Even as Janet Jackson smartly rebuilds her career — she’s in the No. 1 movie this week —brother Michael Jackson’s world continues to crumble. He’s being sued by the Prince Abdulla Al-Khalifa of Bahrain in London’s High Court for $7 million plus damages.
The prince, in papers sent to me over the weekend, is claiming that Jackson has an agreement with him to record two albums, write and produce a live-Broadway kind of show with Jackson’s music and a cast album, and to write and publish an autobiography.
In other words, Prince Abdulla owns Michael outright and is angry that Jackson skipped out on him in June 2006 without so much as a moonwalk.
The deal would tie Jackson up until at least 2012, if the prince enforces it.
Jackson, the prince states in his filed claim, moved to Bahrain on June 29, 2005, some 16 days after the pop star’s acquittal on charges of child molestation and conspiracy.
For one year, the prince underwrote Jackson’s life in Bahrain — everything including living accommodations, guests, security and transportation. That number is in the millions.
The prince also paid for Jackson’s lawyers, who handled his financial renegotiations with Sony and Fortress Trust. At one point in the spring of 2006, Sony could only deal with Prince Abdulla’s team on behalf of Michael. They saved him from bankruptcy. He states that Jackson is in "grave danger of losing" both his Neverland ranch and his stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
In April 2006, Jackson finally signed an agreement with the prince to create 2Seas Records. He also agreed to a lot of other things, too. The prince built him a state-of-the-art recording studio. He gave Jackson a $7 million advance for all this.
And what did Jackson do with the money? He left for Japan and then Ireland. He exited Bahrain and never looked back. He took the money and moonwalked right out the door.
This is the real Michael Jackson. He has never returned a phone call from the prince since he left Bahrain.
The situation is not unlike those Michael put himself in with former manager Myung-Ho Lee or German concert promoter Marcel Avram. In those cases, Jackson signed complicated agreements, made promises for work in exchange for money and then left his partners high and dry. In both cases, he was sued and lost.
Last year, Jackson lost another case, to former partner Marc Schaffel, who advanced the singer money and was never repaid. Schaffel won the case and a lien on Neverland. He’s in second place for liens behind Fortress, which has a $25 million attachment to the ranch.
Jackson recently settled another case, with Prescient Capital, a firm that sued him for $48 million in fees.
But the suit brought by Prince Abdulla is the worst yet. Here Jackson has consciously betrayed a huge ally who saved him at his lowest point.
How Jackson stiffed Abdulla should serve as a warning to all the singer’s future or possible defenders. According to the prince’s claim, Jackson left Bahrain to attend the MTV Japan Awards at the end of May 2006. He was supposed to return, but didn’t.
On July 11, the prince says, Jackson toady Raymone Bain faxed him a letter "aggressively seeking [the prince’s] personal agreement to an express release of [Jackson] from his obligations. …"
When that didn’t happen, Bain sent another letter, this time stating that Jackson did not intend to work with the prince and "was unwilling to perform or observe his obligations." Another legal letter followed, and that was it.
What happens next: The prince, if he doesn’t receive an answer from Jackson that he’s ready to go to work, will likely take more legal action against him in London and the U.S.
Jackson, meanwhile, remains adrift and hiding, homeless and in a severe and continuing financial bind that he can only blame on himself.
Can lightning strike twice? Can Mel Brooks and Tom Meehan make another hit after a Brooks film after turning "The Producers" into a smash musical?
If what I saw on Saturday afternoon is any indication, the answer is most definitely yes.
"Young Frankenstein" was just having its third show on Saturday afternoon when I attended a matinee.
And guess who was in the audience sitting just two rows in front of yours truly? Gene Wilder, the beloved comic actor who starred in both "The Producers" and "Young Frankenstein" films.
During the matinee intermission, he was given a standing ovation — complete with loving hoots and yells of bravo! — before he made his way out for a mid-show break with friends. It was incredibly moving.
Wilder could only have been pleased with what he saw on stage. For one thing, his late wife Gilda Radner’s good friend Andrea Martin, famous from SCTV and movies, literally steals the musical as Frau Blücher.
Martin is not the top-billed actress. She’s third after Megan Mullally and Sutton Foster, who are each absolutely stunningly good in their roles.
But Martin is spectacular, and she deserves an upgraded curtain call from what she’s allotted now. Her big number, "He Vas My Boyfriend," is what catalyzes the musical from funny into overdrive hysterical.
The horses still neigh at the mention of Frau Blücher’s name, by the way. Only Martin — not to take anything away from the legendary Cloris Leachman — can milk it for all it’s worth. And she does.
But I am jumping ahead. "Young Frankenstein" stars Roger Bart, who made his name in "The Producers" as the grandson of the famed mad Transylvanian doc (played by Wilder in the film). He is a character actor and not usually a leading man.
In fact, you could see Matthew Broderick more obviously in this role. But Bart is more than capable, and his Dr. Frederick Franken-"steen" (the running joke of how to pronounce the name) is a solid performance. After all, he’s got to be somewhat sane while others around him are complete lunatics.
Bart is surrounded by a very talented core group: the hilarious (and thank goodness, sans her little girl TV voice) Megan Mullally as his society girlfriend Elizabeth; Foster as his gorgeous lab assistant Inga ("She’s assisting his brains out," Frau Blücher observes), Christopher Fitzgerald as the Marty Feldman-invention Igor (pronounced, thank you, "Eye-gor") and Shuler Hensley as the operatic monster played by Peter Boyle in the film.
And yes, indeed, the musical is oozing with classic Mel Brooks lines and gags — thank God the amazing Tom Meehan was there to structure the whole thing.
But you will get the laughs: Young doc Frankenstein, a graduate of Johns Miriam and Anthony Hopkins Medical School, sails for Transylvania on the HMS Queen Murray. And Brooks also wrote all the songs. In one, he rhymes "genitalia" with "fail ya."
In a comic showstopper given to Mullally — a natural Broadway belter — called "Please Don’t Touch Me," Brooks tries to get raunchy and cute at the same time. The former "Will & Grace" gets to sing the word "tits" as loudly and often as she can.
Brooks and the cast are also helped enormously by Susan Stroman, who made "The Producers" so memorable. She’s staged and choreographed "Young Frankenstein" with utter genius.
Her centerpiece, "Puttin’ on the Ritz" is elegant and stark, and she works — as through the whole show — with Tony-winning lighting director Peter Kaczorowski to make the piece soar. (Give Kaczorowski another Tony right now — his work here is magnificent and inspired.)
Stroman knows that "Ritz" — pulled from the film — is no "Springtime for Hitler, as "Young Frankenstein" is very different than "The Producers" in every way. It’s less shticky and more of a conventional musical. Stroman gets that, and that Nathan Lane is not running around chewing the scenery.
Once you accept that, "Young Frankenstein" is excessively enjoyable. And for longevity’s sake, the new show won’t be encumbered with the star problem that eventually sank "The Producers." Without too much trouble, Brooks should be able to keep replacing this cast as they come and go for a good time to come.
P.S. I hope Wilder returns for the big opening night on Nov. 8, but if he doesn’t, at least we can expect Leachman, Kenneth Mars and Teri Garr. All the other principals from the film —Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle — have sadly passed away much too early.
And one more thing: Hidden in the lyrics of the cast’s curtain-call song is the promise/threat of a "Blazing Saddles" musical next. I hope it’s true!
But whenever Brooks promises a sequel, as at the end of "Spaceballs," or naming a movie "History of the World, Part 1," there’s never any follow through. It’s always just part of the joke.
You know Jill Rappaport, our favorite entertainment reporter from the "Today" show, also an author and contributor to "Extra."
Now Jill’s sister, Linda Solomon, has just published a must-have gift book for the holidays. "The Key: Celebrated People Unlock Their Secrets to Life" features tidbits from many celebs including Tony Bennett, Tiger Woods, Aretha Franklin, Steve Forbes, Elmore Leonard, Arnold Palmer and Jill, who writes about the key to friendship.
Linda even got a quote from the elusive Doris Day on, of course, her love of animals. …
Go now to www.soul-patrol.com. Our old friend Bob Davis, who’s made the promotion of real soul music his life’s work, has just issued a "virtual" CD that you can buy and download from the site.
There are 50 — count ‘em — 50 tracks, including one from the great "lost" Memphis group, The Climates.
Don’t miss this! The price is $10.99 through Wednesday, when it goes up to $16.99.