Okay, so there's another chapter in the Michael Jackson saga. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll run to the bathroom.
Last night, Michael returned to Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater for his first performance there since 1969. The occasion was a Democratic National Committee voter drive/fund-raiser. Funny, I would have taken Michael — who’s from Orange County, California — as a Republican, but never mind that.
Before Michael came out, Tony Bennett crooned, Chris Tucker joked, Bill Clinton pontificated and the Harlem Boys Choir kept their distance (hey — just kidding).
While the show was in progress, members of a choir dressed like they were putting on a PTA show about the United Nations spent an agonizing amount of time on the third floor of the Apollo pre-recording an augmented version of “We Are the World” to be used with Jackson later.
Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Since the Apollo show was running long, the DNC cut that number. Jackson performed to a pre-taped version of “Dangerous,” then did “Black or White” mostly live, and finished with the hideous treacle of “Heal the World.” Instead of a fourth song, he showed the million dollar video that depicts him as a fascist head of state in some fantasy land.
There was no denying that Jackson’s appearance in the small (1,300 seats) Apollo generated heat. Despite everything, he is still an electrifying performer. The crowd was happy to see him, and he obliged them. After “Dangerous” — well danced, but mechanically portrayed — Jackson must have realized that he needed to act human. He made one of his famous “woo-hoos” into the mike, and sounded real. His voice is intact. He sang “Black or White” with enthusiasm and grit.
But “Heal the World” is a corny, hackneyed effort that ends embarrassingly. Michael takes the hand of a four-year old boy and leads him off the stage. You just want to say, "Oh come on!" It’s beyond belief, but everything in the “Heal the World” performance is like that. Michael has his singers and dancers dress up in Costumes of Other Cultures — a couple of really insulting American Indians, an Arab, a Hasidic Jew, etc. The Arab and the Jew actually hug each other. Yecch. After everything that’s happened in the news lately, how can anyone expect this to be the solution to the problems in the Middle East?
The DNC says it raised $2.7 million last night, but at least $500,000 had to have gone to expenses. Jackson got his airfare underwritten by United Airlines, but it's said that he had more than a dozen suites at the Palace Hotel (formerly the Helmsley Palace)! That bill went to the DNC. Among Jackson’s entourage were his kids, a nanny and a personal assistant.
After the show, Jackson took pictures with Bill Clinton and with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons. He didn't meet any of the other performers, and skipped out right after the show. Why not? You would too if you had 15 suites at the Palace. One thing’s for sure — he did not run out of ice or towels on this trip.
Michael was brought into this DNC fund-raiser by commercial real estate broker James Meiskin. I wrote about Meiskin in this column last week: he’s this year’s Shmuley Boteach in the Jackson camp. According to sources, Meiskin thinks he can dig Jackson out of his financial hole by lining up a consortium of investors. The consortium would pay off Michael’s loans and help him regain his song catalogs — currently being used for collateral. This idea may be assisted in a fair way by a Wall Street boutique investment advice firm. Will it work? If Meiskin can pull this off, then he’ll be a hero. Time will tell.
Meantime, a smattering of celebs did show up for the Apollo show, all impressed with the theater’s glittering refurbishment. The Apollo really is a New York treasure, and it was great to see it filled with life. Among the notables: actor Joe Pantoliano, singer Ruben Blades (who performed), Johnnie Cochran, Cicely Tyson, Don Cornelius and Diana Ross, who made a surprise appearance at the end of Jackson’s show.
I did enjoy meeting the great boxer Joe Frazier, looking dandy in a fedora. I asked him, “Did you ever see the movie Ali?” Frazier hesitated until a friend reminded him he had. “Actually I slept through a lot of it!” he said.
Frazier did, however, miss the scene in the Apollo lobby when an overzealous security guard threw a well-dressed man of about 60 — who'd paid for his ticket and had it with him — out into the street. The man, who is a regular at the Apollo and a professional person, never managed to get back inside. He was literally chased outside by a phalanx of security people — quite frightening, and very Kafkaesque, to watch. That's one problem that may have to be tweaked.
This surreal night ended at around 1 a.m. at Elaine’s, where the great character actor Dabney Coleman was holding court. A nice young woman who’d had too much to drink approached his table and pointed. “Were you in You’ve Got Mail?” she asked of the Golden Globe winner who’s starred in his own series (Buffalo Bill, Slap Maxwell) and countless movies (Nine to Five being the best). Getting her answer (which was yes), she returned to her pals at the bar.
“I thought you handled that well,” I said to Coleman.
“I didn’t at all,” he replied. “If I had, she’d still be here.”
It was that kind of night.