It may not be true after all that all publicity is good publicity.
Take Madonna. Her hellacious month of bad press concerning the adoption, legal or otherwise, of a Malawian child has turned out to be a buzz kill for book sales.
"The English Roses: Too Good to Be True" has been an out-and-out bust so far. Madonna’s latest children’s book, released on Oct. 24, has sold just 9,000 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan.
By contrast, the first "English Roses" book has sold 350,000 copies since its release in 1993. But most of those were sold soon after publication.
It’s not like Madonna didn’t do anything for this new book. She did interviews with Oprah, Regis, "Dateline," etc. But by the time she did them, the adoption scandal was in full force.
Despite some positive feedback, Madonna has mostly been criticized for prying a 1-year-old away from his father. Rarely in pop culture history has a plan so exploded in a celebrity’s face.
It probably didn’t help that this column pointed out that Madonna’s children’s books bear a warning that all proceeds go to Philip Berg’s Kabbalah organization.
Of course, the irony there is that the proceeds, according to publisher Callaway Editions, go to Madonna, and then she writes the check to Kabbalah.
“We have no idea what she does with the money,” says a Callaway source.
If you love musical theater, jot down the names of Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee and Rebecca Luker. In June, they’re going to win Tony Awards for their work in “Mary Poppins,” which opened last night to standing ovations and heaps of praise.
In the audience: Rosie O'Donnell, Jim Dale, Tom Stoppard and Angela Lansbury, all of whom loved the show. And why not? "Mary Poppins," as it’s been realized on Broadway, is a clever smash of a hit that should run for a very long time. You know it’s good because Disney’s Bob Iger and Dick Cook were both there, as was Roy Disney.
Much of the pleasures of "Mary Poppins" can be found in the book by Julian Fellowes and the direction by Richard Eyre. Bob Crowley’s sets are dazzling and fresh, as well.
But in the end, it’s all about those songs from the 1964 movie, like "Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilistic", "Chim Chim Cher-Ee," and my favorite, the eternally elegant "Let’s Go Fly a Kite."
This new "Mary Poppins" had to be stretched out to a full-length show, so the second act is very different from the first.
In the first, we get most of the movie’s hits and its basic plot. This is typical of most movie-to-stage adaptations, such as "The Color Purple" and "The Wedding Singer."
But here, because Fellows knows what he’s doing, the invented second act makes sense and is a huge addition to the show. We get fully fleshed out characters with their own story arcs, all delineated by a passionately good writer. What a difference this makes!
And yes, Disney is famous for cheesy musicals. Other than "The Lion King", which still sells out its shows everywhere around the world, the Mouse House does not have much of a legacy. But "Mary Poppins" is a cut above the company’s usual big budget blowouts. It has a heart, and that’s kind of nice.
It seems hard to believe but “God Grew Tired of Us,” a hugely important and well-made film about the Lost Boys of the Sudan, has been overlooked by the Academy Awards documentary committee. Yesterday’s shortlist of 15 films mysteriously excluded Christopher Quinn’s work. This is nothing short of tragic.
How can this be? “God Grew Tired of Us” won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Documentary. And it won another award at the Deauville Film Festival. Anyone who sees this film — which will be released in January — is moved to the point of tears and action.
At Sundance, one woman took out her checkbook and wrote a check for $25,000 to help the Sudanese medical efforts. The big hope now is that Oprah Winfrey will be wise enough to feature this film for a full hour when it’s released.
By coincidence, I met with John Dau, one of the Lost Boys, just the other day when he came to New York City from his new home outside of Syracuse.
Dau is 32 now and has lived in upstate New York since arriving in the U.S. in 2001. Think of this: prior to his arrival, he spent nearly 20 years as refugee. That’s his entire lifetime. This week, though, John and his wife, who was a “lost girl” of the Sudan, celebrated the birth of their first child. It’s a miracle.
Dau and the other main characters in the movie — Daniel Abul Pach and "Panther" Bior — met the filmmakers in their Kenyan refugee camp. It was the day they learned whether or not they’d go to the U.S. They’d all spent about 15 years in the camp, after walking across the desert for about five years.
All of this started when the Sudan erupted into civil war in 1987. When the "Lost Boys" first began their trek, there where 27,000 of them. By the time they arrived in Kenya, only 12,000 had survived the ordeal.
There’s a lot more to say about John, Daniel and Panther. For one thing, when I spoke to John the other day, he’d never of the Oscars. So there. He’s also not completely clear about Nicole Kidman, who narrates the film. John works as a security guard for a Syracuse hospital and goes to school at the same time.
But his real interest is in building a medical facility for his Sudanese village. He recently returned there for his first visit in 19 years and saw his father, also for the first time in two decades.
A charitable foundation has been set up for him to accept funds for his project at www.ACSudanFoundation.org. They need money desperately. Maybe instead of setting up their own African charities with individual agendas, celebrities could push some of their money in this direction instead.