With all the feuds and public debates over "The View" and Donald Trump, we tend to forget about Rosie O'Donnell’s amazing work in charity and education.
If you're in New York City on Friday at 3 p.m., you can see some of the results. That’s when her Broadway Kids program puts on a performance at the 42nd Street Studios of "This Joint Is Jumpin'," a musicial revue that I caught on Thursday in dress rehearsal.
Dubbed "a collection of pieces inspired by the Harlem Renaissance," this show is simply remarkable and a little breathtaking.
"Joint" features a cadre of kids ages 8 to 14 who put on a show more real and less "stagey" than "High School Musical."
Rosie’s team — including Lori Klinger, Thecla Harris and Stanley Wayne Mathis, among others — has turned a bunch of underprivileged kids into the city’s most talented group of younger-age actors.
And this is just the beginning. In November, O’Donnell will unveil the Maravel Arts Center just west of the theater district. It’s named for Rosie’s teacher, Pat Maravel, and they’ve already raised over $5 million since O’Donnell bought the building and gutted it. Donations are still being accepted. The building will be dedicated in November at a gala. I’m told Paul Simon may be one of the big surprise talents.
Meanwhile, Rosie’s got her hands full with a group of kids not unlike The Little Rascals. I don’t want to name names, because so many of these kids could be snatched up by casting directors if they’re seen — and we don’t want to see them get jaded too fast!
But watch out for Daniel Estrella, who seems to be channeling the spirit of the late, wonderful Gregory Hines. And Kirra Silver could be Audra MacDonald’s missing "child."
They say that several of the kids have already gotten into the "Fame" High School for Performing Arts just based on their work here. Bravo!
And here’s a little trivia: After the show, Rosie and pals, along with her remarkably cool 12-year-old son, Parker, stopped next door and stood in a long line at the Cold Stone Creamery in Times Square to get cones. Everyone told Rosie to move up front, but she had a ball just waiting her turn.
It’s dirty work, but someone had to do it.
By the end of the day Sunday, The Police will have taken in over $100 million in ticket sales for the first leg of their world tour.
That’s for 10 weeks’ worth of work and excludes the Bonnaroo Festival and their appearance at Live Earth.
But all told from May 28 in Vancouver to the big finale at Giants Stadium, it’s a nice piece of change for boys who were "unemployed" since 1984.
It wasn’t a bad deal for Best Buy, either, which underwrote the tour and kept the marketing tie-ins to a minimum. By and large, the Police tour has been a classy one.
The figures are pretty amazing. For example, one night at Dodger Stadium grossed the group $6.1 million. A similar figure should be derived from Sunday’s show at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.
One reason the Police shows are grossing so high: no comp tickets, not even for press. Because there’s no album to support and no record company to support the album, there’s been no one to float big buys of tickets. Friends and family have all paid the top price — $277 per seat – and the show’s accountants have kept meticulous records.
And then there’s been the sold-out factor with every seat in every venue. Because the Police have just a video and light set, there’s no backdrop. In most places they’ve played, tickets are sold all around the back of the stage. There’s no such thing as an obstructed view. And in every arena, as I witnessed at Montreal’s Bell Center, there are no empty seats.
What’s next for the revived, reunited group? A two-week break, during which Sting will head to Tuscany. Copeland and Summers return to California. Then a swing through Europe in September and October, followed by a Halloween show back at Madison Square Garden. By then their mysterious new single will be out — my guess is it’s "Truth Hits Everyone" — to stoke the fires of a last winter swing.
So don’t let anyone tell you the live circuit is dead for rock bands. The audience is still there for the right acts. Of course, when The Police return in the fall, they may have a little competition. I hear that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are gearing up for a big tour to support the album I told you a few weeks ago was on its way.
It wasn’t tough enough for Judy Collins and Sam Moore, two famous and popular singers, to testify in front of a congressional committee on Tuesday about the need for a performance royalty on radio stations. (Singers on hit records aren’t paid when a record is played on the radio; only the writers are.)
Now Robert Neil, the head of Cox Radio, which owns 80 stations in 18 markets, has infuriated them with what some consider racist remarks regarding their right to earn a living. And R&B legend Moore, for one, is demanding that he be fired.
Neil said: "I saw the (congressional) testimony yesterday, and the reality is a lot of those people would be sitting in a shack somewhere in a small town if it wasn't for the fact that radio supported their music when it was coming up.”
Moore is furious. He feels the term “those people” is pejorative. At first he wanted an apology. Now he wants Neil's head. Cox Radio owns R&B stations and oldies stations that Moore says have made their money from black artists for 40 years.
Neil doesn’t take this seriously. "The reality is that if radio doesn't play their music, they're not gonna sell their recordings. And if we have to pay tons of money to do that, then what you're going to see is fewer and fewer music stations, because nobody is willing to pay it. It would be absolutely deadly to small radio stations. It's just silly. It's absolutely silly. There's no other word to describe it."
When I spoke to Neil Thursday, he told me his comments weren’t intended as racist. What about “those people”? “I didn’t even know who testified,” he said, “I just read about it in the wire reports.”
He told me that if the performance bill passed, he would charge artists to play their records. “That’s not payola, because it’s out in the open. It’s perfectly legal,” he said. And what if they didn’t want to pay? “It doesn’t matter to me,” Neil said.
Neil told me that the "symbiotic relationship” between radio stations and record companies was built on this structure
“The songwriters may make a million dollars over a lifetime on their royalties,” he said. “But the performers made a hundred million dollars up front on record sales and concerts. Now they’re coming back and telling us to pay them. We won’t.”
In other words: It was up to the record companies to pay the artists. If they didn’t or the money was squandered years ago, too bad.
Just a refresher: Singers who never wrote their own songs but had hit records are not paid a royalty when the songs are played on the radio or anywhere else.
So Collins singing “Both Sides Now” or “Send in the Clowns” — radio staples — or Moore’s voice on “Soul Man” or “Hold On! I’m Coming” — it’s all free to radio stations. The singers derive no income from this at all.
Other singers who don’t write their own songs but had many, many hits include Linda Ronstadt and Whitney Houston. Celine Dion doesn’t write, but she insists on taking a cut of songwriters’ royalties. Elvis Presley used to do the same thing, courtesy of his manager Col. Tom Parker.
Many of the “oldies” that populate the radio fall into this category. And many of the artists, like Moore, are black.
Among Cox Radio’s best-known stations are WBLI and WBAB on Long Island, N.Y., and six stations in the Tampa, Fla., area. All of them play music by “those people,” many of whom will be as mad as Moore when they find out the CEO thinks of them as having been rescued from a life in shacks in exchange for receiving no remuneration for their work.