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From the Chicago Tribune

Will people watch a musical without a big star?



Can a low-budget, independent musical with largely a no-name cast survive among the big-budget, big-screen holiday fare?

That loaded question has been dancing in Isabel Rose's head since her first film, "Anything But Love," began popping up at a handful of movie houses earlier this month.

"It's never really a good time to release an indie," the 35-year-old native New Yorker said. "But releasing this film is like trying to shove an elephant through the eye of a needle."

"Anything But Love," which this weekend began a limited run at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, is Rose's homage to those Technicolor romantic musicals that came bursting through the screen in the 1950s. Rose, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Robert Cary, stars as Billie Golden, a New York City cabaret singer torn among stardom, her high school sweetheart (Cameron Bancroft) and her piano teacher (Andrew McCarthy).

Popular musicals

The film's distributor, Samuel Goldwyn Films, hopes the same audiences that flocked to see 2001's "Moulin Rouge" and last year's "Chicago" will take a chance on "Love." According to the San Francisco-based Web site www.the-numbers.com, which analyzes and tracks box-office figures, "Moulin Rouge" took in close to $176 million worldwide, while "Chicago," which captured six Oscars, made a shade more than $306 million.

But despite those numbers, it's still tricky to gauge the popularity of big-screen musicals.

"The thing that distinguishes musicals from other movies is that they tend to polarize audiences," said Bruce Nash, founder of the-numbers.com. "By that, I mean that people either love them or they hate them. It makes it a real struggle to get good word of mouth if half the people didn't like it. But then you get a musical that managed to break through and get broad appeal, which happened with `Chicago.' It was the first musical in almost 30 years that got widespread, enthusiastic response from audiences. That was what really drove it to get a substantial box office."

And helped put movie musicals, to a certain extent, back on the map.

"We're really fortunate that those movies made people take notice of musicals again," said Cary, who in 1996 was the associate director of the Shubert Theater's holiday extravaganza "That's Christmas" with Sandy Duncan. "There was a period of time where the kind of musicals that were being made weren't really connecting with the cultural moment. We've kind of circled around to a place where people, because of the way our country has gone in the last few years, are enjoying that kind of escapism again."

"Love" has its share of hurdles, however. "Moulin Rouge" had Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. "Chicago" had Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. The only recognizable names listed in the "Anything But Love" credits are McCarthy ("Pretty in Pink," "St. Elmo's Fire") and Eartha Kitt, who has a cameo appearance as herself.

"Without the star power, it definitely makes things more challenging," said "Anything But Love" producer Aimee Schoof. "Casting an independent film is obviously challenging, to begin with. You basically make your list of people that you want in the movie and you start making offers. In this case, we were making a lot of scale offers. You see who you can get for the money you have. That's what it comes down to."

Limited budget

And it wasn't very much. While "Moulin Rouge" and "Chicago" were made for a reported $53 million and $30 million, respectively, "Anything But Love" had a working budget of just under $1 million. So more than anything, the film turned out to be a labor of love for all involved. Particularly Rose, who says she wrote the movie as a "love letter" to her parents for raising her on the MGM musicals of the 1950s.

"Those movies are really ingrained in my psyche," Rose said. "I love their optimism. They were so inspiring. I love how hokey and corny they are. And after spending a decade watching dreary, depressing independent films, I decided I wanted to make a colorful, inspiring one. The world's dark enough."

In that vein, "Anything But Love" might be more comparable to the little independent film that could, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which surprised the movie world when it grossed $242 million in the U.S. alone.

"We had never seen anything like it, frankly," Nash said. "There is absolutely no reason an independent movie that hits the right chord couldn't be extremely successful with audiences again. I'm not saying that about `Anything But Love,' but there's always that possibility."




   
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