A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
I hopped on a Zoom call Thursday with Frank Marshall, who is producing (with Beth Williams) the new Broadway show Diana: The Musical — which, in an unprecedented move, first debuts today in a filmed version on Netflix before its opening on the Great White Way next month. Of course, the Princess Diana storyline on Season 4 of The Crown largely was responsible for the roaring success of 11 Emmy wins a couple of weeks ago, and Pablo Larrain’s new and surreal take on Diana’s royal woes took Venice by storm and immediately started Oscar buzz for star Kristen Stewart in Spencer. In fact, there was an Academy screening at the DGA on Wednesday night that featured a Q&A I moderated with Stewart, followed by a reception at which Oscar voters, impressed by what they saw, got to mingle with the star well into the night. Broadway? TV? Movies? It is clear the late great Diana is back in the spotlight, and with Emma Corrin’s Emmy nomination, a possible Oscar nom for Stewart and maybe a future Tony for Jeanna de Waal, she has become a magnet for awards buzz. But it’s the worldwide pandemic that is thoroughly responsible for Marshall’s Netflix musical getting its global close-up today.
Marshall has been dabbling in theater for a while and of course has bigger fish to fry in movies with two big ones he has been producing during the pandemic: Jurassic World: Dominion and the new Indiana Jones 5 film that is shooting in London. But it was the experience of movie-making during Covid that provided the key to this most unusual launch for Diana. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” he laughed in explaining the challenge of what to do when you have a big Broadway musical ready to go just as everything shut down, and no idea how long you would have to freeze in time. “We had the costumes. We had the cast. We had the music. Everything was ready and sitting there. It was really May of 2020 when we started getting serious about this because I knew we had everything in place. We didn’t have to do anything except do the fine-tuning that we were doing in previews [before the shutdown].”
Diana: The Musical director Christopher Ashley, who joined Marshall on the Zoom call with Deadline, told me this was new territory for everyone when I said I had never heard of anything like going worldwide on a streamer before hitting the stage. “I think you’ve never heard of it because it’s never happened before,” he said. “I actually think this is completely new territory. … Once it became clear it was going to be a while, Frank and our other producer Beth Williams started having conversations about like, well, ‘Is there something we can do now?’ First of all, we kept doing the work we would have done in previews, so we did all kinds of virtual Zoom workshops to keep working on the material, but Frank took us to Netflix and said, ‘Would you consider shooting this before we’ve ever opened on Broadway?’ So we got back together, instituted our changes, re-rehearsed it, re-teched it and shot for four days last September.”
The original Broadway cast including Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles and Judi Kaye as Queen Elizabeth all changed course and suddenly were on stage at the Longacre Theatre performing for what will be a worldwide audience before ever opening on Broadway.
Broadway Extends Covid Vaccine & Mask Requirements Through End Of 2021
Marshall was stuck in London on Jurassic World, which also was shut down and just starting to get back up to speed in the world of Covid protocols. Using that experience, he put it all in place in NYC for Diana’s team and emulated the strict regimen created for Jurassic World in filming this stage musical. Zoom became a daily thing, and he gives great credit to Williams, Ashley and the Broadway veterans who brought their expertise in putting on a show to match his on the film side of things. “We don’t usually have film producers on Broadway shows,” he said. “So it was that combination of things, and of course, I love a challenge. I was familiar with the process, but bringing the film side to it was the new thing and unique. Chris and I had been talking about doing movies for a long time. Chris has also directed some films, so it kind of was a natural marriage of the two art forms.”
Ashley points out that because of the pandemic they couldn’t even have an audience, but as fate would have it, that turned out to be a plus. “Like, if you’re Hamilton and shooting with a live audience, you’re having to shoot kind of around the audience and not get in the way of their experience. We could put the camera wherever the sweet spot was. You know, we could move right through where the audience would be. We could shoot back past the action, back at the seats, top shots, side shots — so we really had options that you wouldn’t have with the live audience sitting there.”
Marshall agrees it was an advantage. “And we were able to design our transitions,” he said. “You know, when you’re shooting a show, you have to wait for the applause, for the laughs, whatever. We made it much more like a movie, and Chris designed the transitions between the scenes to be like a movie. I sat here in this very room with a monitor right here with the nine cameras, and we had the ability to talk to each other during the four days, and we pulled it off. I mean, they were in a bubble for something like six weeks. I think part of that comes from being able to put the camera in the right position, so it’s not a live capture. I mean, the show is designed to be a movie, and the other thing we wanted to do was not get distracted by the microphones on the face and the things that you ordinarily would have in a theatrical show because people are sitting so far back that it doesn’t bother them.”
After getting Diana ready for Netflix, Ashley jumped in and did the same thing for his long-running hit Come from Away (he won the 2017 Tony for Direction of a Musical), which recently debuted on Apple TV+ just as the original show itself was prepping to re-open on Broadway. There seems to be a trend brewing here, whether pandemic-caused or not. Of course Hamilton, originally intended to be released in theaters, saw its live-performance capture just win the Emmy for Variety Special (Pre-Recorded). It is reopened on Broadway and onstage in Los Angeles now, just as David Byrne’s American Utopia is resuming performances onstage in New York even after the success of Spike Lee’s filmed version on HBO that was nominated opposite Hamilton for that Emmy. All of this begs the question — and I asked it — why would people pay big Broadway prices for a show they can see on television? And in the case of Diana: The Musical, it’s one that hasn’t even yet been reviewed or even opened?
“I think they are two different experiences,” Marshall said. “You know, live theater is completely different, and I think it’s going to inspire you to go. I think you’ll want to go once you hear the music, you see the dancing, and you know that you can go and sit there and have this experience on Broadway. I just think it’s another way of raising the awareness of our show.” Marshall is fully aware of the instant marketing magic of launching a live show with the help of the global reach of something like Netflix whetting appetites, even if you are giving audiences the entire show in the process.
Ashley, a Broadway vet and artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse since 2007, has become a disciple of the idea. “I think there was a lot of anxiety for many, many years about what you’re asking,” he said. “If you made a film, would people no longer want to see it live? I think that that’s turned out not to be true. If you look at the beautiful  movie Chicago, there is the Broadway production of Chicago still running. It’s more than two decades it’s been running on Broadway, and I think people saw that movie and said, ‘Wow, what an amazing story. I want to go see it in person myself.’ So I think they help each other.”
Being an awards columnist, I had to ask where they see this Netflix production of Diana fitting? Oscars? Emmys? “I don’t know,” laughed Marshall. Added Ashley: “I’m just looking for wood to knock on. You probably have a better guess than we do, Pete, which one we’ll be at.”
Maybe Diana could be the first production ever to qualify for an EGOT in one swing: Oscars (the terrific score is by Tony winners Joe DiPietro and David Bryan), Emmys, Grammys (for the cast album) and Tonys for the live show, which resumes previews November 2 and opens on Broadway November 17. And Ashley even throws in the idea of a Clio Award, if people see the Netflix special as one giant commercial for the stage show (!). They can only dream.
‘INDIANA JONES 5’ BACK ON TRACK FOR SUMMER 2022
While I had Marshall as a captive audience, I had to get the lowdown on where they are on the Indiana Jones 5 sequel on location in London, where production had to be altered in June due to a shoulder injury star Harrison Ford suffered while rehearsing a fight scene. The film is still scheduled for release in July, despite what Marshall describes as a hiccup. “Again, the protocols are in place. We’re shooting in London again. We had a little hiccup with Harrison, but he’s great. He’s back. He’s shooting every day, and all I can say is it looks like a real Indiana Jones movie. It’s so nice to see everybody back.”
James Mangold has taken the directing reins from Steven Spielberg, who of course handled the first four movies in the series. This one co-stars quite the international cast including Mads Mikkelsen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Antonio Banderas. Marshall’s reboot of another classic Spielberg franchise, Jurassic World: Dominion, reunites much of the cast of the 1993 original including Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill along with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, among others. It is directed by Colin Trevorrow, who also did the last one in 2018, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures Opens To Public After Civic Dedication – Photo Gallery
I’D LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY FOR THIS MUSEUM
Finally, let me just say a few words about this week’s spectacular launch — finally — of the loooooooong-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (since 1929, by some people who are now in it rather than contributing to its completion). I have been following its progress for years, even collecting a couple of Academy-branded hard hats for various tours along the path of its construction. Indiana Jones and those dinosaurs from Jurassic Park weren’t among the initial group of spectacular movie props and characters I spotted as I whizzed through the multi-level former May Company building on Wilshire Boulevard, but Spielberg is well represented by the imposing Shark from Jaws that hangs ominously from the ceilings, and E.T. is on hand as well. There’s also some amazing Star Wars stuff (George Lucas will be having his own Lucasfilm museum in L.A. upcoming), plus Blade Runner, Alien and Avatar mixed in with all sorts of special exhibitions including a gorgeous room devoted to Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki and a nice Spike Lee joint too.
But after my quick run through every floor during the Academy’s lively and crowded Wednesday night pre-opening party, where AMPAS President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson were among execs justifiably beaming at this long-awaited moment (there were other events all week including a pricey gala last weekend), I just had to tell Academy Museum Director and President Bill Kramer the one thing that blew me away was seeing that oil can for the Tin Man for the Wizard Of Oz exhibit (he agreed). “Wow,” someone said as we both wound up in front of it at the same moment. Of course, those ruby red slippers of Dorothy’s are there too, and the hat from the Wicked Witch of the West. The museum formally opened with a couple of special Oz screenings with live orchestra on Thursday.
Peter Bart: Academy Museum’s David Geffen Theater Opening Night Reviewed
I have to say how surprised I was at the sheer scope of what the Academy, after decades of talking about this, was able to put into this space right from the opening bell. It is meant to be a movable feast so they will be revolving these exhibition spaces with many other aspects of film history. But it is really something seeing the humungous painted backdrop from Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, Pixar’s spectacular 3D Toy Story zoetrope, the incredible Richard Balzer collection of early pre-cinema devices and projectors, the pitch black room of just sound devoted to the museum’s tribute to female composers – so much more. The hall of Oscars is impressive just in showing the scope of motion picture arts and sciences with a donated Oscar statuette from what appeared to be each of the Academy’s branches (Sidney Poitier’s historic Lilies Of The Field Oscar is there – Hattie McDaniel’s equally historic Gone With The Wind Supporting Award sadly isn’t but classily represented by an empty display case). A columnist recently suggested that for the sake of ratings the Academy should only present six awards (four acting, picture and director) on the Oscars and leave the rest to the pre-show or somewhere else. This exhibit, and many more in this museum dedicated to every aspect of filmmaking, proves that should never happen. I can’t imagine the Board ever approving such a dumb idea anyway.
The programming of films for the first three months leans to the arty, more indie side than representing the incredible scope and majesty of what Hollywood studios have put out in the past 100 years, and I do hope there will be tributes to some of the great filmmakers and stars so we can see those classic films projected in the two new beautiful state-of-the-art theatres at the museum. I have to say American Cinematheque’s far more inclusive and representative programming currently at the Aero and Los Feliz theatres is more exciting and inventive, and so for that matter is Quentin Tarantino’s eclectic programming for his New Beverly Theatre. For instance Sophia Loren was honored with an inaugural award last Saturday night at the museum’s opening gala, but I don’t see a single Loren movie on the schedule of films running through November. Wouldn’t that have been a no-brainer? That’s a big miss, but at least her photo is on one of the walls representing significant Oscar winning achievements (she was the first to win for a performance in a foreign language). How about programming 70MM and large scale epics which would look spectacular on those screens, and dare I say do better at the museum box office? Or a tribute to the early Hollywood moguls and some of their landmark films. My two cents, and also motivation for my return to this magnificent place on a weekly basis (that plus the nifty gift shop where we already spent $600 – I just had to have one of those limited edition Lego Oscars). But overall, now that it is open and alive, this Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a masterful achievement, and a great addition to Los Angeles, right where it belongs. We should all be thanking the Academy.