Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category

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Dissed By Danza: The Real Losers When Stars Behave Badly

October 21, 2013

You can’t help but feel excited for the cast of  “Honeymoon in Vegas The Musical” at Paper Mill Playhouse. They know that this show is this close to landing on Broadway. You can see how hard the cast, mostly young, some mid career, are working to seal the deal…performing their hearts out to convince any doubters that this show would be a mega hit if a Broadway theatre just gives it a chance.

And you can’t help feeling how proud Paper Mill Playhouse is to have this world premiere opening its  2013-2014 season.  Just six years ago, it looked like one of New Jersey’s best known regional theatres would go under. Choking on debt and suffering the fallout of failed artistic choices, Paper Mill nearly shuttered. Finally, it was a take-over by its home city of Millburn that saved Paper Mill.

Now, Paper Mill is presenting one of its most critically acclaimed shows in years, the musical version of the Nicholas Cage-Sarah Jessica Parker film, “Honeymoon In Vegas.” If the show transfers to Broadway it would be another much needed feather in Paper Mill’s cap. Two years ago the Broadway sensation “Newsies” transferred directly from Paper Mill.

What “Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical” does not have is stars. Some in the talented cast are known in the theatre community but not to the general public. Except one performer: Tony Danza.  The former sitcom actor plays the James Caan part from the movie…the older widower trying to woo a young woman away from her fiance. In shows like this, the lesser known cast members rely on the famous to bring attention to the show. Their chance to make it to Broadway, to have a paycheck, is helped when the most recognizable person in the cast brings notice to everyone’s good work.

Which is why it is so troubling that Tony Danza declined without notice to talk about this production, canceling our scheduled interview at Paper Mill on Friday evening at the very time it was to begin.  Danza, residing  in theatre housing almost next door and without need to travel for the interview, did so without expressing to us a word of apology or regret, leaving the Paper Mill’s longtime publicist and a true believer in “Honeymoon in Vegas The Musical,”  to deliver the embarrassing message.

But this isn’t just an affront to the hard working folks at Paper Mill,  who most certainly liked the idea of this show being featured on local television. There are a week of shows left, none of which is listed as sold out as of the time I’m writing this.  (Sold out houses would also help convince Broadway the show is a good bet). When Danza backed out on the opportunity to discuss work being staged in New Jersey, it hurt the state’s arts community.

I am extremely fortunate to work at News 12 New Jersey, one of the only local television stations in America that still covers  arts and entertainment in a substantive way.  It is time consuming and costs money, but the station feels that  it is important for well rounded coverage. However, I still have to advocate to get time to do my segments and sometimes fight for camera crews. The interview Friday night was one of those times.

Maybe Danza felt not showing up for an interview with the local tv station was no big deal. He was recently on Jimmy Fallon and the Today Show, after all. But we’re proud of what we do. In fact, it’s not only the newscasts where my pieces air.  I produce and host an arts and entertainment series of half hour specials, “ON THE SCENE.” We’ve won two Emmy Awards, garnered a dozen Emmy Award nominations, and earned more than two dozen other regional and national peer recognition awards.   We’re the only show of our kind…one that is shot entirely on location in the artist’s environment and hosted from arts venues… on commercial tv in the New York market.  Some of the most accomplished artists in their genres have sat down with me for interviews…Tony Bennett, Lewis Black, Joan Rivers, Tyne Daly, Bill T. Jones, Bernadette Peters to name only a very few.

New Jersey has a vibrant theatre community seldom seen by the outside world and one that would never be in the spotlight without a program like ours, or the local newspapers. When Danza turns his back at the last minute he’s not just wasting the time and energy of many people, he has shut out viewers who have found in my show the rarest of places where enlightening interviews with artists and entertainers still exist.

Yes, I understand that a “personal emergency” or “sudden conflict” or “death in the family”  and other matters do come up that legitimately cause scheduled appointments to be missed.   But the entertainment industry and the journalists who cover it are also a surprisingly small lot.  It’s not lost on us how many of us have heard the same reasons for cancelations by the same people over and over again.  As the saying goes, “you can’t always be having a bad day.”

Certainly, I didn’t let one canceled interview stop us from doing the story. The charismatic lead actor in “Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical,”  Rob McClure, has a long connection to Paper Mill. He went from selling tickets in the box office to starring in a musical in which people are buying tickets to see him. ( It was my third interview with McClure within the past year. He was nominated for a Tony Award earlier this year for playing Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin The Musical.” ) And Friday evening  we also shot footage of the musical’s first act.

The piece will air today. I’m sure viewers won’t miss the Tony Danza interview because they don’t know it was supposed to be there to begin with. But if they are clicking through the channels,  would more people have stopped when seeing a familiar face from 70s and 80s tv? Would they be curious what he’s up to now? Absolutely. And maybe they would spend a minute or two longer watching and enjoying that hard working cast singing and dancing… and dreaming of  Broadway.

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Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical

October 8, 2013

“I am prepared to hate this show, ” is what I said  to my friend as we took our seats at Paper Mill Playhouse for the performance of “Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical.”

“Me, too.” was the response.

Admittedly, not  a great attitude to bring to a show.  But I don’t like the movie “Honeymoon In Vegas,” dragged down by some stiff  performances and missed potential for comedy.  If this musical was going to be a rehash of Nicholas Cage, James Caan and Sarah Jessica Parker 20 years later and with a few songs tossed in, we were in for a long night.

But I was attending the show as research for anticipated cast interviews.  I need to bring an open mind and I was curious  how they would take the film’s storyline and turn it into a musical.

It turned out be the most surprising evening in all my years covering entertainment. Not because the producers tried to reinvent the genre, make a social statement, be self consciously artistic, or stray from the story’s basic boy loses girl-boy gets girl plot.  It was a surprise because the musical (with book written by Andrew Bergman who also wrote the screenplay) achieves what the movie did not:  it embraces the absurdity, goes balls to the wall for laughs, creates a tender moment without leaving the audience suffocating in vat of schmaltz.

At it’s core, the story is pretty preposterous. So why hold back? I’m delighted to say, “Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical” does not. It is hilarious, action packed, with first class musical performances.

“Honeymoon In Vegas The Musical” stars audience favorite Tony Danza as Tommy Korman (the James Caan part in the movie),  the impossibly energetic Rob McClure who brings his substantial gifts for song and physical comedy to Jack Singer (the Nicholas Cage  movie role), and  includes outstanding performances by Broadway veterans Nancy Opel and  Matthew Saldivar, and a 14 piece orchestra that is refreshingly on stage and an integral part of the show.

 

 

 

 

 

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ON THE SCENE: Southside, Lampanelli, Grey. Wrapped

October 3, 2013

Thanks to everyone for the observations, compliments and all around great feedback on this past weekend’s episode of “ON THE SCENE” with Southside Johnny, Lisa Lampanelli and Joel Grey.

This New Year’s Eve Southside will return to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey for his annual concert. And the show has some special meaning attached: it will be one of the kickoff events to mark New Jersey’s 350th anniversary.  Music has played a huge part in that history, so it’s fitting a concert by a Jersey born and bred artist starts off the year of celebration.

Follow my twitter feed @JohnBathkeLive for continuous updates about interviews that I am doing, and when the next show will air. We’re a recurring special presentation of News 12 New Jersey, so I”m not on every weekend. But we make the weekend that we are on, count!

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Richie Havens: Back To The Garden

August 19, 2013

On the 44th anniversary of the closing of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair that he opened, Richie Havens returned for his finale.

The late folk music icon wanted the site of the original Woodstock concert…Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York…to be his final resting place.

Sunday, he got his wish.

As day turned to dusk, a small plane emerged over the Catskills,  humming toward the 500 or so people who gathered on a grassy hillside, their eyes to the sky.  The plane carried Havens’ ashes.  As it passed over,  a faint trail of dust could be seen lingering behind.

Havens had returned one last time.

The concert site is not an alfalfa field as it was in 1969.  It is now known as the Bethel Woods Arts Center which includes a museum dedicated to the Woodstock concert. (While the concert carried the Woodstock name, it actually took place some 60 miles from that community.)

As Havens told me during one of my interviews with him in 2005,  not a day went by that he wasn’t asked about Woodstock. And in a statement his family said that even after touring the world for decades, Woodstock is where Havens, who died in April at age 72 , felt his deepest connection.

Three hours before Havens’s ashes were dispersed, a memorial concert began at Bethel Woods.  It included performers who started out with Havens in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.  Among them,  John Sebastian, John Hammond and Jose Feliciano.  And there were stories by the organizer of the Woodstock concert, Michael Lang, and from Havens’ pals Danny Glover and Louis Gossett, Jr.

Gossett, who co-wrote Havens anti war ballad “Handsome Johnny,” recalled the time he was broke, getting evicted, and as he was taking out his possessions the mailman walked up and handed him a letter. In it was a royalty check for $72,000. Havens had recorded the song on his album “Mixed Bag.”

Longtime Havens collaborators also performed.  One of the concert’s most poignant moments came from Havens’ former accompanist Walter Parks.  After repeated calls to the sound operator for adjustments, a frustrated Parks unplugged, stepped off the stage and into the audience, and delivered a passionate, deeply personal and enthralling acoustic version of “People Get Ready” that would have made Havens proud.

Inevitably, tribute concerts such as this become burdened by their own good intention. With seven separate acts, even minimal resetting of the stage between performances dragged down the event.  Silence on stage for five to ten minutes at a time was filled by talking in the audience, some of whom stepped out to buy drinks or smoke a cigarette. No matter how fine the performances, the continuity of the event is lost and it seems like a disservice to the artist everyone gathered to honor.

And so it was crucial that this Havens homecoming concert have a strong closer and it found one in Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano’s touching performance of “In My Life (I Love You More)” not only gave the concert an emotionally satisfying conclusion, it was the perfect bridge to Havens’ final bow.

As the crowd moved from the concert area of the Bethel Woods market sheds to the adjacent hillside to await the plane’s arrival, the live recording of Havens’ “Freedom,” the song he improvised on stage at Woodstock which became not only his signature number but an anthem for troubled times, poured  through the loud speakers.

As a drum circle and the crowd joined in…clapping and singing…the plane buzzed overhead.

Havens had come home.

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I’m Live At The Count Basie Theatre With Joe Pantoliano

May 5, 2013

Some exciting news to let you know about. Tickets go on sale this week for a one night only live interview that I’m conducting with actor Joe Pantoliano on stage at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.

I met Joey when I interviewed him last year for “ON THE SCENE,” the arts and entertainment program that I host on News 12 New Jersey. He’s a fascinating character…on screen and off…and I know it will be a night of hilarious and moving stories about his film and television career and his colorful family life.

The event is Thursday, June 6th. Hope to see you there.

Joe Pantoliano and John Bathke

Joe Pantoliano and John Bathke

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Rick Springfield And Feeling 18 Again

January 29, 2013

RickSpringfieldThere was a lesson in the uncomfortable to see yet impossible to avoid display of affection. A man and woman, appearing to be around 40 years old, standing in the theatre, kissing passionately in each other’s arms, their bodies in a continuous slow sway no matter the music’s tempo.

About 20 rows away, Rick Springfield, the Grammy Award winning icon of 80s pop was on stage…bouncing, strumming, and despite a cold that left him hoarse and congested, apologetically soldiering through his greatest hits including “I Get Excited,” “Don’t Talk To Strangers” and the much loved and karaoke favorite,  “Jesse’s Girl.”

Around 700 of Springfield’s most loyal fans had poured into the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. Many of them had seen him the night before in Atlantic City, and some the night before that in Hershey, Pennsylvania. His following is legendary in its devotion and is the subject of the 2012 documentary, “Affair of the Heart.”

The fans on this night, perhaps 70 percent of them women, came carrying handwritten signs to draw the star’s attention, others wore t-shirts embroidered with his picture,  and there were bouquets of roses. Lots of bouquets. It’s a trademark of Springfield’s concerts for him to windmill his guitar with a bouquet sending rose petals descending across the stage.

He teased the audience about giving them his cold as he sang his way into the crowd crossing over theatre seats, where an occasional fan couldn’t hold herself back… hands could be seen caressing his legs or reaching for his chest.

Mind you, Springfield is  63 years old. Similar in age to many of the women seeking their true “Human Touch” moment, 20 years or more older than others who were singing along and shouting his name.

Which brings me back to the couple enjoying their own human touch. Sometimes a concert experience is about the emotions that the music evokes, the memories that it brings back or the feelings the audience has for the artist, even more than the music itself.

Springfield’s music transports people over 30 years of their lives, going back his breakout “Working Class Dog” album  in 1981.  His songs for most of these fans are surely touchstones remembered from life’s big events…proms, graduation parties, weddings. Or the simple pleasures of adolescence… riding (and singing) in the car with friends or nights out in dance clubs in the 80s. Before the kids. Before the grandkids.

I looked at this couple (briefly, as one had to look away) as if they were reliving the high school dance…the music the conduit for their connection. I don’t know if they have been together for years or if this was their first date. And it doesn’t really matter when”Love Somebody” makes you feel 18 again.

PHOTOGRAPH: Rick Springfield at Count Basie Theatre January 27, 2013, courtesy of Heather Cunningham.

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Most Viewed of 2012: Randy Harrison; Lewis Black; Jim Norton

January 1, 2013

So before we venture one more day into this new year of 2013, let me say that several interviews that we aired in  “ON THE SCENE” in 2012 got people watching and talking above all others.

My interview Randy Harrison, the actor who starred as “Justin Taylor” on the Showtime series “Queer As Folk”  is the most viewed of my Youtube videos of the past year.  I interviewed Harrison at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey last February when he was appearing in the play, “Red.” He has an international fan base, particularly in Europe. I discovered this when I noticed  the inordinately high number of views to my blog from foreign countries. I heard from a number of fans eager to know how they could see the interview. Two interviews, in fact, about his performance in “Red” and another about his work on “Queer As Folk” are on Youtube.

My interview with comedian Jim Norton was perhaps my favorite of the year. He’s funny in the interview but what I look for most in an interview with a comedian is whether they reveal something of themselves not for laughs. We cover a lot of territory in the interview including career struggles, dating, life disappointments and triumphs.

And Lewis Black. I interviewed him at George Street Playhouse, also, and he was more than generous with his time and thoughts. A play written by Black, “One Slight Hitch” was getting a run there. He took it out of the drawer after many years, it’s about his breakup with a girlfriend nearly 30 years ago. Viewers weren’t used to seeing Black talk about the playwright side of his career and it was an interesting departure. It, too, can be viewed on Youtube.

MUCH more to come in 2013!