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Oscar producers preparing furiously for an intricate show

Oscars
2013

The clock is ticking on the Academy Awards ceremony, and producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are working hard to avoid a deep hole — figuratively and literally.

February 23, 2013|By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times

Amid the whir of drills and the odor of wet paint, the stage floor at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood yawned open Friday morning to reveal a 341/2 -foot-deep chasm.

"Everybody in the house, please be aware I'm opening the hole!" a worker yelled from the precipice of the pit, a space designed by the Dolby's former tenants, the acrobatic theater troupe Cirque du Soleil, to deliver props and performers to the middle of a show with particular drama and efficiency.

The occasion for the spectacle is preparation for the Academy Awards, which is shaping up to be one of the most logistically complex Oscar shows ever, involving multiple singing and dancing casts, extensive use of the potentially dangerous stage lifts and an appearance by a debauched digital teddy bear.

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Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have said they intend for Sunday's show to be a celebration of movie musicals, and it will include performances by Adele, Barbra Streisand, Norah Jones and — in a tribute to the James Bond series — Welsh singer Shirley Bassey.

In addition, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks and Helena Bonham Carter will perform music from their nominated movie, "Les Misérables." Jennifer Hudson will deliver a song from 2006's "Dreamgirls" and Catherine Zeta-Jones will perform music from 2002's "Chicago."

In a tonal and generational contrast to much of the movie musical content, the Oscars will be hosted by Seth MacFarlane, creator of the animated TV show "Family Guy" and writer-director of last summer's raunchy comedy "Ted," which stars Mark Wahlberg and an animated, potty-mouthed teddy bear, both of whom also will appear in the telecast.

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On Friday, Adele arrived at the Dolby for a rehearsal of "Skyfall," the nominated Bond theme song, and worked out issues of both sound and fashion.

"A lot more reverb," the British singer called out after a sound check. "Can I get more piano at the very beginning actually?"

When a technician approached to adjust her microphone downward, Adele, who was wearing flats and black leggings, cautioned: "I'm going to have very high heels on the night." For a camera test, crew members held up three potential gowns she might wear.

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Don Mischer, the director, was running the rehearsal. The crew had been readying the stage for the "Skyfall" rehearsal since early morning, when musicians toting trombones and cellos began causing a backup at metal detectors just installed at the Hollywood & Highland Center overnight. On stage, four of Adele's backup singers harmonized with a recorded vocal track and communicated with the show's sound team in between phrases.

"Let the sky fall," they sang. "A little bit more, please.... When it crumbles! 1,2,2, just a little bit more, please. We will stand tall."

Later, as "Les Miserables" director Tom Hooper looked on, his cast rehearsed an ensemble musical number, many with glasses of tea in hand. Told that they would need to sing a few solo bars to test their microphones, Seyfried glanced over at Hathaway, wide-eyed.

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"Take a deep breath and know that no one's really listening," Hathaway, who co-hosted the Oscars two years ago, said to her cast mate.

The many musical elements will inevitably add length to the show's planned running time, already at more than three hours, but the producers have condensed some elements. They're having presenters stay onstage to introduce multiple awards, for instance, which reduces time needed for introductions and stage crossing.

Camera blocking and rehearsing began Wednesday with a 30-person cast of stand-ins, who represented the show's planned presenters, a list that includes Kristen Stewart, John Travolta, Halle Berry, Daniel Radcliffe, Sandra Bullock, Jamie Foxx and Michael Douglas. The stand-ins also delivered speeches as potential winners, and gave one of this year's new additions to the Oscars telecast — six college film students delivering the trophies — a chance to work out their moves.

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The students also got a chance to learn the backstage shorthand. "Putting them in the garage," for example, means moving presenters to the side of the stage to show a clip.

Outside the theater on a lovely winter day, the Hollywood & Highland Center was being transformed as well, as 6-foot Oscar statues encased in plastic were installed in front of storefronts and a red carpet was rolled out along Hollywood Boulevard.

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rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

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