'Mary Poppins' show inspires Hollywood remake with a spoonful of Spielberg

He has tackled man-eating sharks, extraterrestrials and the horrors of Nazi death camps, and his latest movie charts the 1972 massacre at the Olympic Games in Munich. But Steven Spielberg's next production could be considerably more sugary. The 59-year-old director/producer is apparently eyeing the ever-popular musical Mary Poppins for a Hollywood remake.

Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre and director of the blockbuster West End musical based on the 1964 Disney film, has revealed that he has been in talks with Spielberg over a new film version.

"We've talked about it a lot," Sir Richard was reported as saying yesterday. "It will be hard to outdo the original, but kids love the story and I'm sure that the remake will be a real success."

Sir Richard has had success in small-scale films, notably Iris, based on the life of the writer Iris Murdoch, and The Ploughman's Contract, but remains best known for his award-winning work in theatre, including running the National for a decade.

His stage version of Mary Poppins has become one of the most popular shows in London since it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in December last year in a collaboration between the impresario Cameron Mackintosh and Disney, maker of the 40-year-old film which starred Julie Andrews. With a script written by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for the film Gosford Park, the West End production added new songs to the tried and tested favourites from the original - which, Sir Cameron observed, was even more popular in the United States than it was in the UK.

The show is scheduled for Broadway next year, when it will move into the New Amsterdam Theatre. The Lion King, one of Broadway's biggest hits, is moving venues to make way in October.

Casting begins shortly, and Sir Richard has admitted that he hopes to take the British cast with him. Laura Michelle Kelly played the eponymous nanny when the show opened, and won an Olivier award, but has since moved on to other projects.

"The studio will use the success of the Broadway show to decide whether to use the British cast for the film. But I would hope to use as much of the West End cast as possible and keep Mary English rather than have a big American star name," Sir Richard said.

In the past, it would have been unusual to have a film version of a musical quite so quickly. Phantom of the Opera, which is about to become the longest-running show on Broadway, had been running in London for 18 years before Andrew Lloyd Webber turned it into a film last year.

A spokesman for Mary Poppins said: "A film isn't normally made until years after the stage production because obviously it stops people going to the stage shows. Having said that, with Chicago, audiences went up [in the West End] when the film came out, but the show had already been on for about seven years. And we're hoping the same will happen with the new film of The Producers."

None of these movies received the same acclamation as the original stage productions. For instance, Mel Brooks's just-released film of The Producers has been slated by the critics. But Spielberg has a deft touch for magic - or, at least, the out-of-this world - in projects from Hook, his version of the Peter Pan story, to Jurassic Park. And with a spoonful of sugar, perhaps anything is possible.

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