Elton John, Alan Ball Musical Drama 'Virtuoso' Ordered to Pilot at HBO

HBO is expanding its relationship with Alan Ball.

The prolific writer-producer who developed True Blood for TV is back at the premium cable network with Virtuoso, a Fame-like musical drama that has received a pilot pickup, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Ball will write, exec produce and direct Virtuoso, an hourlong period drama set against the complex and volatile backdrop of 18th century Vienna. Virtuoso follows a class of young musical prodigies from all over Europe at the prestigious Academy of Musical Excellence.

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Elton John and his husband, David Furnish, are on board to produce alongside Ball and his partner and frequent collaborator Peter Macdissi, who will also star. Ball, Macdissi and John's Rocket Pictures CEO Steve Hamilton-Shaw created the pilot story. Ball penned the script. All five will exec produce. Production on the pilot will take place in the spring in Budapest.

Macdissi, who has had onscreen roles on Banshee, True Blood and Six Feet Under, will star as Salieri, an accomplished composer and conductor who is appointed by the dying Emperor Joseph I to start the university to honor Joseph's legacy. Iva Babic will play Leonid, a Russian cello prodigy. Francois Civil will portray Isidoro, a guitar and flute prodigy who was brought up in a rural beach town in Spain with no formal music training.

Lindsay Farris will play Heinrich, an Austrian piano prodigy; Nico Mirallegro will be Franz, a self-taught violin prodigy who comes from nothing; and Alex Lawther will portray Battista, a Castrato prodigy who comes from a poor farming family in Florence but has had free education thanks to his singing ability.

Virtuoso extends Ball's relationship with HBO, where he is under an overall deal. Beyond adapting True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse book series, Ball's Banshee — also exec produced by Macdissi — remains a solid performer for sibling network Cinemax.

The drama arrives as scripted musical series have been enjoying a resurgence. In addition to the final season of Fox's Glee, the network successfully launched (and handed out an early renewal to) hip-hop drama Empire, from Lee Daniels with Timbaland on board as music supervisor. Also, ABC has found modest success with Callie Khouri's country music drama Nashville. For its part, HBO also ordered to series its 1970s rock 'n' roll drama from Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger starring Bobby Cannavale.

For HBO, Virtuoso joins a pilot slate that includes drama Laughs Unlimited and comedies including Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as a Sarah Silverman half-hour to go with its redeveloped newspaper comedy from EP Lorne Michaels.

Ball, whose feature credits also include Towelhead and American Beauty, is repped by UTA and Bloom Hergott. John and Macdissi are with UTA.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com

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