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Brooke Shields the Unlikely Broadway Star

Brooke Shields | Oscars and Audiences | Kerik and Regis

Brooke Shields, the Unlikely Broadway Star

She didn't quite make it as a sitcom star, but Brooke Shields may have finally found her forte.

The former teen jeans model and child star of "Pretty Baby" almost had a hit with "Suddenly Susan" during its three-season run on NBC.

But in the last few weeks, Shields has taken Broadway by storm, replacing Donna Murphy in "Wonderful Town." Even the New York Times' Ben Brantley raved about her.

"Ms. Shields is an unpretentious delight here," he wrote, "adding a goofy sweetness to a production whose charms have only mellowed since it opened last fall."

I'm told that producers Fran and Barry Weissler are so taken with Shields, who has increased their box-office take by leaps and bounds, that they've offered her a new job and she's accepted.

Starting in early spring, when "Wonderful Town" closes, Shields will take over the role of Roxy Hart in the London West End production of "Chicago."

If she is as good as she's been in "Wonderful Town," Shields would be a likely candidate to play Roxy in the long-running, hit New York production.

What a change for Shields, a smart, athletic, popular young woman who never really found her niche on TV or in the movies.

Her previous Broadway forays, in "Cabaret" and "Grease," were not big successes. Her movies are best forgotten — remember "Brenda Starr" or "Freaked"?

But it looks like being a Broadway leading lady, complete with pratfalls and musical numbers to belt out, suits her just fine. And it's a good thing too — Shields' next movie co-stars the insufferable former MTV talk-show host and short-lived Mr. Drew Barrymore, Tom Green.

Oscars Yes, Audiences No

Here's a strange dilemma: So far, most of the films that will be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture are having trouble finding audiences.

"Million Dollar Baby," "Finding Neverland," "Sideways," "Ray," "Kinsey" and "Hotel Rwanda" are all waffling at the box office in their limited releases.

Only odds-on favorite "The Aviator," which has so far received a very limited release, seems to be attracting big crowds.

"Million Dollar Baby," for example, has played on just eight screens since Friday. Though the movie has excellent reviews, a small budget and ovations at the conclusion of most shows, the Clint Eastwood tearjerker had bit of a rough weekend.

On Monday, the total take was a mere $24,640. This followed a Saturday high of $73,000, which rolled down by a third on Sunday and then half as much again on Monday.

What do you compare this number to? How about Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou"? The Bill Murray-Owen Wilson comedy is not an Oscar contender, but it did almost the exact same business on Monday playing on just two screens nationwide.

Both films will go "wide" on Friday and Saturday, but at this point "Aquatic" — certainly nowhere near the masterpiece "Million Dollar Baby" is — looks like the sure winner in a head-to-head race.

So what's going on?

For one thing, the ads for "Aquatic" make it look like fun. You wouldn't necessarily know until well into your third gulp of soda that it's a thin premise built around aborted punchlines.

On the other hand, "Million Dollar Baby" looks grim — which it is.

The problem for "Million Dollar Baby," as well as finely made films like Mike Nichols' "Closer" and Nicole Kassell's "The Woodsman," is that they are not holiday movies. They're best suited to release in other time periods.

But the studios are hoping for an Oscar bounce, so they release their prestigious films during the Christmas doldrums.

Can you imagine wanting to escape from the family this weekend, only to choose from films about a doomed female boxer, four people all cheating on each other or a recently paroled child molester re-assimilating into society?

Me? I'll take drinking alone in the basement — it's cheaper.

Then, of course, there's the case of "Finding Neverland."

The Marc Forster-directed biography of J.M. Barrie, which stars Johnny Depp, is a huge favorite among critics. Even the suspicious National Board of Review named it Best Picture.

With a Golden Globe nomination, "Neverland" is certainly going to be an Oscar nominee. Audiences that see the film love it.

But so far, moving from limited release to almost 2,000 screens, "Neverland" is not translating to breakthrough acceptance yet.

Is it because Johnny Depp is so low-profile? Maybe.

Is it because there's no real love story between Depp and Kate Winslet? Could be.

But "Neverland" may be a publicity-resistant movie and one that will only take flight with strong word of mouth, which it's already getting, and the inevitable Oscar nomination.

And then there's "Sideways." Has a relatively cheap indie film ever gotten so many awards and unanimous hype? The Alexander Payne-directed road trip film has taken in $16 million, but it only cost $12 million to produce, so it will earn its keep nicely.

So far audiences are not swarming theaters to learn about wine, love and women. Golden Globes, Spirits, city critics — nothing has added up to people storming the doors. In fact, "Sideways," which was released in October, looks like it may be eating itself instead of growing or expanding its reach.

None of this accounts for the remaining Oscar contenders in various categories like "Kinsey," "The Sea Inside," "Being Julia," "Hotel Rwanda," "Bad Education" or "Ray."

We can only be hopeful that audiences will check out all of these films. If not, you can't issue that often-heard complaint: "There's nothing to see. All the movies are bad."

We're having a bumper crop right now. Don't miss it.

Kerik's Courting and Regis's Joy

So much talk about former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik and his various dalliances. Now we understand a little more about the appearance he made at Cipriani Downtown back on a Saturday night in September.

It was midnight when Kerik, evidently a regular at the very, very expensive eatery, arrived with a stunning, long-haired blonde. No one knew what to make of it. I guess now we do now.

There's nothing better than the first 15 minutes or so of Regis Philbin's show when he's hot. Kathie Lee Gifford knew how to push his buttons. Kelly Ripa, who's amicable, seems to defuse him.

But on Monday of this week, Regis welcomed his wife Joy to the co-host seat. The result was the most enjoyably, maniacally funny "host chat" I've seen in weeks.

Joy has always been Regis's best foil — she's the George Burns to his Gracie Allen.

These two do not get enough credit. Regis's story about waiting for Joy while she shopped at Bed Bath & Beyond, and her reactions, was one for the ages.

It looks so easy, folks, but it's not. Bravo!

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