Monday, August 19, 2019

THEATER: Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Grapple With Death and Life

SEA WALL/A LIFE ** 1/2 out of ****
HUDSON THEATRE

What's not to love? Two very talented actors tackle solo monologues in an evening of theater that offers love, death, laugh, perhaps a tear or two and some serious star power. Transferring from The Public, this work of theater keeps its intimacy mostly intact and amps up the humor just a tad to fill the wider space. Honestly, you'd always choose to see great actors perform in as small a space as possible unless a show needed to be big. But that doesn't change the fact that Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal certainly make the Hudson Theatre (one of Broadway's tinier spaces) feel intimate.

Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time) wrote  the probing, philosophical work Sea Wall for his friend Andrew Scott in 2017. Scott, already popular from Sherlock, turned it into a barn-burning showcase that became a sensation in London on its own. Scott has gone on to a well-deserved meteoric rise as the "hot priest" in the TV series Fleabag.

Now that monologue is paired with Nick Payne's A Life to create a full evening. Payne (Constellations) has been championed by Gyllenhaal who appears here in that work alongside Sturridge, who has the unenviable task of following Scott. Both works are haunted by death but they are very different. In this production directed by Carrie Cracknell, Sea Wall is more ambitious but less successful while A Life aims lower but hits its mark more readily. The chance to see two fine actors up close makes it all worthwhile.



Sturridge is a very talented actor (nominated for Tonys and Baftas) who has been wasted on the forgettable TV show Sweetbitter and a string of movies that haven't quite brought him to the next level. Yet. Here he tackles the tale of Alex, a new father describing a holiday with his wife, daughter and prickly father-in-law. Alex keeps veering into musings about life and fate...and when someone is angry about the idea that everything has a purpose or happens for a reason, you just know some tragedy is going to unfold. 

Sturridge is very appealing but the transitions back and forth from the specific and concrete to more rarified ideas prove awkward. Whether it's the writing or Sturridge not hitting his stride yet, the seams are showing. That doesn't keep the awful darkness at its heart from having a painful impact. Sturridge does manage the tricky task of revealing awful grief without wallowing in it. These pieces are not misery porn, as some suggest. They're too open-hearted and wise for that.

Gyllenhaal's piece immediately lightens the tone, with its more amiable story of Abe, a soon-to-be father overwhelmed as he and his wife prepare for the birth of their first child. A Life also flashes back to the death of Abe's own dad years ago and their loving relationship. The laughs come easier here, with Gyllenhaal such a magnetic charmer we're always on his side, even when Abe makes a potentially tragic mistake. He's such a smart performer, with Gyllenhaal's choices in theater and film proving impeccable. His commitment to the work, to exploring a monologue and helping make this evening of theater happen shows a dedication to the theater that's inspiring.

Several minor details don't help. One of the few props on the bare stage is a piano. Gyllenhaal sits at it for a while before the show begins and then noodles on it at the very end. One anecdote from his monologue involves the song "Imagine" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. At the finale, he hints at that melody and then moves off, crooning a wordless tune. It doesn't quite work, so perhaps actually playing (but not singing) "Imagine" would be better? That's  followed by a visual flourish that brings both actors on stage at the same time but physically isolated from one another, staring off into opposite directions. Behind them a video projection of an apartment building is seen, window upon window peeking into other lives.  It suggests that these are just two stories of many, that we all have tales of love and death and happiness and sorrow.

But we knew that. After watching two actors  bring us in close with their talent, it was an uninteresting and banal bit of fireworks wholly out of whack with the nicely modest performances that came before. Why bother? Neither moment (the music or the projection) mattered much, but they tilted the evening just a bit towards 2 1/2 stars instead of the more generous 3 stars it was headed for.



THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Monday, August 12, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #458: Music Industry Battles Plague of Plagiarism Lawsuits

The latest edition of the Showbiz Sandbox podcast is up and ready! 

Are musicians ripping each other off more than ever? Accusations of plagiarism have been around a long time, but they exploded after musician Robin Thicke was successfully sued over lifting his song “Blurred Lines” from Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” Just ask Katy Perry who recently lost a similar lawsuit over her hit single “Dark Horse.”
Before that case, most legal experts said you needed specific lyrics or main melodies in common to constitute stealing. Now the courts have decided that beats and even the vague “feel” or “vibe” of a song can be copyrightable.
Meanwhile, Netflix lost subscribers for the first time since 2011 and you’d think the sky was falling. What with new competition from Disney, Warner Bros. and Apple about to launch, there are plenty of doomsayers prognosticating the demise of the streaming giant.
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including “Doctor Who” heads to HBO Max, why Chinese studios are boycotting Asia’s most important movie awards show and two of Hollywood’s biggest public relations firm announced a merger.


Friday, August 09, 2019

THEATER: "Unchilding" Gets Shakily On Its Feet

UNCHILDING ** out of ****
DIMENNA CENTER FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC 

The world premiere of Unchilding presented a piece that is clearly a work in progress from a director striving to find a unique voice...or at least one that suits this particular project. It's downtown in every sense of the word and you'd normally expect to stumble across it at La Mama (which gets a thanks in the credits) or in a raw loft space surrounded by hipsters where someone hands you a leaflet with credits run off by a pal at Kinkos who did it for free.

Instead it's staged at the handsome Dimenna Center with a cast of 26 onstage (more provide voice work for pre-recorded dialogue), a very classy booklet complete with cast photos and the entire night thoroughly documented (two or three cameras filmed the performance while still photographers discreetly took pictures of the audience). Director/creator Joshua Kaufman is either independently wealthy or has a gift that major talents often have for getting others on board with their vision. It was all a little head-spinning and discombobulating, from the multi-media tech work (all exquisite, which means they meant to have a bright light blaring down on us from behind until the performance began) to the is-it-over finale that left the audience uncertain if it was really done even after they clapped.

None of this matters, but it provides the context for what was an interesting, uncertain 50 minute performance piece. It uses one-act plays by John Walter Howley as the building blocks for Kaufman's show. Basically, Kaufman recorded dialogue from these plays (they may be performed in full, but I don't think so). That provides a soundtrack for the action on stage. In dim light, other actors (not the ones who recorded the dialogue) come onto a bare setting of wooden platforms and stage tableaus, each of them essentially frozen into place and staring off with focused intent. Once they are in position, the soundtrack begins to play and the story starts.

So while we're hearing two short plays presented almost as radio dramas, we watch people onstage embodying those characters without moving or emoting much if at all. The first story involves soldiers trapped in a building and cut off from their main company. The second story involves a sister and brother struggling to get by in a fishing town when a rough but well-intentioned local man asks the sister to marry him. I'm not sure why these particular plays needed this particular presentation (which is unconventional if not unheard of). While it didn't pay any particular dividends, I will say it didn't not work.


(Uncredited image from the Unchilding program)

A few thoughts occur. The setting of the first story was less clear to us and the audio mix of the dialogue and action dropped the ball a little. When a soldier goes upstairs to keep watch, we were a bit adrift. Are they in a cellar? On  the first floor, with the lookout on the second? When gunfire erupts, it took a minute to be told what had happened, which was far from what we imagined  based on the soundscape. And the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. No such problem of setting arises in the second story, which takes place in a shack by the water. The sound of water and perhaps a seagull and we're there. The story was also stronger, thanks to a clearer conflict and climax.

Kaufman's presentation of the two dozen+ actors should be bolder and more frequent. His soldiers were poised in a useful tension at first. And the new recruit rising up unexpectedly (and nervously) from beneath the wooden platforms was probably the best flourish of the night. Similarly, a wordless scene was staged between the two playlets. It didn't precisely have anything to do with what came before or after but it was memorable. More of that was needed to flesh out what the audience actually watched. Instead, we had a staging and a visual presentation that was straightforward but not always arresting. Having a group of townspeople with their backs to the audience and then turning to face us/the characters at a key moment of guilt in the second story was far too nail-on-the-head. It didn't help that this obvious choice was also the biggest, hardest to miss moment of the night.

What really didn't work was Kaufman's interest in the grotesque. The fisherman who comes a -courting in the second tale? He's wearing a very effective bit of makeup/mask that makes him appear to have six eyes, like some mythological creature from The Odyssey. It certainly looked striking, but after the initial impact you spend most of the scene half-listening to the story and half-wondering why precisely Kaufman decided the mask was a good or interesting idea. It doesn't need to make sense or be explained, exactly, but it didn't register effectively on a subconscious level either. (The other grotesque touch perhaps did, but it too felt too obvious and too much.)

While the evening was appropriately about 50 minutes long, the simple fact is that an evening of just two vignettes simply doesn't work. You need at least three vignettes...or the two vignettes need to be more specific and strong tales, more like two one acts than what we had. That and adding some more of the unexplained but effective tableau that separated the two stories would give this work a shape and purpose and form it lacks now.

Nonetheless, Kaufman marshaled dozens of people and impressive resources for this piece. He and his casting associates found a strong group of actors who brought presence to the stage, especially Michael James Fry as a crusty soldier, Hannah Crane (I believe) as Laura (the sister being proposed to) and whichever actor embodied the raw recruit in the first story. (The actors who played specific roles on stage are not ID'd as such.) Indeed, the actress playing Laura added immeasurably to the emotional impact of the second piece with nothing at her disposal but her eyes and her intensity.

The hardest part of creating art that needs a team effort like theater/performance is just making the damn thing happen, convincing others with talent you have a vision and that they are going to want to be part of making that vision happen. At that, Kaufmann most certainly succeeded.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.


THEATER: more! More!! MORE!!! -- "Moulin Rouge" and "Bat Out Of Hell"

MOULIN ROUGE! ** 1/2 out of ****
AL HIRSCHFELD THEATRE

BAT OUT OF HELL **  out of ****
NEW YORK CITY CENTER 

Director Baz Luhrmannn and composer Jim Steinman have at least one thing in common: they both believe excess is a wonderful place to start. If a scene in a film can go over the top, Luhrmann wonders, why not go over the top and then over THAT top? If a song can benefit from a choir, Steinman thinks, surely two choirs would be even better? Luhrmannn wanted to create an original movie musical in the style of Bollywood. (And then he topped that by choosing to populate it with a bevy of familiar pop gems.) Steinman fought for decades to tell a rock and roll version of Peter Pan in full-on theatrical glory.

Both succeeded immensely, with Luhrmann directing the Oscar-winning smash film Moulin Rouge! and Steinman masterminding the massive selling Meat Loaf album Bat Out Of Hell. They can savor dream projects springing from those hits and playing now in New York, at least for the moment. But Moulin Rouge! the stage musical is an out-and-out smash that will make the film's success seem a mere appetizer. It's going to run for years. On the other hand, Bat Out Of Hell comes to City Center battered and a little bowed -- after some offstage travails -- for a brief run and a shortened North American tour. Fans of both should be plenty pleased but Moulin Rouge! is going to make a lot of new fans while Bat Out Of Hell will have to settle for the faithful.



First, the hit. Moulin Rouge! was a successful film but apparently it's a truly beloved film as well. Since day one of previews, this show has essentially been playing like a monster hit AFTER the rave reviews came out, not like a musical with a movie tie-in and something to prove. Audiences are lined up and ready to have fun and the show is sending them away very happy. You want excess?  Moulin Rouge! has it in spades, from the draped-in-sumptuous-red theater to the performers prowling the aisles and staring haughtily and sexily at one and all to the score that has been expanded from the film's already lengthy list of beloved pop classics to include a LOT more songs that have come out since the movie opened in 2001.

You might complain that the story is cobbled together from a thousand different references. But since that's the ENTIRE POINT of Moulin Rouge! your complaints will fall on deaf ears. Instead of Ewan McGregor as a young artist new to Paris, we have the charming Aaron Tveit. Instead of Nicole Kidman as the courtesan with a heart of gold who loves the young artist but must offer herself to a vicious nobleman to save the Moulin Rouge and all her friends from a life on the street, we have the steely, sexy Karen Olivo. And instead of Alan Cumming in Cabaret, we  have Dannny Burstein as our sleazy, don't-turn-your-back-on-him master of ceremonies. It's a fair trade and all three handle the heavy lifting they are called on to do with effortless ease.

I don't really like the film Moulin Rouge! but the stage production has one huge advantage: no editing. Baz Luhrmann likes to edit his movies in a manic style that makes the typical MTV music video seem like an Ozu film. The stage show certainly isn't a shrinking violet when it comes to action (they pop the confetti right at the start and it keeps coming down for almost the entire show) but it's not an assault on the senses. And like the film, all those new pop songs tossed into the mix are actually chosen with care. Those songs might provide a key phrase or line of dialogue; other times they sing a verse or chorus (hearing an entire song is a rarity). But it's not just a medley of songs you know. Each tune serves a purpose, however passing or obvious. It's not until the curtain call and its Mamma Mia, legally required mini-pop concert that they deliver the sort of radio dial-spinning mashup of song after song after song that I feared all along. And at that point, who cares?

It's all stuff and nonsense, but it's done with professional zeal by a tireless, hardworking cast and a creative team that is on point from start to finish. Both shows would benefit from villains that are less villainous but a little moustache-twirling never hurt anyone. Like a hooker, Moulin Rouge! tantalizes and dazzles and implies you'll be getting the experience of a lifetime. But she's not your girlfriend and this isn't a romance. You get what you paid for and not a penny more. She's a pro and you're the mark and really, you have nothing to complain about. And yeah, when friends come to town and want to see a show, you'll be back; you know you will. And she'll be waiting, a cool smile on her face.



Bat Out Of Hell however is here for a limited time only before heading out on tour. If you're a fan of that classic Meat Loaf album or the Jim Steinman aesthetic of Phil Spector teen melodrama turned up to 11, by all means catch it. You'll hear some classic songs delivered with verve by a vocally terrific cast. You'll also sort of see Steinman's long-gestating, post-apocalyptic spin on Peter Pan, more's the pity. In it, the city of Obsidian is floating out to sea, plagued by teens trapped in eternal youth by some nuclear  winter fallout or something. The adults resent those restless, sexy, ready-to-rock kids and of course the kids resent those boring old adults because that's what kids do. Raven, the daughter of a real estate mogul named Falco has fallen hard for Strat, the leader of the Lost (as in Lost Boys, natch).

So when she sneaks away and...wait, what am I doing? Describing the plot? The plot is batshit crazy. The show is batshit crazy. The choreography is Jane Fonda-ish batshit crazy. The directing is batshit crazy, tossing in lots of cameras to capture the action even though it's wildly unnecessary and distracting. The set is...well, not bad, with the high-rise home of our villain Falco suggesting the neck of an electric guitar quite nicely while the hangout of the teenage heroes is nestled at its base. The costumes are REALLY batshit crazy. (Apparently every apocalypse leads to people wearing football shoulder pads and a lot of fringe: see Mad Max and all its descendants.)

Who cares? It's Bat Out Of Hell! I am dorky enough to spot the artwork from Jim Steinman's solo album Bad For Good on Raven's bedroom wall. I know Jim Steinman's work very, very well, from Air Supply to the Streets Of Fire soundtrack to his early days at the Public Theatre right up to today. He's not a guilty pleasure, just a pleasure and his songs are enduring, bombastic fun. Which is why anyone who wants to sing along to tunes they love can turn off their brain and have a pretty good time. But I couldn't, not really, because these musical-worthy numbers deserve much better.

Pop songs have been reaching for operatic grandeur since the early days of Spector, Roy Orbison, Johnny Ray, et al. And Steinman knows his way around a show tune. But the post-apocalyptic setting he's had his heart set on undercuts the fun of seeing a kid's emotions explode into rock n roll. Set this story in suburbia rather than Blade Runner and these songs just work better. EVERYTHING is big when the world has collapsed so the setting dwarfs the emotions. But when you're stuck in high school and your friends and parents roll their eyes and indulge your puppy love and don't realize the feelings you feel are the biggest feelings anyone has ever felt (ever!), the only thing a teenager can do is burst into a big, big song.

"Paradise By The Dashboard Light" is a song about two people who got married too soon. In my mind, maybe because it was sung by Mr. Loaf and Ellen Foley, the couple is pretty young and haven't even paid off the coast of their honeymoon yet. And already they realize they've made a big mistake. But here it's performed by parents who are in their 40s or 50s, people who fell out of love a long, long time ago. High school wasn't yesterday; it was centuries ago. Bradley Dean and Tony winner Lena Hall sing the hell out of it, along with "What Part Of My Body Hurts The Most," another highlight (and a song that's new to me). Indeed, they're so good they practically steal the show from the kids. As with Moulin Rouge!, Dean is the villain here and the show would work better if he wasn't so physically abusive and controlling of his wife and daughter. Ah well, complexity is not the order of the day.

Other songs also work a charm, despite the absurd trappings of the story and the staging. (At one point, a guy roars in on a motorcycle, has an exchange and then angrily takes off...while carefully backing up his bike so he can go offstage without causing harm. Safety first! No, it doesn't work.) The deep-voiced Danielle Steers and Tyrick Wiltez Jones turn the Bat Out of Hell hit single "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" from a kiss-off to a touching duet. "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" -- the Air Supply hit -- also becomes a lovely number for both the teens and the parents. And I FINALLY made lyrical sense of "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" when it was performed by the happy couples at the finale pledging their all.

Andrew Polec is wide-eyed and strong-voiced as Strat and Christina Bennington is right there as Raven. (She has a funny opening moment as a very bored teen who pours herself over the couch and onto the floor. Indeed, Bennington seems to spend half the show on her bed or on the floor and takes it all in stride, though she and Polec are helpless to overcome some of the godawful choreography and staging which sometimes has them prancing around the stage in a ludicrous manner. (And ludicrous in this context is saying something.) But again Dean and especially Hall almost make you wish the show was about the adults. The rest of the cast is also very strong vocally, with the strutting Will Branner such a standout in a small part that you know without looking he's the understudy for the lead role of Strat. Yeah, this is supposed to be a show, not a tribute concert, but if they just stood there and belted these songs out you'd have a lot of fun. And who the hell knows? The original album came out and caused no excitement. It wasn't until Meat Loaf toured and toured the hell out of it that the audiences became bigger and the radio airplay caught on and MTV started putting his songs on an endless loop late at night. I doubt it (this show always seemed to have a strictly British appeal in its staging a la the truly awful Queen musical We Will Rock You). But maybe they'll tour and word of mouth will spread and history will repeat itself.

Steinman has always been working in a theatrical context. His songs have reprises and natural breaks where you can fit in some dialogue and then dive back into the song. They can be performed, not just sung. "All Revved Up And No Place To Go" is a terrific scene-setter. The song "Bat Out Of Hell" is a gem of an act one closer. (Imagine if you'd heard it for the first time on stage in a musical, rather than as a familiar classic shoehorned into a show after all these years.)

Damn, this project could still be good. I'd do a TV movie with teens -- and make the setting painfully banal rather than the no-rules world of The Walking Dead. These songs would be their only emotional release, not a respite from trying to survive the end of the world. I'd tell Steinman that I love the song "Dead Ringer For Love" (Cher and Meat Loaf crush it  on Loaf's second album) but it's actually not a theatrical song and should be cut. I'd point out that since Strat is the Peter Pan character, it doesn't make sense for Raven to sing most of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now." He's the one who forgets, he's the one who left and waited six months to come back, so that should be his song. I'd tell Steinman the vengeful Tink subplot is faithful to JM Barrie but just doesn't work here and besides, we're ditching the whole Peter Pan thing anyway. I'd tell Steinman to either buy the rights to "Rock Me Amadeus" or call  the dad something other than Falco. And then I'd ask Steinman to sign my cassette and my CD copies of Bad For Good.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.






Monday, July 29, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #457: The Biggest Touring Acts Are Older Than Ever

The latest episode of Showbiz Sandbox is out now!

Take a quick look at the top earning worldwide concert tours and you might be surprised to discover that half of the top ten acts are over 50-years-old. Heck, the number one tour of the year thus far is Elton John and he’s over 70. In fact, thanks to acts like Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger, the average age of the top ten global touring acts has surpassed 50 for the first time anyone can remember.
Inversely, the age of the top ten recording artists of the year is getting younger, dropping below 30-years-old. This is due in large part to artists such as Ariana Grande, Post Malone, Travis Scott and Khalid who are all under 30 and in the case of Billie Eilish, under 20. We try to understand the age disparity between today’s biggest recording artists and those making their money on the road.
Meanwhile, in China, the burgeoning movie business has fallen on hard times. This is especially true in the cinema industry, where theater owners are contending with a drop in audiences flocking to the glut of new multiplexes that have opened in recent years. At the same time rents for theater locations have skyrocketed and the government imposed quota of foreign releases means many exhibitors are running out of content to show.
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including the latest on the dispute between the Writers Guild and talent agencies, the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals announce their lineups and how Metallica got caught scalping their own concert tickets.

Monday, July 22, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #456: The TV Shows That Will Get The Biggest Bounce From Their Emmy Attention

The latest episode of Showbiz Sandbox is ready for your ears to enjoy!

Television audiences have become so fragmented these days that almost every show can benefit from Emmy Awards attention. Sure, you think everyone knows about shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” We ask which series might get a needed ratings boost from being in this year’s Emmys race.
HBO took home the most Emmy nominations helped by “Game of Thrones” which set a record earning 32 nods, the most ever for a single show. However, with “GoT” and “Veep” in their final seasons is HBO’s award enjoying a swan song over its Emmy dominance?
Meanwhile, Disney’s latest live-action adaptation opened internationally to $531 million on its way to what is likely another billion dollar gross for the studio. In fact, Disney may have five billion dollar movies this year alone.
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including the headlines from Comic-Con, Netflix subscribership drops and why you may not be able to find that hot new album at your local record store.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #455: The Reality Is That Reality TV In The US Might Prove A Lot Tougher For Producers

The podcast Showbiz Sandbox has a new episode ready and waiting to expand your entertainment mind!

It turns out members of the Writers Guild aren’t the only ones who want to overhaul the way television gets produced and paid for. Discovery Networks wishes to change how reality shows are funded in the United States, asking producers to foot the bill, rather than fund episodes up front. This is the same model employed in the European Union, however on that continent the producers maintain ownership of the content.
In another seismic shift, Disney TV Studios and Warner Bros. are letting the industry know that they want to change the way everyone working a television show gets compensated. Rather than the standard back-end profit participation model, the studios would pay one larger lump sum at the time of production for any of their broadcast, cable or streaming series.
Meanwhile, we’re learning that the reason censorship has grown tighter in China is thanks to the establishment of the new Central Propaganda Department. Perhaps those now in charge of monitoring the content of movies being distributed in the Middle Kingdom are still learning how spot objectionable content at the script stage.
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including a slump in the live music business, Nicki Minaj pulls out of a concert in Saudi Arabia and Netflix preps its most expensive movie to-date.

Monday, July 08, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #454: Slump? What Slump? Summer Box Office Heats Up

Your mission if you decide to accept it: Listen to the latest episode of Showbiz Sandbox as soon as possible.

It was the Fourth of July in the United States which is often a slow news time for the entertainment industry. Except for when it comes to the box office which looks to finally be picking up slightly thanks to sequels such as “Toy Story 4” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” Though the box office continues to trail behind last year’s record-breaking tally there are still plenty of big releases to come.
That includes at least one more live-action remake of a classic Disney film; “The Lion King.” That will be the third such Disney release this year. Is the company saturating the market with live-action remakes of its own classic films?
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including why Lionsgate is slowing down its theme park plans, Mad Magazine will stop being published and Rolling Stone launches its own music charts.

BOOKS: "The Vagabonds" by Jeff Guinn review


Check out my review of "The Vagabonds" by Jeff Guinn, the true story of summer vacations taken together by Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Only at BookandFilmGlobe! Hey, is Elon Musk looking for someone to go camping with?

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

SHOWBIZ SANDBOX #453: The Worst Disaster In The History Of Music

You and the new episode of Showbiz Sandbox: a love affair that is destined to be.

When a fire ripped through Universal Studios in Los Angeles back in 2008 it was initially feared that all of the historic films and music locked away in the vaults that burned were lost forever. At the time Universal reported that, quite miraculously, very little damage had occurred and that few, if any, of the master recordings in the vaults were damaged.
However, in an in-depth investigative piece The New York Times reports that the fire actually wiped out hundreds of thousands of invaluable masters of legendary recording artists such as Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Elton John, Nirvana and possibly hundreds of others. Universal Music Group continues to insist the loss is overstated, but artists are clamoring for more information and the first class action lawsuit has already been filed.
Meanwhile talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents over packaging fees and affiliate productions have stalled and now lawsuits have started to fly.
Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment headlines including which Broadway shows got a post-Tony Awards bump in grosses, J.J. Abrams lands at WarnerMedia and Celine Dion is leaving Las Vegas.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"TOY STORY 4" IS #1 AT THE WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE...AND NO DISAPPOINTMENT

Showbiz Sandbox is the only one that looks at the worldwide box office for the ENTIRE week. That can tell a very different story from everyone else -- they're comparing new movies to current releases and compare four days of box office from new movies to THREE days of box office from movies that are already out. Huh? We compare the TOTAL box office from the entire week.

That means Aladdin was the #1 movie worldwide for four weeks in a row. Now it has been dethroned by another Disney movie, Toy Story 4.



And anyone who suggests Toy Story 4 is a disappointment is bonkers. They're comparing the flawed tracking that shows what they THINK a movie might make to its actual opening and then  comparing that to prior Pixar releases over a holiday weekend. Nonsense. All that matters is a movie's budget and how much it grosses when all is said and done. Toy Story 4 cost a reported $200m and will almost certainly gross $800m worldwide. In what universe is that a disappointment? Check out the exclusive Showbiz Sandbox figures for the week.

WEEK OF JUNE 23 SHOWBIZ SANDBOX WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE CHARTS FOR THE PREVIOUS SEVEN DAYS


  1. TOY STORY 4 ($200mb) -- $238m (opening week)
  2. ALADDIN ($180mb) -- $  85m/ $810m (last seven days/worldwide )
  3. MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL ($110mb) - $  80m/ $182m
  4. SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 ($80mb) -- $  39m/ $194m
  5. SPIRITED AWAY ($19mb) -- $  28m/ $ 51m? ($290m?)
  6. DARK PHOENIX ($200mb) -- $  28m/ $233m
  7. ROCKETMAN ($40mb) -- $  20m/ $153m
  8. CHILD’S PLAY ($10mb) -- $  17m (opening week)
  9. JOHN WICK 3 ($75m + $40 p&a) -- $  13m/ $289m
  10. GODZILLA KING MONSTERS ($170mb) -- $  12m/ $352m (?)
  11. MY BEST SUMMER (Chi rom drama) -- $    9m/ $54m
  12. PARASITE (K Palme d’Or) -- $     8m/ $70m
  13. SHAFT ($30mb) -- $     8m/ $16m
  14. AVENGERS: ENDGAME ($360mb) -- $     7m/ $2.749b (needs $39m)
  15. GOING VERTICAL (Russian; $11mb) $     6m/ $62m
  16. LATE NIGHT ($13mb pickup Amazon) -- $     5m/ $10m
  17. LONG LIVE THE KING -- $     4m (opening week)
18. ANNA (Luc Besson; $30mb) -- $     4m (opening week)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Monday, June 17, 2019

"ALADDIN" #1 AT WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE FOR FOURTH WEEK IN A ROW

Hey kids,

Just because Sperling is playing in Europe doesn't mean you shouldn't get an update on the worldwide box office. Here are the biggest films of the week ending June 16. Remember, we are talking about the worldwide box office. And unlike everyone else, we don't just look at the grosses from the last four days for new movies (which usually open on Thursday) or the grosses from the last three days for movies that have been out for a week or more. We add up all the grosses for the ENTIRE week. And that tells a surprisingly different story.



If you listen to everyone else, the #1 movie at the box office worldwide has changed every single week for the past four weeks. They've been:

Week ending May 26, 2019 -- ALADDIN
Week ending June 2, 2019 --  GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
Week ending June 9, 2019 --  DARK PHOENIX
Week ending June 16, 2019 -- MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL

But if you look at the total box office for the entire week (and remember, this is summer time when weekday box office is especially robust), if you add up the money made Monday through Sunday rather than just the money made over the weekend, here's what you find....



Week ending May 26, 2019 -- ALADDIN!
Week ending June 2, 2019 --   ALADDIN!!
Week ending June 9, 2019 --   ALADDIN!!!
Week ending June 16, 2019 -- ALADDIN!!!!

Yes, Aladdin has been the most popular movie in the world for the past four weeks. That's going to change next week when Toy Story 4 jumps to the top of the charts. But Aladdin's dominance is notable and it's a story you hear ONLY from Showbiz Sandbox. Here is our chart listing the top grossing movies worldwide for the ENTIRE week ending June 16. Enjoy! And we'll see you next week!

WEEK OF JUNE 16 SHOWBIZ SANDBOX WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE CHARTS FOR THE PREVIOUS SEVEN DAYS


  1. ALADDIN ($180mb) (Fourth week in a row) -- $120m/ $725m (week/total)  
  2. MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL ($110mb -- $102m (opening week)
  3. DARK PHOENIX ($200mb) -- $ 60m/ $204m
  4. SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 ($80mb) -- $ 57m/ $155m
  5. GODZILLA KING MONSTERS ($170mb) -- $ 47m/ $340m
  6. ROCKETMAN ($40mb) -- $ 31m/ $133m
  7. JOHN WICK 3 ($75m + $40m p&a) -- $ 24m/ $276m
  8. MY BEST SUMMER (Chi rom dram) -- $ 19m/ $45m
  9. PARASITE (K Palme d’Or winner) -- $ 16m/ $62m
  10. AVENGERS: ENDGAME ($360mb) -- $ 12m/ $2.742b (needs $46m)
  11. MA ($5mb) -- $ 11m/ $52m
  12. POKEMON DET PICACHU ($150mb) -- $ 10m/ $420m
  13. CHASING THE DRAGON 2 (Chi action) -- $ 10m/ $40m
  14. SHAFT $30mb) $  8m/ $8m
  15. LATE NIGHT ($13m Amazon pickup) -- $  5.4m/ $5.7m
  16. A CITY CALLED MACAU (Chi gambling drama) $  4m/ $4m (opening week)
  17. WHISPER OF SILENT BODY (Chi med mys) $  3m/ $3m (opening week)
  18. THE DEAD DON’T DIE (Jarmusch zombie) $  3m/ $5.4m
  19. GOING VERTICAL ($11m; Russian basketball) $  2m/ $56m (highest grossing Russian film in nation’s history)

https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Rankings