Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


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.


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.







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!


Interviewing Southside Johnny

August 23, 2013
John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

Had an uncommonly candid, revealing interview today with Southside Johnny.  The singer/songwriter doesn’t do that many interviews but agreed to sit down with me at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.  We talked music and about his private life in a way that is going to surprise even those people who know him well.

The interview will run in  a few weeks in our next “ON THE SCENE” special and I’ll write much more about the interview, then. For now, just keeping you all up to date!


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.


Front Row LIVE! With Janis Ian

April 21, 2013
Janis Ian and John Bathke

Janis Ian and John Bathke

Janis Ian is one hell of a storyteller. In the lyrics to her classic hits including “Society’s Child” and “At Seventeen” and when she’s regaling a crowd with the colorful chapters of her life.

Last night I interviewed the Grammy Award winner for Front Row LIVE, a stage conversation series which I host and moderate at the South Orange Performing Arts Center  (SOPAC) in South Orange, New Jersey.

As an interviewer I hope for an artist who is honest, willing to share their personal life in a compelling and relevant way,  and gives insight into their art. Last night  the SOPAC  audience received that…and then some.   From the famous musicians she has known (as a teenager being introduced to cocaine by Jimi Hendrix with disastrous results) to the infamous (an abusive ex-husband whose beatings haunted her for years afterward) to her family being trailed for decades by the FBI on suspicion they were Communists…we covered it all in one memorable night.


Joan Rivers, Jewel, Glen Burtnik: ON THE SCENE

April 6, 2013

Tune in this weekend, April 6 & 7, for an all new ON THE SCENE on News 12 New Jersey at 11 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM each day.

This is one of my all time favorite episodes. I interviewed Joan Rivers at her Manhattan apartment. We had a conversation about complicated mother-daughter relationships, her enduring comedy career and who makes her laugh. This is not an interview of punchlines, but about real emotions and I think everyone watching will discover something new about Rivers…even after all her years in show business.

The interview with Jewel was done backstage at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood where she launched her 2013 national tour. Jewel donated items to raise money for a New Jersey charity helping Sandy victims, and she and I talk about her own ordeal with homelessness as a beginning artist…and how that’s helped her to identify with people in New Jersey who lost homes to the storm.

And my Glen Burtnik interview morphed into a profile of a songwriter and his song, and I think it’s fascinating. Glen co-wrote “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” with Patty Smythe over 20 years ago. It’s a heartbreaking rock ballad. But the lyrics never meant that much to Glen…till his divorce years later. And suddenly, that song became almost impossible for him to sing.

Watch, and let me know what you think of the show.


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.


Rockin’ Till The Light Of Day: A Review

January 20, 2013
Darlene Love Performs at Light Of Day, 2013

Darlene Love Performs at Light Of Day, 2013

It’s called the Light Of Day and one wonders if daybreak may come before the last act exits the stage at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.

The annual concert organized by the Light Of Day Foundation to benefit Parkinson’s Disease research has grown into a full fledged city wide music festival in the 13 years since its modest start as a birthday party for Parkinson’s patient and music industry insider, Bob Benjamin.

This year’s main stage shows at the Paramount featuring a multitude of rock acts stretched into a more than seven hour music marathon on Saturday night.

The show had sold  out in less than an hour without any of the talent being announced, largely on speculation that Bruce Springsteen would once again close the show as a surprise guest as he had nine of the previous twelve years.

But the Boss did not show this year, giving fans the heads up on his website the day before that he would “be away with family.”  But there was plenty to satisfy a wide range of musical tastes with performances by some of New Jersey’s favorite musicians.

Stand-out sets included  Garland Jeffreys with an impressive cover of “96 Tears” and his rousing closer, “Hail Hail Rock ‘n Roll.”  An on-fire Willie Nile kicked down the doors with his powerhouse “One Guitar” and despite technical difficulties John Easdale and  Dramarama soldiered through one of the most beautifully sung and emotionally delivered short sets of the evening.

But the star status, with Springsteen not on hand, went to headliner Darlene Love. The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame member took the stage for a nearly 45 minute set backed by a seven piece band and three singers.

Love proved that not only does she possess one of the richest voices in Rock ‘n Roll, she has one of the tightest bodies… poured into a form fitting gleaming black leotard the audience not only heard her thunderous voice, she left no doubt where it was coming from.

Love, who Springsteen once called a “one woman wall of sound”  kicked off her set with the Phil Spector-produced 1960s classics  about young love “A Fine Fine Boy,” “Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home” and the crowd pleasing, much covered “Da Doo Ron Ron.”

Phil Spector records are featured heavily in Love’s concerts. In a 2010 interview for my program “ON THE SCENE,” on News 12 New Jersey (watch this interview on the Credits page of Love told me that without the work she did with Spector, she believes that she would not have been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. She was under contract to Spector for much of the 1960s, recording lead and  backing vocals on countless records. Most famously, Love’s voice was the lead vocal on the number one 1962 hit, “He’s A Rebel.” But Spector released the song under the name of his more popular girl group “The Crystals” and Love went uncredited for years. This led to lawsuits that Love filed against Spector to obtain credit and compensation.

A tender medley of Marvin Gaye hits including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “What’s Going On,” also a staple in Love’s performances, was well placed in the center of her set before Love returned to Spector-produced material including the improbable but catchy rock ‘n roll version of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

Love finished with “River Deep-Mountain High,” a record that she had asked Spector to let her record. Instead, he chose Tina Turner for the 1966 recording and Love was relegated to singing back-up, an experience she recalled as “miserable”  in her 1998 memoir, “My Name Is Love.” The session dragged on for hours in a sweltering studio, she said, as Spector demanded that Turner sing the song dozens of times until her voice had the hoarse and weary quality that he wanted. Love said she thought the finished product sounded like “crap” and, in fact, “River Deep-Mountain High” was so poorly received at the time that Spector went into seclusion for years afterward. But the song has become a rock ‘n roll standard and Turner seldom performed a show without it, right through her 50th anniversary tour in 2008-2009. Aside from Turner, Love is now the premiere interpreter of the song that she so badly wanted for her own more 45 years ago.

Love’s performance, as with night’s others, lacked meticulous acoustics which is the most common problem in these multi-act concerts where the stage must be quickly reset between performers without sound checks. But the night was first and foremost for a cause and the Light Of Day Foundation expected to raise 300 thousand dollars.


Lewis Black, Jim Norton, Peter Max & MANY More ON THE SCENE

December 22, 2012

Sunday is the last shot to catch ON THE SCENE: The Best Of 2012. It’s a collection of clips from some of our most interesting celebrity interviews of the year including Lewis Black, Jim Norton, Bernadette Peters, Chris Botti, Joe Pantoliano,  Peter Max and more.

Watch News 12 New Jersey Sunday at 11AM, 1:30PM or 3:30PM.

Enjoy the show and here’s to an amazing year of interviews in 2013!