Hollywood Wants More Razzle Dazzle

Now that "Chicago" has been crowned with the best-picture Oscar and continues to draw droves to theaters, Hollywood stars and producers say they're eager to revive the long-dormant musical.

Many argued, however, that new projects should be chosen carefully - lest moviegoers grow fatigued of the genre again.

The path to victory for "Chicago" was cleared last year by Baz Luhrmann's frenetic pop-song romance "Moulin Rouge," which brought the musical back into style with critics and became the first live-action musical to earn a best-picture Oscar nomination in 22 years. The last musical to win was 1968's "Oliver!"

Martin Richards, who co-produced the original Broadway version of "Chicago" and spent more than 28 years trying to bring it to the screen, said his Oscar gives new momentum to other film-musical aspirations.

"There are two that I would like to do," he said backstage Sunday.

Among his dream projects is "Sweeney Todd," the Stephen Sondheim musical thriller about the murderous "demon barber of Fleet Street," a Victorian era barber who slits the throats of his London customers while his partner in crime disposes of the bodies by baking them into her meat pies.

Richards' other interest is an adaptation of the stage show "The Life," about gritty happenings in New York's Times Square.

But Richards warned that Hollywood shouldn't dilute the public's newfound enthusiasm for musicals by flooding cineplexes with hackneyed song and dance.

"I just hope that they don't do one musical after another just because it's the flavor of the week," he said.

Besides its six Oscars, "Chicago" is likely to motivate studios with its box-office success, having so far collected about $134 million.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won a supporting actress Oscar for her role in "Chicago" as a jazz star who fears losing her fame more than facing a murder charge, said she'd love to do it again but echoed Richards' plea for restraint.

"Let's not have one every other month, but I would love to do another one just to have the ball I did on this movie," she said.

Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" revived the Western in 1992 and went on to win the best-picture Academy Award. It was followed by "Geronimo: An American Legend," and "Tombstone" (both 1993) until low-grade follow-ups like "Bad Girls" (1994) and "Posse" (1993) turned audiences off the genre again.

The Oscars for "Chicago" "will bring it up to the consciousness of the studios, where the money is," said Elliot Goldenthal, who won best score on Sunday for his work on "Frida."

"I think that people want to see full drama that includes music and dance. It's something that we really crave as another form of cinema," he said.

Goldenthal said the entertainment industry should focus on developing original projects instead of just reviving old stage musicals or having stars sing pop tunes in films.

He and wife Julie Taymor, who directed "Frida" and the Broadway version of Disney's "The Lion King," are currently developing their own new musical.

Miramax Pictures, which produced "Chicago," is now close to a deal to making a movie out of the gangster song-and-dance play "Guys and Dolls" and the company also owns the rights to Broadway's "Rent," spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said.

"Basically, 'Moulin Rouge' played a critical role reacquainting audiences with the movie musical," he said. "'Chicago' built on that success and the best-picture Oscar will serve as a seal of approval for even more younger audiences to see the films."

Peter O'Toole, who received an honorary Oscar on Sunday for his career spanning more than 40 years, suggested there would be little room for him in modern movie musicals. He starred in two flops that led to the genre's decline - 1969's "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and 1972's "Man of La Mancha."

"All I know is that if I'm in it, then you'll be bankrupt," he joked.

By Anthony Breznican