have had a conversation with Jennifer Garner, who had such a winning run on Broadway recently in Cyrano. And Holmes’ husband, Tom Cruise, must have had a man-to-man chat with Garner’s husband, Ben Affleck, about what it’s like to be a stay-at-home dad in paparazzi-infested New York.

Variety says the 29-year-old Holmes is in negotiation for the 1947 show, which would mark her Broadway debut. The stage run would also give Ms. Holmes a little much-needed acting cred. Her most recent big-screen turn, opposite Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah in Mad Money didn’t exactly generate Oscar buzz.

In other news of the Great White Way (via Barbaray Lane in San Francisco), the long-rumored musical version of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City looks like it’s finally rolling toward completion. It was long rumored that pop wunderkind Rufus Wainwright was going to turn Maupin’s beloved Baghdad by the Bay book into a musical, but now he’s off writing an opera for the MET.

So now it’s up to Jeff Whitty (Tony Award-winning book writerfor Avenue Q) and Scissor Sisters members Jason Sellards (aka Jake Shears, composer/lyricist) and John Garden (composer) to bring characters Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, Anna Madrigal, Mary Anne Singleton to the Broadway stage.

Jason Moore, who helmed Avenue Q and the upcoming Shrek musical, is slated to direct.

Seems a natural that a Tales musical would have its pre-Broadway run in — where else? — San Francisco. No word yet on such practical things as production dates.

A very diva weekend with Jennifer & Latifah

This weekend just past in San Francisco was a good one for those of us who savor larger-than-life lady singers.

On Saturday, Jennifer Holliday, the Tony Award-winning original Effie Melody White in Dreamgirls, made a rare concert appearance in San Francisco.

The Herbst Theatre was jam packed with Holliday lovers, though the show started out on shaky ground. The band launched into a slow version of “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls, and after about 15 minutes the audience was wondering where the star was? The musical director kept looking back into the wings to see if Holliday was ready yet.

Finally, one of the three backup singers offered a subtle nod, and out came Holliday. For the next two-plus hours, this former Dreamgirl detonated one musical explosion after another. She dusted off some older solo material, like “I Am Love” and “Come Sunday,” and shined up some standards (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “A Tisket, a Tasket,” “The Nearness of You,” “How High the Moon”).

Everything Holliday sings, she, in her words, “Jenniferizes” it, which is to say, she sings the bloody h— out of it. She has to choose her material carefully (and she does), because she loads up a whole lot of vocal weight and interpretation on the song’s framework. And the song has to be strong to bear up. Holliday almost becomes possessed when she sings, and she takes a song to places you had no idea it could go.

I lost track of the standing ovations. At first it was fans in the first row (and my date) standing after almost every song. Then it was all of us, standing, cheering, whooping and hollering. She did a tribute to Stax records and threw in a little Elvis love with an extraordinary “The Wonder of You.”

Holliday threw in a Christmas tune (“This Christmas”) and, of course, sang her Dreamgirls songs: I am Changing (all I can say is this: wow) and, as her encore, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”).

I honestly can’t tell you why this woman isn’t a superstar. She’s had bad luck, bad timing and, if rumors can be believed, some true diva moments. But there are undboutedly more difficult people out there who have a lot less talent than Jennifer Holliday.

Someone please get her an extraordinary career.

And on Sunday night at Davis Symphony Hall, Queen Latifah, the Oscar-nominated star of Chicago and Hairspray, made a stop on her mini-tour in support of her latest disc, the standards collection “Trav’lin’ Light.”

Dressed in a black blouse, black slacks and spiky black heels, the warm and funny Latifah impressed with her selection of standards (“I Love Being Here with You,” “Lush Life,” “I’m Gonna Live Til I Die,” “Trav’lin’ Light”), rough blues (“Baby Get Lost”), gentle blues (“Georgia Rose”), funk (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”) and the tunes we call show (“I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray).

She also made some missteps. She ended the set with a limp “California Dreamin'” and stretched out “Simply Beautiful” to interminable length and allowed her backup trio (all terrific, but do they all really need solos?) their moments in the spotlight. But it was, frankly, boring.

And she didn’t sing “When You’re Good to Mama,” her song from Chicago. She had time for Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man” but not for Matron Mama Morton? Come on, Queen!

Read our music critic Jim Harrington’s review of the Queen Latifah concert here.