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Oprah Throws Party of the Year

Oprah Winfrey | 'New World' | Universal Pictures | Wendy Wasserstein

Oprah Throws Party of the Year

It’s getting hard to figure out who exactly wrote "The Color Purple" — Oprah Winfrey or Alice Walker. Oprah’s name is all over everything connected to the musical, everyone knows she ponied up a million bucks and last night she was the host of the premiere and the after party. She even took the stage for a bow when the show was over.

But let’s face it: Oprah’s imprimatur on anything is platinum, and for "The Color Purple" — a project close to her heart because it brought her a 1985 Oscar nomination — the difference would be critical. So we’ll let Oprah have "The Color Purple" — Walker seems to have ceded it over to her anyway.

The commotion Oprah caused last night at the Broadway Theater and the New York Public Library was unique and welcome. It’s hard to image a theater or a party so chockablock with stars.

Besides Oprah (no Steadman as far as we could tell), her pal Gayle King, Quincy Jones, Cathie Black and Ellen Levine — the big shots from Hearst Publishing, purveyors of O Magazine — we had no less than New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Sidney Poitier, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Isaac Hayes, Bebe Winans, Jamie Foxx, Donald and Melania Trump, Katey Sagal, Phylicia Allen and Debbie Allen, Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, Spike Lee and wife Tonya, Anna Deveare Smith, Al Sharpton, Ashanti and her mom Tina, Lynn Whitfield, Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Naomi Campbell, Suzanne dePasse, Grace Hightower DeNiro, Mike Nichols and so on and so forth.

Seinfeld and Chris Rock immediately fell into topping each other with jokes at the Library party, which temporarily dislodged their wives. “When they got like this,” Jessica told me, “I just step away.”

There were crowds around Stevie Wonder, who was happy to hear Motown president Sylvia Rhone say she’s rededicating the company to getting more sales for his excellent “A Time 2 Love” album.

Motown is about to launch a new single — “Sweetest Somebody,” and video for pop radio, plus a special single — “Moon Blue” — for adult contemporary and jazz. Let’s go, Sylvia! Time’s a-wastin’.

I ran into the dapper Antonio L.A. Reid, chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group and a regular character in this column. We both laughed as we shook hands, but that hasn’t improved his situation with Patti LaBelle. She’s still off his label. Oh well, we tried.

The record business was also represented by Sony BMG honcho Clive Davis, no doubt scouting talent from the exceptional “Color Purple” cast.

But one member — my favorite actually — has already been scooped up by Blue Note Records/EMI’s Bruce Lundvall. Not only has Elisabeth Withers-Mendes signed a deal with Lundvall, I’m told she may also have a part in the new “Dreamgirls” movie.

Watch out for her — this girl is going to be big. And she was discovered by no less than Ashford & Simpson!

Upstairs at the Library, curled into a corner, Harvey Weinstein and Bruce Willis were in deep, deep conversation. Willis stars in a big Weinstein Co. film next winter called “Lucky Number Slevin.” Harvey and brother Bob are among the main investors in "The Color Purple," which accounted for Harvey’s good mood after the show.

Did I mention that by the time we got to the Library for the after party, there were about a thousand people at one time all jockeying to meet Oprah, Stevie or any number of celebs I didn’t even get a chance to see?

Even though there was no sign of Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover or Margaret Avery —stars of the movie upon which this musical is very much based — it was still quite the night. Oprah is welcome back to New York any time she wants.

And what of "The Color Purple"? You’re going to see mixed reviews for it, that’s for sure. It is not a slam-dunk critical hit, but audiences are going to love it.

The first act is laborious and poorly paced. It follows almost exactly the movie version of the book, with scene after scene replicated in its entirety. The music in the first act doesn’t feel very focused, and there are at least three endings before the curtain rises.

The second act, however, is a huge improvement. Not only is the pacing better, but the show finally starts to breathe with originality. The second act also has the key songs: the theme song, “Miss Celie’s Pants,” and “Any Little Thing.”

Because Walker’s novel is fairly short, it also sort of peters out. This is a good thing for the musical, because playwright Marsha Norman finally feels free enough to leave the movie behind and invent some nice scenes. If only she’d done the same in the first act instead of slavishly trying to remake the movie.

One thing I might suggest: adding Walker’s name to that marquee and to the poster. I mean, after all, she won the Pulitzer Prize for creating these memorable characters and a story that will now live in many iterations for generations to come.

Walker spoke beautifully to the audience at the end of the show. “We will not be defeated by our suffering,” she said, “only encouraged by our triumphs.”

If that’s the message of "The Color Purple," then I hope it has a good long run.

Pocahontas on Acid: New Malick Movie

I did get to see an advance screening yesterday afternoon of Terrence Malick’s new movie, "The New World." This is a much-anticipated New Line Cinema release for Christmas, with high hopes for awards, etc.

Malick directed one of my all time favorite movies, "Days of Heaven," as well as the much respected “Badlands” and "The Thin Red Line." He’s a noted recluse and eccentric, not bad things at all.

"The New World" is set in 1608-1616 mostly on the Virginia shore near Jamestown. It tells the story, sort of, of a romantic triangle involving Pocahontas, Capt. John Smith and English aristocrat John Rolfe.

In many ways the story is similar to that of "Days of Heaven," which revolved around a triangle — Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shephard. "New World" has the same dreamy texture, with breathtaking, award-winning cinematography and music that sounds like Wagner’s "Gotterdammerung."

However: in most ways “The New World” is surreal, slow, confusing, choppy and just plain weird. I mean this in the best way — it’s really interesting filmmaking. But it’s also psychedelic and kooky.

For one thing, Smith and Rolfe are played by Colin Farrell — doing his first real work as an actor and movie star that counts — and an always reliable Christian Bale. With makeup, they each look like they’re in their late 30s.

Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), however, is a child. She was 14 when they shot the movie, and, attractive as she is, she still a child.

Malick used 16-year-old Linda Manz in “Days of Heaven” as a wise narrator, but she wasn’t the object of anyone’s affection. It worked beautifully.

Here, I had a lot of trouble believing the love stories — and not just because of Kilcher’s age. Her narration was mumbled a lot, and I can’t recall anyone explaining how she learns English so fast. As for Farrell, he has a lot of inner monologues — there is very little dialogue in the movie at all.

Then there is the matter of nothing happening for a long time. It’s only at the 90 minute mark that there’s a real bloody skirmish between the Indians and the Brits.

It doesn’t last long, however. About 35 minutes or so later, the movie finally picks up unexpected speed when Rolfe takes Pocahontas to England. Malick’s eye is so keen that putting Pocahontas in this setting suddenly enlivens the entire film.

It may be too late, though. At that point, we’ve spent too much time in the Virginia woods.

You will find much brilliance in "The New World." Sometimes I felt like Malick made the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History come alive. The scenes on the ships are enough to keep you captivated.

But I worry that "The New World" won’t find a mass audience. I wish it didn’t have to. Malick is a superior filmmaker. This film may turn out to have critical legs, but it’s almost too much to digest in the face of "King Kong," "Munich," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Match Point," "Mrs. Henderson Presents," "Capote," "Walk the Line," "Transamerica" and other more, shall we say, coherent productions.

Come Monday…

Monday night, Universal Pictures takes over Times Square to unveil Peter Jackson’s $300 million, three-hour “King Kong.” Screening audiences this week loved it. Universal is the place to be this fall, with "Kong," "The Producers," "Cinderella Man" and "Munich," not to mention Focus Features’ "Constant Gardener," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Broken Flowers"…

The fan based, membership fee structured National Board of Review will announce its awards for 2005 on Monday. Only 12 people vote on these awards. Only one, Annette Insdorf, has any qualifications in this area other than “really liking movies.” On Monday, I will tell you more about the NBR and why the rest of their members, who pay $500 to belong to a group that doesn’t consider their votes, are all fighting with each other…

Thursday: Grammy nominees are announced. Mariah Carey may show up for the ceremony, and to see the looks on people’s faces when she cleans up. Mariah, it’s 8 a.m., dear, wear something that you can zip up. We don’t want you to catch cold before Wednesday’s recording academy dinner…

Prayers for Wendy

A tersely worded press release went out last night saying playwright Wendy Wasserstein is "gravely ill" in a New York hospital. No word yet on what's wrong, but we'll post an update when we find out. Wendy is one of New York's most beloved characters, a living landmark, a genius, a superb person. Her plays "The Sisters Rosenzweig" and "The Heidi Chronicles" are just two of her extraordinary works. Let's all send her our positive thoughts for a speedy recovery...