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'Shakespeare in Love' Sets London Stage Premiere

NEW YORK -- Viola de Lesseps will serve as muse to struggling playwright Will Shakespeare once more when the stage version of Shakespeare in Love opens next summer in London.

Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions will team on the long-gestating project. The new play has been adapted by Lee Hall, the Tony-winning book writer of Billy Elliot, who also penned the screenplay for the original film on which that hit musical was based.

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Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, known for the bold reinterpretations of Shakespeare's texts of their theater company Cheek by Jowl, will direct and design Shakespeare in Love for the stage, respectively.

Directed by John Madden from a screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, the 1998 Miramax release starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson and Judi Dench. The film won seven Oscars including best picture, lead and supporting actress for Paltrow and Dench and best screenplay. It grossed $100 million in domestic release and an additional $189 million in foreign.

The plot follows Shakespeare as he grapples with writer's block while struggling to come up with an idea for his next play commission. Inspiration strikes when he meets the beautiful noblewoman Viola, an admirer of his work, whose secret desire to perform in one of his plays is forbidden under the laws of the time, decreeing that men only can appear on stage. Viola disguises herself as Thomas Kent and auditions for a role, beginning a cross-dressing love affair with Will.

"Everyone who loves the theater loves what Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman created with the miracle that is Shakespeare in Love," said Thomas Schumacher, president and producer, Disney Theatrical. "It is a valentine to the theater and what better way to celebrate that than to turn to consummate theater artists."

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While the cast and additional creative team are to be announced, the new play will include more than 26 actors and musicians. It begins preview performances early July at London's Noel Coward Theatre. No plans have been disclosed for a Broadway transfer, but a strong U.K. reception would make that a no-brainer.

Disney Theatrical recently announced an agreement with screenwriter and novelist William Goldman to develop the cult classic The Princess Bride for the stage.

Sonia Friedman currently is represented on Broadway as lead producer of the Shakespeare's Globe double-bill of Twelfth Night and Richard III, starring Mark Rylance, which opened Sunday to some of the strongest reviews of the season.