EXTRA! EXTRA! Christmas Comes Early This Year: Connections (#30)

Today marks the release of the CD “A Christmas Carol – The Concert.”  It is a pops style symphonic concert for orchestra, choir, a narrator and 3 soloists and our CD features some of Broadway’s best voices! Merwin Foard as “Scrooge”, John McDonough as “The Narrator”, Lawrence Clayton as “Cratchit”, Tony Winner Chuck Cooper as “Ghost of Christmas Present” and “Marley”, Daniel Reichard as “Fred” and “Ghost of Christmas Past”, and Sean Palmer as “Young Scrooge”.

The music is composed by my talented friend, Bob Christianson, who also co-wrote “Too Hot To Handel” which is being performed on November 14th at Carnegie Hall with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony. Book adaptation and lyrics are by Alisa Hauser.

The CD is available now for download on itunes: www.amazon.com/Christmas-Carol-Concert-Bob-Christianson/dp/B0043CT8HW

You can also visit his website: www.achristmascaroltheconcert.com

Bob told me that he decided to write “A Christmas Carol – The Concert” because of the success of my “Too Hot To Handel” concert piece (co-written with Gary Anderson) that has been performed for the past 20 years by many major orchestras in the US. Orchestra’s always need new material around Christmas time, because that’s always a good time to get families to experience the magic of a full symphonic concert.  He also feels that his writing strengths lie in writing pieces for large and diverse ensembles.  His favorite form is symphonic orchestra, large chorus, a rock/pop rhythm section, and vocal soloists. This is the structure of “A Christmas Carol – The Concert” as well as “Too Hot To Handel”.

When he and his collaborator, Alisa Hauser started writing the piece, they both realized although there were many, many film and “musical” versions of “A Christmas Carol” there didn’t seem to be one written specifically to be played in a concert setting: without scenery, costumes and staging. So they decided to try their hands at that form.  Their version tells a slightly different version of “Christmas Carol”…one that it closer to the book than to the black and white movies we all love.  As a matter of fact, there are a lot of character situations in the films that they wanted to write songs around, but they found out that these “off-shoots” of the story were not in the original story at all! But, they found a lot of interesting material in the original book that was never used in any of the famous films, and so their version of the story  has some surprises.  “For people who only know the films.  Alisa did a magnificent job of writing the lyrics and adapting the book… I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator,” Christianson told me.

Their version of “Christmas Carol” is performed with a full symphony orchestra; a large choir; a rock/pop rhythm section, and 4 singer/actors.  One of the performers is “The Narrator”, and in addition to narrating the story to a musical background, he also “assumes” various characters in he story.  The second actor only plays “Scrooge”.  The last two singer/actors play and sing most of the other roles including Marley, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew Fred; the Ghost’s of the Past and the Present, and Tiny Tim. The “Ghost of Future Christmas” is played by a solo cello.

Christianson describes the style of the piece, as a “hybrid. …..A cross between a symphonic concert, a musical, and a film score.  The “film score” part of it is heavily emphasized since we decided to highlight the “ghost” part of the story (after all, even Dickens called it “A Christmas Ghost Story”).”

I hope you will check it out!

I wrote about Bob Christianson in another Blog: EXTRA! EXTRA! MARCH MADNESS: CONNECTIONS (#10)



EXTRA! EXTRA! The Majestic Crest Theater Lives On: Connections (#29)

Bigfoot Entertainment CEO, Kacy Andrews at the Majestic Crest

Most independent filmmakers are lucky if they can get their movies in theaters.

Unless, of course, they happen to own the theater.

So it goes for Bigfoot Entertainment, which recently bought the Majestic Crest, a Los Angeles landmark founded in 1941 by Frances Seymour Fonda, wife of actor Henry Fonda and mother of Peter and Jane.

Bigfoot, a Venice, Calif., company that produces and distributes independent films, TV programs and reality shows for the international marketplace, last month acquired the 460-seat theater in Westwood for about $4 million.

“We wanted a great theater to showcase our films, not only ones we produce but ones we plan to acquire,” said Kacy Andrews, chief executive of Bigfoot Entertainment. “Everyone knows the Crest. It gives us a lot of prestige.”

The company, whose owner and chairman is German investor and filmmaker Michael Gleissner, produces action and horror flicks, like the cult film “Midnight Movie,” in which a killer comes out of the film to “attack” those in the theater.

But it’s no stranger to the theatrical business: Its chief financial backer is a Hong Kong-based private equity firm called Bigfoot Ventures that happens to be the largest investor, with a stake of 14%, in Carmike Cinemas Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest theater chain.

Not coincidentally, Bigfoot has tapped Carmike to manage the Crest. The Columbus, Ga.-based chain operates 240 theaters mostly in small towns and suburbs in the South and Midwest. Carmike has theaters in Arizona, Washington and Oregon, but the Crest is the chain’s first theater in California.

“Even though it’s in a big metropolitan market, it fits nicely into our model of community locations,” said Carmike Chief Executive David Passman.

The transaction comes at a time when large circuits such as AMC and Rave Motion Pictures have been bulking up, while smaller chains and independently owned theaters have struggled to compete against multiplexes with the latest digital technology and 3-D screens.

The Laemmle Grand 4-Plex movie theater in downtown shut down last year after nearly two decades as the 14-screen Regal Cinema was set to open near Staples Center In March, Calabasas-based Regency Theatres took over the operations of the historic Village and Bruin Theaters in Westwood.

The Crest was squeezed by competition from the Landmark on Pico and the AMC complex in Century City, hindering its ability to attract first-run art house films, former owner Robert Bucksbaum acknowledged in a recent interview with The Times.

Andrews said Crest will benefit from being managed by a leading circuit, which will be able to use its clout with the studios to book a “stronger lineup of movies.” Carmike, which was one of the first theater chains to adopt digital technology, already has installed a new digital projector, silver screen and 3-D system at the Crest.

About 75% of the bookings will be commercial films, such as the animated kids’ film “Alpha and Omega” and the upcoming “Tron: Legacy” from Walt Disney Studios, while 25% will be set aside for independent movies, including those produced and distributed by Bigfoot, Andrews said.

Most of Bigfoot’s 11 films, with budgets of $1 million to $4 million, have gone directly to DVD or appear on cable channels.

Beyond the typical Hollywood fare, Bigfoot will offer “niche cinema,” such as midnight horror movie screenings catering to nearby UCLA students, Asian Film Nights and an annual film festival beginning next year. The theater will also hold monthly classes tied to film schools that Bigfoot operates in the Philippines and Miami.

It won’t be all change at the Crest, however: Bigfoot will keep the theater’s famous “night sky” scene of star constellations on its ceiling, the back-lit wall murals of old Hollywood and Art Deco style.

Originally intended as a showcase for live theater, the Crest became a venue for local residents to watch newsreels about battles during World War ll, the city designated it as a historic cultural monument in 2008. Former owner Bucksbaum bought the theater in 2002, taking over operations from the Pacific Theatres chain.

Carmike has had experience managing single-screen historic theaters in such locations as Bozeman, Mont., and Ocala Fla., said Carmike’s marketing director, Dale Hurst.

“People talk about these theaters,” he said, “like it was their first date.”  Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

In the early 60’s Westwood California was considered a second run venue.  First Run motion pictures opened on Hollywood Boulevard, then played the “neighborhoods” after that.

I was head of advertising for a small distribution company, Herts Lion International.  I’m not sure where the word “International” came from because the tiny cramped offices were located on Seward Street in Hollywood.

Somehow the company acquired the domestic rights to “A Matter of WHO,” staring Terry-Thomas.  We couldn’t find a theater on Hollywood Blvd.to stage the North American premiere, but the Crest Theater was affordable and available.  I staged this event with a red carpet, searchlights sweeping the night sky, and photographers paid by the company.  It was a rousing success.  Westwood was now on the map as a first run venue, with numerous big studio premieres in the years to follow.

John and Dorothy Orland at "A Matter of WHO" Premiere at Crest Theatre