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Sting Thanks Madonna for Borrowing His Hit

Sting | Madonna | 'Sweeney Todd'

Sting to Madonna: Thanks

I caught up with Sting last night at the big charity dinner for Food for Life/Soil Association. He was surprised to learn that Madonna had sampled his hit “Every Breath You Take” in her new song "Push," as we reported yesterday.

“Really? They didn’t call us,” he said, then added, “but good for her.” Well, good for Sting, really. Madonna’s nod to him means money in the bank.

But Sting and his beautiful, industrious wife Trudie had other things on their minds last night. They were honored by Food for Life at this very expensive dinner at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, and they made sure to give back to the people who forked over $20-$25,000 per table to be there.

Sting set up a real stage with lights and an excellent sound system, brought a band and performed a tight, exciting one-hour set (Donna Karan, Olivia Harrison, Ann Jones and Boston’s philanthropic Bobby Sager were some of their guests).

Imagine, though, that there were fewer than 300 people in the room, dancing to “Roxanne,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Spirits in the Material World,” “Fields of Gold,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” “Desert Rose,” the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and “Englishman in New York.”

No one was disappointed, except nightclub doyenne Amy Sacco — whose club, Bungalow 8, everyone retreated to after the show — was sorry Sting didn’t play “Canary in a Coal Mine.” He does not take requests.

Sting is 54 and he still looks no more than 34. On stage he peeled down to a muscle shirt, and showed off his lean, yoga'd physique. Toward the end of the show, nearly 50 youngish women, wives of lawyers and bankers, hopped on stage and surrounded him, boogieing for the two closing numbers. Sting was all grins. It like that Robert Palmer video, “Addicted to Love,” come true. The ladies were in full swoon. There was the momentary fantasy that they had a chance. Fat chance.

Sting and the equally youthful, glamorous Trudie — who’s directing and producing films, running charities and a family with six kids — love pulling fast ones on the press. Earlier this week, they got a kick out of a gossip item claiming Sting was entertaining a bevy of young beauties late on Halloween night at Bungalow 8.

The couple did nothing to correct it, but the “beauties” included two of his three daughters and their friends. Trudie was there, too, wearing a mask. They love leaving the impression that they have a wild open marriage. But after an hour last night, they retreated home to the Upper West Side, ceding Bungalow 8 to the kids.

“I’m going to get [lucky],” Sting laughed as the couple exited.

Madonna's New Album Leaked to Internet

Madonna's new album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor," has been leaked onto the Internet 10 days before its official release.

The album is marked by a defiant self-defense of her whole career, when she sings on the hilarious and forceful "Like It or Not": "You can call me a sinner/you can call me a saint/Celebrate for who I am/Don't like me for what I ain't/Don't put me up on a pedestal/Or drag me down in the dirt/Sticks and stones will break my bones/But your names will never hurt."

And: "Better the devil that you know/This is who I am/You can like it or not/You can love me or leave me/Because I'm never gonna stop. Oh no." She compares herself to Mata Hari and Cleopatra, too.

Warner Music Group is said to not be very happy about the leak. "Confessions" was being held right until the last minute. Copies aren't even available at the record company's offices yet.

The album contains a song called "Isaac," first reported on this column several weeks ago. It's supposedly about Isaac Luria, a 16th century Kabbalah philosopher.

I've listened to it, and there's nothing particularly shocking about the lyrics. It has a good beat, though, and some chanting that's meant to sound Hebraic. It could be anything. I don't think there will be religious concerns.

The lyrics are basic pop stuff: "Wrestle with your darkness/Angels call your name/Can you hear what they saying/Will you ever be the same?" Basically, it reduces Kabbalah to the stuff of T-shirt slogans.

I wouldn't get excited, and neither should any rabbis. She does try and mix some religious gobbledy-gook in other tracks, like the electronica-based "Future Lovers," but it's about as benign as a yellow smiley button.

"Isaac" is not much different from a couple of Sting songs that use Arab chanting, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's where she got the idea. Madonna is nothing if not the great synthesizer of existing material.

Apart from "Isaac," "Confessions" sounds like a good dance record. "Hung Up" is already a hit. "Get Together" is a full-on disco pumper from the early '80s. "Sorry" starts with Madonna saying that word in different languages, then rocks along with an infectious melody that recalls her best songs from 20 years ago. This is the one that contains a sample from a Jacksons song, "Can You Feel It?" circa 1980. It should be the next single, after "Hung Up."

But someone had better tell Jackie Jackson, brother of Michael Jackson and co-author of that song. His rep tells me no one's asked for a sample license so far. Lawyers are already picking up the phone, no doubt.

All in all, "Confessions" is a return to what Madonna does best: mindless, fun, dance music. There's none of the grenade-throwing politics that got her in trouble last time out with "American Life," her lowest-selling album and a total bust for her and for Warner Music Group.

Like Santana's new album, "Confessions" is mixed to be one hit after another, no filler. It's a great idea, and in a time when nothing is selling and Warner is barely functioning as a record company, Madonna has come riding to the rescue.

I never grade CDs, but let's give her an A- and head for a nightclub. It's just good fun.

'Sweeney Todd,' the Cerebral Version

Fans of Stephen Sondheim ’s operatic musical “Sweeney Todd” are legion. They know the show backward and forward, and swear by it.

Even though the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s original Broadway run in 1981 lasted only a year, the show has taken on a life of its own. It is often revived, most recently in a terrific production at the New York City Opera.

So lo and behold, in the last few hours, two cultural things have happened in New York related to "Sweeney Todd": a strange revival opened on Broadway, and the New York Times’ theater critic Ben Brantley promptly lost his mind. To say he loved it is an understatement. He went cuckoo. Read his review. You’ll see.

I saw “Sweeney Todd” at the premiere last night at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. This version comes to us from England, and it sure seems exactly like the kind of production you’d find at London’s Donmar Warehouse. It’s edgy, compact and surreal. Instead of a lavish production with a sumptuous orchestra, director John Doyle has reinvented the entire thing.

It’s like remaking the wheel itself. You’re either horrified or excited when you see the result.

Doyle and music supervisor Sarah Travis really went to work on Sweeney Todd. Doyle is also credited as “designing” the show. He’s thrown out the barber chair, the oven, the picnic tables, the organ, the whistle — just about everything for which the show was known.

He’s pared down the large cast to about 11 people, all of whom play instruments on stage. The backdrop of the one set is a 20 foot high (at least, or so it would seem) étagère filled with knick-knacks that makes the whole thing look like a Joseph Cornell box.

Believe it or not, this is the dark side of “Sweeney Todd.” You’d think a show about a barber who kills his customers would have already been considered dark. But Doyle has found a way of telling the story that makes it much more tragic.

Travis has helped almost in an inverse way. She’s made the unforgettable score more accessible, and brighter. She’s also changed the two most famous songs, "Johanna" and "Not While I’m Around."

The former was never a whole song in the first act. Now it is sung completely by the actor who plays Anthony (Benjamin Magnuson ), and it comes off like the hit it should have always been.

In the second act, the haunting "Not While I’m Around" is no longer a duet with Mrs. Lovett, but now entirely sung by Toby, the crazy kid left behind by the visiting Italian snake oil salesman. Each change is a vast improvement.

Patti Lupone plays Mrs. Lovett, looking very much like a punk girl from the UK circa 1981, very Helen Terry of Culture Club fame. The outfit feels left over from “Taboo.” She wears a severe black wig, and a sparkly dinner jacket. This is not Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Lovett. It’s more like Tim Burton thought her up.

Michael Cerveris, who played Tommy on Broadway in the rock opera, is a little young to be Sweeney Todd. His voice is grand, but sometimes he comes across as a version of Austin Powers’ nemesis Dr. Evil.

Overall, the new Sweeney Todd doesn’t seem like a show that should be playing in an ornate Broadway house. It begs for a stark, modern environment. The juxtaposition is jarring and takes a little getting used to, especially when you realize the cast is supplying the bulk of the music (Lupone playing the tuba is so absurd that it works).

Sometimes the effect of a stark, raving “Sweeney Todd” seems brilliant. At other times I got a headache. Some people did not come back after the intermission. Those that did, though, got a chance to see the most innovative, if not always enjoyable, show on Broadway right now.