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Johnny Depp Sings: First Look at 'Sweeney Todd'

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Johnny Depp (AP)

Johnny Depp | Britney's Sales Drop | Stars Gather Downtown | Questions Arise Over Jackson-Affiliated Rabbi

Johnny Depp Sings: First Look at 'Sweeney Todd'

Wednesday night, we learned from director Tim Burton that Johnny Depp modeled his “Willy Wonka” hairstyle on Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

“He was trying to scare people,” said Burton, at a Film Society of Lincoln Center event held in his honor.

The studio, Burton told questioner Richard Pena during a Q&A in front of a couple hundred guests, also asked that Depp’s skin color be darkened in the posters for “Willy” because they thought he looked too much like Michael Jackson!

Burton, who was dressed in a black jacket and pants and black and white horizontally striped socks, also said that he thought Depp had never actually watched any of his movies, at least the ones they’d made together like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” “Willy Wonka,” and “Sleepy Hollow.”

But he may watch his performance in Burton’s new “Sweeney Todd.” It’s got Oscar written all over it.

Last night, at Rose Hall in Jazz at Lincoln Center, a lucky few of us got to see about 25 minutes of footage of “Sweeney Todd.” This is the long-awaited film version of Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent 1981 Broadway musical, directed by Burton and starring Depp as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, his accomplice.

The Oscar race just officially became really, really interesting.

The three set pieces we saw were, in a word, spectacular. They were also just enough to light a fire and suggest that Paramount Dreamworks has a potential Best Picture nominee in “Sweeney Todd,” and maybe even a winner.

Both Depp and Carter sing, as do Sacha "Borat" Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and three important newcomers: Jayne Wisener, Jamie Bower and Ed Sanders.

Of the three, we only got to hear Bower besides Depp and Carter. But young Bower turns out to be a winner. His rendition of my favorite number from “Sweeney” — “Joanna” — just knocked out the crowd.

And just a hint of what Depp does in this film was demonstrated in a number called “My Friends,” in which Sweeney sings to his recovered barber tools after returning from 15 years in prison. The number was breathtaking.

Unfortunately, we won’t know more about “Sweeney Todd” until Nov. 29. Burton told me Wednesday night that’s the first possible day he can screen it, as the movie is still being edited! “We will deliver a ‘wet’ print straight to you,” he said.

This much I can now confirm: as Sondheim said in this column a few weeks ago, the film version is shorter and a little different than the stage musical. The main song, “Attend the Tale,” has been removed, as have a few others, including some interstitial material.

“I had to let the movie and the story stand on their own," Burton said. “'Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd' framed it for a theater audience. And we’ve actually added a lot of music back into the show.”

Fans of the show needn’t worry, though. The instrumental score remains intact, and you can hear bits and pieces of the excised songs in it.

As a “Sweeney Todd” buff, I can tell you that the movie seems very true to the stage version. There doesn’t seem reason for worry.

What there does seem reason for is celebration. Burton may have pulled off a great theater-to-film transfer. He’s retained the grisly aspect of the show, of course: Sweeney slits a lot of throats and "there will be blood," even more than in the movie of that name. It spurts and squirts in quantities.

But this is what we also got from seeing this footage: Johnny Depp can sing, and he makes for an impressive Sweeney. The look and attitude are right. The performance should earn him an Oscar nomination as well.

Carter, who specializes in playing “off" types, makes an excellent comic and romantic foil for him.

Britney's 72 Percent Drop in Sales: Panic

Forget about losing her kids. Britney Spears should be more concerned that in its second week of release, the album "Blackout" dropped 72 percent in sales. Blackout sold a paltry 89,000 copies, according to hitsdailydouble.com, and finished in fifth place for the week.

The only other CD to fall so precipitously was by Goth rock group Avenged Sevenfold. Their own 72 percent second week drop, though, probably had more to do with being the only new release from beleaguered Warner Music Group. They’ve fired all the people who might have kept the Avenge-ers aloft.

But Britney’s with the mighty Sony BMG on Jive Records, the best label for promotion and marketing. How to explain a cumulative sale of 390,000 in two weeks?

"Blackout," which carries an expensive price tag for all its producers and writers, not to mention Britney’s advance and the fee that goes to Theresa Whites for getting the CD out, is looking like an enormous financial failure.

Blackout will not improve with time, either. It was supplanted by Jay-Z’s "American Gangster" release last week. This week, releases from Alicia Keys and Celine Dion will push it lower.

And no new single from Spears isn’t helping. Currently, "Blackout" has almost no radio presence as “Gimme More” fades into the woodwork. A new single, called “Piece of Me,” in which Britney taunts paparazzi and tabloid writers, is said to be next. Will it be enough to right the ship? “Blackout" is sitting at around No. 30 on Amazon.com

Waverly Is 'In' for In Crowd

Wednesday night at the Waverly Inn: Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon dined with “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell and her dancer husband Charles Askegard while Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter (who owns the place) dined with wife Anna, Tom and Kathy Freston and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director David Steinberg with wife Robin.

That should have been enough, but in walked delectable young starlet Jessica Alba, direct from her premiere of “Awake,” with boyfriend Cash Warren and popular publicist Brad Cafarelli. They cooled their heels waiting for a table to join Harvey Weinstein, his new fiancée Georgina Chapman (designer of Marquesa dresses) and agent Patrick Whitesell. The whole gang stopped by the banquette where Revlon’s Ronald Perelman was hosting Katie Lee Joel (Billy Joel's wife) among others.

And yes, that should have been enough except: in swept the glorious and legendary Toni Morrison, fresh from the National Book Awards with Lisa Robinson, music writer extraordinaire from Vanity Fair, and Fran Lebowitz. What did Toni win?

“I didn’t win anything. I’ve never won a National Book Award,” she said. Is this possible? Yes, it is. But of course, Toni has won the Nobel and the Pulitzer. They ain’t bad, y’know!

Ah, the Waverly! It’s the downtown alternative to uptown Elaine’s. It’s as if the island is bolted down by these two eateries!

Recalling Jacko and the Rabbi

Unrelenting publicity hound Shmuley Boteach just doesn't know how to go away. Now he wants to "counsel" Britney Spears. Advice from him, she doesn't need.

I met Shmuley with Michael Jackson seven years ago this month, in November 2000. He was at the home of PR whiz Howard Rubenstein, who’d been hired by Michael and someone named Boteach to announce their charity, called Time for Kids or Time to Heal or Heal the Kids, depending on whom you asked.

The rest is history. A few months later, Boteach and Jackson held a loony seminar at Carnegie Hall to showcase Time for Kids. Among the participants who discussed the value of spending more time with your kids were now former publisher Judith Regan and game show host Chuck Woollery, each noted childhood experts. Ha ha.

Anyway, the thousands of dollars collected that night disappeared. The charity evaporated. Eventually, even Boteach’s “charity,” the so-called Oxford L’Chaim Society, also vanished.

At the time, I wrote a story in this column about Boteach, who hasn’t spoken to or seen Michael Jackson since that time — since well before Jackson’s arrest in November 2003. Nevertheless, Boteach has traded on his short friendship with Jackson as if it were active. It isn’t.

Boteach was bounced out of the U.K. and denied a rabbinical pulpit there, so he returned to the U.S. with visions of grandeur. He was accused in the U.K. of taking charitable money to buy a big house. (He said the charity he was running, the original Oxford L’Chaim Society, needed a headquarters.) He left England with a lot of enemies.

An article dated June 1, 1998, in the London Daily Telegraph clearly states: "Ah Shmuley. The shame, the disgrace. (He's been) publicly reproached by Elkin Levy, president of the United Synagogues; forced to resign from the synagogue in Willesden where he preaches, accused of conduct unbecoming, bringing the rabbinate into disrepute."

The resignation was apparently in response to the publication of Boteach's controversial book, "Kosher Sex," which has been a bestseller and was excerpted in Playboy.

Back on May 23, 2001, we revealed the truth about the "Kosher Sex" rabbi who started a bogus charity with Jackson.

To this day there has no been no accounting for the money Boteach and Jackson raised for their Time for Kids/Heal the World Foundation. Indeed, the event they held on Feb. 14, 2001, at Carnegie Hall — a symposium on children — has never turned up in tax returns.

London newspapers reported that Boteach was ousted from the L'Chaim Society of Oxford University for mismanagement of funds. (He allegedly used money from the charity to maintain a lavish home. Boteach insisted it was his right to do so.) He was also reportedly banned from having a pulpit in the U.K., although he has denied that.

The most recent tax return available, which covers all of 2000, states that the New York edition of L'Chaim Society took in $203,185 in donations but paid out $240,164 "for administration." There are no funds listed for "Program Services."

In May 2001, this column discovered quite a lot about the so-called Oxford L'Chaim Society of New York, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Oxford University in Great Britain.

I wrote: "In 1999, the British government criticized (Boteach's) L'Chaim Society of Oxford, London and Cambridge — an organization that was supposed to support and promote Jewish thinking and life on the Oxford campus — when they discovered that Shmuley (his name is Shmuel but he loves the nickname) had been dipping into the funds.

In an e-mail to the Oxford Union, Sonia Tugwell of the Charity Commission wrote on January 8, 2001: "In August 1999, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 into the L'Chaim Independent Charitable Trust as a result of concerns that the charity's funds were being misapplied.

"The inquiry established that a number of apparent inappropriate payments were regularly being made by the founder of the charity, Rabbi Boteach and his wife. Fundraising costs and administrative expenses were high in relation to relatively low charitable expenditure.

"As a result of the inquiry, in March last year, the trustees of the charity, after taking appropriate legal advice, reached an agreement with the Boteach’s. The result of this was that a sum was paid by them to the charity. The trustees of the charity decided to wind up the charity and the London and Oxford offices were closed last year with our approval. It was agreed that the assets of the Cambridge Society would be transferred to another trust. If there are any funds remaining after outstanding liabilities have been paid, these will be given to other charitable causes similar to those supported by the L'Chaim Independent Charitable Trust."

"It seems funny to me," said a source at the Oxford Union, "that the headquarters for the L'Chaim Society of Oxford is in New York."

Frustrated by the lack of information from Boteach's office, I subsequently wrote another story on Feb. 18, 2002, stating that Boteach's tax-free foundation in the United States is called Oxford L'Chaim Society, implying a tie to the prestigious British university.

I also wrote that the L'Chaim Society's 1999 public tax filing shows that the charity took in $300,000. Of that amount, $160,000 went to "management" and $122,000 was sent as a lump-sum donation to the L'Chaim Society of Cambridge, the other top British university.

But, of course, representatives of the Cambridge Society swore to me last year that they hadn't heard from Boteach in a long time. Certainly they didn't mention a huge donation, and neither did Boteach.

Even so, more than half the money collected by Boteach in 1999 went to salaries. Less than half was donated to charity. Just in case you were wondering.

Boteach — who is banned by the United Synagogues in Great Britain from having a pulpit — is best remembered for a quote he gave the London Independent in 1996. He said there is an 11th, unwritten Commandment: "Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition."