“Why are you here?“, she asks, and for a while, we wander around Old Vic‘s Mood Music in a similar confused but intrigued manner. Joe Penhall (Sunny Afternoon, Blue/Orange) has written a compelling piece of music industry introspection, that circles and circles around the subject like a boxer looking for the punch that will won him the belt. With a keen eye on unpacking what’s at the heart of this debate, that match bell rings signaling that the battle has begun. Starring the magnificently adept Ben Chaplin (Donmar’s This Is How It Goes) and the nuanced authentic Seána Kerslake (Lee Cronin’s ‘The Hole in the Ground’) as musical talents at odds over intellectual artistic property, the fascinating struggle stomps forward under the watchful eye of director Roger Michell (‘Notting Hill’, ‘Enduring Love’) in a strategic stance that doesn’t always completely hit its intended target, but the drive and beat of the musical boxing match never lets us completely jump off the topical metaphoric hook.
In the stronger Young Vic production of Penhall’s Blue/Orange, the moral crisis stomped forward similarly, with that battle raging between two white mental health doctor experts playing a winner’s game over a black mental patient’s care. That play asked us to untangle a batch of complex concepts, such as race, power, ethics, and ethnocentric preconceived notions of outside influences on other ethnicities that differ from the therapist’s. It was a mouthful when I saw the play in 2016, sounding like a topical thesis in the making, but the challenge was to take on the task of trying to figure out where we stand in this ever-changing construction and argument. The same could be said of Mood Music, although the topical instrument here is artistic control, particularly when gender and the power of the establishment, i.e. older white men, become players in the intense conflict over ownership of a song.
“Where would you like to start?“, she asks soon after the first question. And the combative circling begins with a vengeance with separate conversations mixed together interspersed with one another, something akin to a Sondheim song. Surprisingly, the Sondheim lyrics rings more true as the voices layer over top of one another telling numerous vantage point stories at the same time without the carefully timed awkward pauses. The dialogue scenarios switch exactingly between artists and their therapeutic counselors or, at other moments, their legal representatives. The construct drives the rhythm forward, although at times feels internally disjointed stalling the emotionality at the center of the conflict. It becomes structural rather than emotional, but the thrust of the stage, aggressively designed by Hildegard Bechtler (NT’s After the Dance), with lighting by Rick Fisher (West End/Broadway’s Billy Elliot) and costumes by Dinah Collin (‘My Cousin Rachel’), pushes the fight out into the audience like a boxing match, with lawyers coaching the artist fighters into a battle that might not have any clear and true winners, unless you only look at the battle through one specific lens.
Penhall layers the different tracks with a solid stroke of the pen, never letting up with the complexities of ownership and morality. It’s clearly a betrayal, with the artist-producer, Bernard, played exceedingly well by Chaplin, exploiting the naive young Dublin-born singer-songwriter, Cat, played to perfection by Kerslake. The extremely well-balanced fluidity of the six-person argument catapults the characters into souls greater than the idea put forth by Bernard. He states, most dishearteningly that actors are mere mouthpieces to be used, but the concept is fractured by Chaplin’s own deliciously detailed performance of the despicable, but ever so sad, music producer. It’s so easy to dismiss the unloveable man, but the delicate dance of making him real and nuanced does the job. It isn’t an easy one, but Chaplin makes it clear he knows how to play those notes so very well. Kerslake sings a similar tune, and even though her character is infinitely more likable from moment one, the complexities of her dilemma with her father resonate wisely and deeply, hitting the target with a fighter’s force. She brings energy and anger to the exploited Cat, and although Penhall does formulate within some blurry lines in regards to the idea of solo authorship of a piece of music, the battle for integrity tends to bypass the manipulative old white man to find its mark sitting comfortably in the heart of the exploited young artist. Gender and age/stature is aggressively entwined in the arguments, laid out precisely by the players in a particularly shocking manner, especially when Bernard claims sole credit for the hit single they created together in the studio based on one of Cat’s songs. The conflict flies up into the complex heavens as both parties enlist lawyers to intensify the battle, and seek psychotherapists to help them sort out the complexities of betrayal and despair. It’s a fascinating mix, law and psychology in each of the corners, trying to support their fighter with all the help they can give.
But do they enlist these helpers with the same focused determination? Not so much, as Bernard’s persona is that of a self-centered bully with complete contempt for not only the musicians and artist/singers he works with, but therapy itself. He seems to look to his therapist, Ramsey, played well by Pip Carter (NT’s The Seagull) as more of a reflective sounding board to hear himself speak. Being a therapist myself, he’s the type of patient who only seeks validation for his brand of action, rather than really wanting to investigate his inner drive and function. Whereas Cat engages with her therapist, Vanessa, concisely portrayed by Jemma Redgrave (Hamptstead’s Farewell to the Theatre) in a more introspective manner, trying to understand her inexperienced self and the vulnerability in her stance. Both therapists are given slightly bent dialogue to deliver and lead, not only their patients but the play forward into conflict. It doesn’t always ring psych therapeutically true and authentic, but the defense does drive the formula into conflict with confidence. The dynamics and detailed arguments challenge the status quo while ‘rock and rolling’ the battle around the ring impressively. The idea that the music industry treats its female artists poorly never gets much inner movement or deeper deconstruction, although it is clearly stated and proven without a doubt, but we sort of knew that from when it “all started in rehearsal.” There’s no development in that war, sadly, and we all have to sit uncomfortably watching Bernard sideline Cat in the catastrophic acceptance speech when most of us want her to push back hard and find the way to see through the fog of his manipulations.
Dramatically, it’s clear whose side we are on, I’m hoping. Penhall does a pretty great job giving complexity to the give-and-take of musical artistry, but greed and power dynamics tend to outweigh those intricacies on the moral scale. Cat represents every artist who has ever lost the battle against the powerful music industry, with her gender and her age weighing heavily against her. The contemptible Bernard equates female singers as voices who “breathe life into words they didn’t necessarily write,” while maintaining that it is in his eyes and ear where the true creative force lives. But we know that is not true, almost from the moment he opens his mouth. Everything is thrown about by lawyers, well played by Neil Stuke (BBC’s “Silk“) and Kurt Egyiawan (‘Beasts of No Nation‘), and structurally underwritten therapists who try to solve and win battles, while somehow not really seeing what is at stake. The play fluctuates between completely engrossing to repetitious and distancing. We don’t hear enough from the artists within, doing the thing that they are talking about, but the unresolvable issues resonate from a truly authentic spirit. The inner music drives forward as only well-crafted beats can, with mystery and power. There’s difficulty in controlling our emotional sense when listening and diving into to music and creativity. And in Mood Music, we feel and inhabit that art, and give in to that pulse and structure, with pleasure and a captivating presence.
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
TAP 2 — (Via Rock Cellar) Doubling down after a May 2022 report that indicated everything was a go for a sequel to 1984’s classic comedy/music industry satire This Is Spinal Tap, filmmaker Rob Reiner has now confirmed that plans are taking shape in a big way.
Not only is the sequel on tap (pun intended) to begin filming in early 2024, but Reiner recently told comedian/podcast host Richard Herring that “everybody’s back” for the sequel. This no doubt refers to principal cast members Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, though Tony Hendra (who portrayed the band’s manager, Ian Faith, passed away in 2021).
The U.K.’s Guardian notes that the plot will reportedly center on Faith’s death, after which his widow inherits a contract that requires the band to do one last concert. Reiner is also due to return in the character of film-maker Marty DiBergi, a figure supposedly based on Martin Scorsese, who had directed celebrated music documentary The Last Waltz in 1976.
What’s more, Reiner also spilled the beans that appearances from Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John and Garth Brooks are in the works too, among what one must assume will be a million other amusing cameos. After all, a film as beloved and influential as the original This Is Spinal Tap counts pretty much every living musician as a fan (give or take), so you know the sequel will hold nothing back when it comes to the entertainment factor.
In the podcast, Reiner also talked about This Is Spinal Tap’s remarkable afterlife, culminating in selection for the National Film Registry in 2002, after its initially unfavourable reception on its first release. “To wind up in the National Film Registry, that’s bizarre,” Reiner said. “We previewed it in a theatre in Dallas, Texas, and the people didn’t know what the heck they were looking at. They came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I don’t understand, why would you make a movie about a band that no one has ever heard of, and they are so bad? Why would you ever do that? Why don’t you make a movie about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?’ I would say, ‘It’s satire,’ and I tried to explain. But over the years people got it, and started to like it.”
Personally, I found the 1984 original movie just hilarious. Aside from a great send-up of the music biz, the cameos were just fascinating: Paul Shaffer as PR-man Artie Fufkin; Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal as ‘mime’ waiters; Fred Willard; Anjelica Houston; Russ Kunkel; Danny Kortchmar and Fran Drescher as promo-gal Bobbi Fleckman … all just inspired.
Reiner’s on a roll – his Albert Brooks doc Defending My Life is sensational. A must-see.
Maybe an update of The Monkees’ HEAD next?
SHORT TAKES — Mark Bego’s Joe Cocker tome hit #4 on theAmazon charts this week. Here’s a great review from Goldmine on the book by their Lee Zimmerman: https://l.messenger.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goldminemag.com%2Freviews%2Fjoe-cocker-book-shines-light-on-unfortunate-undercurrents-of-a-stars-career&h=AT2zaG2QKuxuHdpJO1nPHKaiO7IWkbAHCBRAeq3m4-J45axSc_wBott7ABve8Wcd7GpQC13gybDWb2Hale6D809pTdtqqmpDoxC4u6FLA7SNNJ2jHbVKKpSaH1kxX4Ide1AyXDJXSZL2idNWvOch4A
… Micky Dolenz sang “Silly Love Songs” at Monday’s Troubadour benefit for Denny Laine and our spy said he really rocked it. Maybe a Dolenz Sings McCartney album is next? … So, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is authentic? Interesting choice for sure …
Writer and reporter Pablo Guzman passed this last weekend. An original member of The Young Lords, Guzman was a fierce fighter and brilliant writer. On Fox 5/Good Day NY for decades, he most recently was a reporter at WCBS. Here’s the Daily News take: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12799071/Legendary-NYC-news-anchor-Pablo-Guzman-dies-aged-73-Big-Apple-veteran-reporter-dubbed-son-Bronx-founded-Puerto-Rican-activist-group-Young-Lords-journalist.html …
And it’s official, the NY-launch for the Mark Bego Joe Cocker book will be Tuesday, January 9 at Steve Walter’s Cutting Room.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Sara Gore; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Daryl Estrea; Tony King; Ace Shortly; Kjersti and Jeremy Long; Debbie Gibson; Van Dean; Liz Skollar; Maude Adams; Robert Vaughn; Steve McQueen; Zach Martin; Coati Mundi; Avery Sharp; Steve Walter; Gary Gershoff; Jane Blunkell; Kimberly Cornell; Paul Iorio; Lee Jeske; MArt Ostrow; Peter Shendell; Sharon White; and ZIGGY!
Avengers Tower Sets Meet And Greet With Signing
C. B. Cebulski, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, and The LEGO Group Senior Graphic Designer Mark Tranter will be at the Fifth Ave LEGO Store this Friday, December 1st from 5pm-6pm signing the Avengers Tower set—the most iconic building in the Avengers Universe, with 5,201 pieces and an all-star cast of 31 figures.
The Avengers Tower, formerly known as Stark Tower, was a high-rise building complex located in Manhattan. Constructed by Tony Stark, the tower was powered by an Arc Reactor that made it capable of running itself for over a year. The top ten floors housed the research and development initiatives.
Following the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark Tower became the main headquarters of the Avengers. However, after the Ultron Offensive, Stark refurbished a Stark Industries warehouse upstate into the Avengers Compound to use as their primary base while Avengers Tower was repurposed for Stark Industries’ use. In the aftermath of the Avengers Civil War, Stark sold the tower and moved all of its equipment to the Avengers Compound.
By 2024, the tower, under its new ownership, had gone through extensive construction and renovation.
A CHER STEAL — This year’s 97th edition of the Macy’s Day Parade was a rather underwhelming one, save for Chicago – inexplicably singing “Your My Inspiration” – and the always, indefatigable Cher, singing a track “DJ Play a Christmas Song” off her new holiday-themed album. The first few bars will terribly auto-tuned, but that seemed to disappear and Cher’s vocals rang full and bold.
She was, typically, a pro. Mixing effortlessly and emotionally with the dancers in a terrific set. Some pundits reported the clip was shot days earlier, but she was live and, just sensational. I wish more of today’s performers possessed her vigor and skills. That’s why most of the current acts, here today, will be gone tomorrow.
As we went to press, we learned that this parade was Macy’s most-watched edition ever! Congrats.
HALL VS. OATES — Some terrible news appeared in Wednesday’s media that Daryl Hall had taken out a TRO against partner-John Oates. I’ve loved what these two have done for decades and I loved Hall’s solo albums; especially the one he did with Robert Fripp in 1977 Sacred Songs. His record company at the time (RCA) hated it so much, they held up its release for three years.
I also well remember them in the 80’s when it seemed you could’t turn on a radio without hearing their music. 29 of their 33 singles were major chart hits on Billboard. But I do go back to them even in the 70’s, with their terrific “She’s Gone” which basically launched them. And, my favorite album of their War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren. Quick note: That album sounds as good and relevant as it did when it came out in 1974.
The problem seems to arise from Oates wanting to sell his portion of certain songs to Primary Wave Artists – which ironically owns several of their songs already. It’s a small point, but that seems to be the issue. In all actuality, it’s another case of a classic-rocker selling his music.
In Oates’ book several years ago (Change of Seasons: A Memoir), he hardly mentioned Hall and regrettably that animus has apparently reared its angry head. They’re Philly boys, I’m from Philly and it’s just an awful coda to what was one of music’s major success stories. Sad all around.
SHORT TAKES — Terrific article in this week’s Closer on Micky Dolenz. Check it out here: https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/micky-dolenz-on-telling-stories-on-stage-and-in-his-book/
btw: Dolenz tapes KTLA’s Countdown To 2024 this week in LA …
I first met Phil Quartararo in the lobby of the old Mondrian Hotel in LA with John Sykes and we struck up a friendship that lasted until he passed last week. He was at Virgin for a time and worked with the artists there including The Spice Girls and Paul Abdul. In these fast-changing-times in the music business, he remained somewhat behind the scenes of late, but admitted he missed working with the artists. Phil was a guy you never ever heard a bad word about. Huge loss. Here’s Billboard’s take on Phil:
… As you’ve not doubt read, there is trouble in the Marvel-comic kingdom. The latest Captain Marvel movie (The Marvels) didn’t perform nearly as well as everyone hoped for and their newest star, Jonathan Majors as Kang, is tied up in several court matters.
So, we hear that Kang is out and Doctor Doom is in. Stay tuned …
And Forbes’ James M. Clash has released Amplified; culled from his terrific interviews with the icons of rock ‘n roll; including Grace Slick; Art Garfunkel; Ginger Baker; Micky Dolenz; and Roger Daltry. Here’s the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CNJZYW2J?ref_=cm_sw_r_apan_dp_WKCSH7AC0ZTK18RZF4ED&language=en-US NAMES IN THE NEWS — Steve Leeds; Kate Hyman; Bono; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Peter Abraham; Bobby Bank; Dina Pitenis; Frank DiLella; Donnie Kehr; Steve Leber; Don Wardell; Anne Adams; Billy Smith; John Boulos; Kimberly Cornell; Sam Rubin; Nexstar; and ZIGGY!
Midnight Moment For December: Doku: Digital Reincarnation
The shape-shifting protagonist in this five-channel work is Doku – the name derived from the phrase “Dokusho Dokushi,” which translates to “We are born alone, and we die alone,” and references a canonical Buddhist scripture. While sharing Lu Yang’s facial expressions and features, the nonbinary character was generated from an amalgamation of various dancers and musicians, and created in collaboration with a team of scientists, 3D animators, and digital technicians using the latest in motion capture technology. Through this repeated incarnation, the artist is reborn as an ever-present avatar, endowed with talents surpassing physical limitations – uniting ancient concepts such as reincarnation with the latest technological innovations.
Lu Yang is a Shanghai-based artist who creates work exploring themes and formats, inspired by both traditional Chinese medicine and contemporary digital cultures. Through the medium of video, installation and performance, Lu Yang explores the fluidity of gender representation through 3D animated works inspired by Japanese manga and gaming subcultures. With a fascination with the human body and neurology, Lu Yang’s work bridges the scientific and the technological with aesthetics drawn from popular youth culture creating new visions of China in the face of modernity.
Born in 1986 in Shanghai where they are currently based, Lu Yang prefers to play with pronouns and insists she “lives on the internet” to further confuse fixed notions of identity. They attended the China Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou, BFA and MFA, under the tutelage of Zhang Peili, the godfather of Chinese video art. A 2019 winner of the BMW Art Journey award, she has shown internationally including the M Woods Museum in Beijing, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, and in many other shows, including the Asia Society Triennial in New York.
NINA CHASE LIVES! — (Via Deadline) Shantal VanSanten is moving from FBI to FBI: Most Wanted for the latter show’s fifth season. She will reprise the role of Special Agent Nina Chase.
Nina is a well-seasoned FBI agent who is strong-willed, sharp and used to working undercover. The character was first introduced on the mothership series toward the end of Season 4 and she continued her recurring role in various episodes of Season 5 which concluded in May. Nina remains in a relationship with FBI’s Stuart Scola (John Boyd) as they raise their infant son Douglas together.
VanSanten is joining the cast following Alexa Davalos’ exit from FBI: Most Wanted, which Deadline reported exclusively in August. Their new season will debut on Tuesday, February 13.
The show is part of the massive Dick Wolff-empire and is actually a rather brilliant move; as the character has established itself on the other show and should fit nicely with Dylan McDermott and cast. The Wolff-machine just lost Jeffrey Donovan from Law & Order and recently installed their fifth showrunner on the much-troubled Law & Order: Organized Crime with Christopher Meloni; which is due to start their fourth season next year.
VanSanten also portrayed Karen Baldwin in the Apple TV+ show For All Mankind and was just terrific. Never heard of her before that show, but just a stunningly good performance, Nina Chase.
SHORT TAKES — Always read the posts. Loved this one: I was so confused! In Australia the show is called Morning Wars. And, yes, they were talking about Apple TV+’s Morning Show. That would be a more apt title … Looks like the NYC-launch for Mark Bego’s Joe Cocker-tome will be Tuesday, January 9 at Steve Walter’s Cutting Room. And Bego does an 11-city radio tour next week for Premiere Radio … Micky Dolenz’s R.E.M. cover of “Shiny Happy People hit #5 of the Heritage Chart in the U.K. … Every six months or so I read something about how The Starship’s “We Built This City” is the worst record of all time. Being home-bound for a time, I began hearing it regularly on my iHeart Hits of the 80’s and began to like it. Here’s a terrific summary of the song by Rob Tannenbaum. It’s actually hilarious: https://www.gq.com/story/oral-history-we-built-this-city-worst-song-of-all-time …
Deadline reported that NBC’s La Brea will end with a six-episode season next year. This is the show about a massive sinkhole in Hollywood that tuns into a time-travel escapade. Crazy writing, but somehow addictive. I found it a guilty-pleasure. Here’s the story: https://deadline.com/2023/11/la-brea-canceled-season-3-1235630123/ …
Sad that CBS’ Blue Bloods is ending after a spectacular 14-season run. I watched it when it started, then was out for a few seasons, but came back after Steve Schirripa joined the cast. Costs indeed did the show in, but you have to admit those family dinners which closed out each episode were sensational. Selleck, an icon. There’s not another show like this on TV right now; smart writing and brilliant acting. Treat Williams had a re-occurring role as an old mate of Selleck’s. Hope they do a proper tribute to him as he was stellar. Will be missed for sure … A 16-date Rolling Stones tour was announced Tuesday. Sponsored by AARP no less. Stones Tour 24 …
NY-Nightlife-Mayor Eric Adams seems to walking a tightrope – what with the ongoing FBI probe and city budget-cuts … Wintercon’s Frank Patz is interviewed for Medium today. It’s December 2 and 3 … Happy Thanksgiving!
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Richard Johnson; Ian Mohr; Harvey Levin; Kimberly Cornell; Plastic EP; Jane Blunkell; Tony King; Dave Mason; Michael McDonald; Kenny Loggins; Fortune Benatar; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Race Taylor; Jim Kerr; Ken Dashow; Plastic EP; Brad Balfour; Frank Patz; and ZIGGY!
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