David Helfgott's possible Oscar performance -- The pianist returns to the stage after the success of his biopic ''Shine''

Unpredictability, Thy Name Is Oscar. But for at-home oddsmakers, there’s one Academy Awards bet that’s always a lock: The musical numbers will be awful. (Anyone remember Rob Lowe’s rockin’ rendition of ”Proud Mary” with Snow White?) This time, however, things just might be different.

If Shine earns a nomination (it was just crowned best picture by the National Board of Review), classical pianist David Helfgott, 49, whose nervous breakdown is chronicled in the lauded film, may take center stage at the Shrine Auditorium March 24. He certainly seems to want to, according to Shine director Scott Hicks. ”He loves playing for people now,” Hicks says of Helfgott’s 10-year absence from the concert circuit. ”His wife says he literally walks taller since the movie came out.” Just in case Shine is a contender, and its chances seem good, the pianist has scheduled a three-date mini-tour (oddly titled the It’s Okay to Be Different tour) for New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles, with the last date skedded two days after the big night. (His official itinerary has a ”pending” Oscar performance penciled in.)

Helfgott is enjoying a recording resurgence as well. In addition to the Shine soundtrack, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard‘s classical-crossover chart, RCA Victor Red Seal has rushed out David Helfgott Plays Rachmaninov. ”When we saw the film we knew we had the next Immortal Beloved or The Piano on our hands,” says David Kuehn, senior director of marketing at RCA Victor’s parent company, BMG Classics. ”He’d get a big thrill out of doing the Oscars.”

When asked if Helfgott might play even if the film is passed over by the Academy, organizers are mum. ”I never make comments on possibilities,” says Oscar producer Gil Cates. ”It would get me into more hot water than it’s worth. Try back at the end of February.” We will. For now, let’s just hope Rob Lowe’s not keeping the date open too.

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