Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Police Play Shea and Sting Decides to Quit

IT WAS ON THAT DAY, GORDON SUMNER SAID, he decided to quit The Police.

Performing with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers before 70,000 delirious fans* at a giant municipal sports stadium, Sumner -- aka Sting -- decided he'd reached the summit of his professional life. He was not yet 32 years old.

Summers, Sting and Copeland
on their terminal world tour
The date: August 18, 1983. The place: Shea Stadium in the New York City neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, home of Major League Baseball's New York Mets and the National Football League's New York Jets, both of whom were irrelevant to The Police. 

Two months into a planned 10-month, 107-date world tour, the band's one-night stand at Shea was part performance, part pilgrimage and part homage to The Beatles, who'd famously played there 28 years earlier. 

"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium," Sting said from the stage.

The Beatles. The Fab Four. Simultaneously the best and most popular rock or pop group of their era, they'd split up 13 years earlier.  While many groups and artists had since attained and held the world's attention -- the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson with and without his siblings, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Beach Boys to name a few -- none had yet shown the chart-dominating staying power of those cheeky lads from Liverpool, England.

Enter the London-birthed Police, a trio featuring the charismatic front man Sting on lead vocals and bass, Summers on guitar and Copeland on drums. Their first four albums had produced a string of hits including Roxanne, Can't Stand Losing You, Don't Stand So Close to Me and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.

A 7-inch plastic piece of rock history
All of that paled in comparison to what came next: Synchronicity, a 10-song LP full of jukebox hits: Synchronicity II, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger and the omnipresent smash Every Breath You Take.

Conceptualized by psychologist Carl Jung and amplified by author Arthur Koestler's The Roots of Coincidence, Synchronicity was the notion that sometimes things happening at the same moment appear to be related events even if there's no causal connection between them. 

Every Breath You Take was everyone's simultaneous event, it's creepy stalker lyrics set against an utterly irresistible beat. The biggest hit single of 1983, it spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. And that was just in the US. It also topped the charts in Canada, Ireland and South Africa, reached number 2 in Australia, Norway and Sweden, number 3 in France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands and copped the Grammy Award for song of the year. King of Pain quickly followed it up the charts, reaching number three.

In between those events, The Police headlined at Shea. Opening for them were Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Opening for her was a little-known band out of Athens, Georgia, that had cut just a single album titled Murmur. They were R.E.M., and amid late afternoon drizzle that summer day, the big, echoey concrete and steel ballpark in Queens swallowed them up. 

A band in a box: Sting, Copeland and Summers from the '83 tour book
Their day as the world's biggest band was yet to come.

While the Jets would abandon Shea for New Jersey's Meadowlands after the 1983 season, the ballpark continued on as home of the Mets and an occasional concert venue for another 25 years before being torn down and replaced.

Long Island native Billy Joel's two-night run in July 2008 closed out its musical history. In The Last Play at Shea, a documentary film recounting the stadium's role in rock, Sting revealed what he was thinking that rainy evening now 35 years ago, up on stage where the Fab Four once thrilled.

"I realized that you can't get better than this, you can't climb a mountain higher than this. This is Everest," he said. "I made the decision on stage that ok, this is it, this is where this thing stops, right now."

Though the tour continued on, The Police never made another album. Based on their five-LP canon, they made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Four years later, they were joined by R.E.M. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts finally arrived in 2015.

* Including me and my pal, Eddie, whose idea it was to get tickets. Thanks Big Ed!

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Friday, August 10, 2018

From Rectitude to Rapscallion with Patrick Stewart

"TEA. EARL GREY HOT!" Jean Luc Picard is coming back!

The always engaging Patrick Stewart
live on Broadway, circa Spring 2000
Sir Patrick Stewart will reprise his role as the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character, he and CBS announced last weekend. But it's not for a Star Trek, The Next Generation project. It's for something.... beyond.

Word is that a new CBS All Access program will fast forward to Picard's life years after his epic seven-year voyage as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-D, a sort of a Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Generation, and hopefully not one in which he's an elderly man stricken with Irumodic Syndrome.

The prospect of Picard: The Sequel, (eat your heart out William Shatner) is all the more breathtaking when looking back at how far we've come from the prospect of some unknown balding, British, Shakespearean actor becoming the most respected and, arguably, the most beloved of all the captains in Trekdom (and arguably, the best actor to ever regularly grace a Star Trek series.)*

Larger than life, Jean Luc Picard has eclipsed pretty much everything else Stewart has every done. And he's done quite a lot.  Here's a look back at some of his other career highlights:
  • Vladimir Lenin in the TV mini-series, The Fall of Eagles, in 1974
  • Oedipus Rex in a made for television Oedipus Tyrannus, 1977
  • narrator of a one-man rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, seasonally on Broadway from 1991-1995 and again in 2001, with a movie version in between
  • Richard I in Robinhood, Men in Tights the motion picture, 1993
  • Professor Charles Xavier in the Marvel X-Men movies starting in 1995
  • MacBeth, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008
  • A totally different Vladimir -- opposite Sir Ian McKellen's Estragon -- in Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, 2013-14;
  • More than 60 Royal Shakespeare Company productions; and
  • The voice of Poop in The Emoji Movie, 2017
Plus, for about 145 Broadway performances in the Spring and Summer of 2000, he was the libidinous Lyman Felt, in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.

Who?


Well, if Jean Luc Picard was the moral north star of the ST:TNG universe, Felt was his polar opposite. Felt was so un-Picard that if the two characters ever met and shook hands, the energy released by their mutual annihilation might power a starship. Really.

A ticket to 'Ride"
Miller's play opens with Felt, an insurance agent and bigamist, hospitalized after crashing his Porsche on the snowy, titular mountain. He awakens to find Theo, his wife of 30 years, has arrived from New York City.

Leah, his younger, prettier wife from Elmira, is there too.

This from a playwright who had three wives over his 89 years, leaving the first one for Marilyn Monroe.

Now conscious -- and cornered -- Lyman must account for his behavior to the icy, waspish old spouse played by Frances Conroy, and to her passionate rival played by Katy Selverstone.

“A man can be faithful to himself or to other people, but not to both,” he declared, according to a contemporaneous Variety review. Later, according to the same article, Felt likens a man to a 14-room house. “In the bedroom he’s asleep with his intelligent wife, in his living room he’s rolling around with some bare-ass girl, in the library he’s paying his taxes, in the yard he’s raising tomatoes and in the cellar he’s making a bomb to blow it all up.”

Top billing
Unrepentant, he wrings admissions and concessions from those around him. By play's end, Felt's not the only one who's morally compromised.

Refreshing as it was to see Steward playing against Picard-type, shifting from rectitude to rapscallion, the critics were somewhat divided. The New York Times liked it. New York Magazine? Not . After 23 previews and 121 performances, it closed on July 23, 2000, the day after I saw it.

Two months earlier, after shedding his Felt persona for a curtain call, Stewart went full Picard and staged an insurrection. He called out the show's producers -- including the powerful Shubert Organization -- questioning their commitment to the production.

"There are many elements that go into making a Broadway play a success. The casting, the direction, the design, the acting, the play. And in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, we know we have an extraordinary, provocative and vastly entertaining play," the actor said.  "What is also needed is promotion and publicity. People need to be told that a play is out there. Arthur Miller and I no longer have confidence in our producers commitment to this production (especially the Shubert organization) or their willingness to promote and publicize it." 

Their backers were not amused and issued a statement asserting their commitment, "could not be stronger." Dragged before Actor's Equity, our captain, oh captain, apologized, later explaining it was the right thing to do.

* Honorable mentions to Leonard Nimoy, Avery Brooks and Michelle Yeoh.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive