Arts Center hosting tribute to bizarre cult film 'Phantom of the Paradise'

Lawrence musician Jeremy Sidener has always been interested in fringe culture, which in the pre-Internet days, was wherever one could find it.

Growing up in Olathe the 1980s, he would make regular road trips to the now-iconic Lawrence punk-rock shack The Outhouse. When he got to stay up late, he would watch USA Network's 4-hour cult-culture spotlight “Night Flight” as well as Channel 41’s Friday night local B-movie horror show “Creature Features,” with host Crematia Mortem.

These are the shows that first turned him on to the 1974 Brian De Palma horror-musical oddity “Phantom of the Paradise,” a film so bizarre and grandiloquent that it could have only been created in the drug-fueled madness of that decade. All of the music was written by diminutive '70s icon and songwriter Paul Williams, who also plays evil record producer Swan in the movie and doubles as the Phantom’s singing voice.

Now, as part of the Nine Forty Live series at the Lawrence Arts Center, Sidener and a host of other local musicians will perform a live tribute to this wonderfully weird movie on the 40th anniversary of its release, following a screening of the film itself.

“The music is great and the movie is a humorous and realistic portrayal of the music biz, all while conjuring Faustian themes and parodying the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ story,” Sidener says. “The band we’ve put together is top-notch and the vocalists, all local celebs, will nail it. Anyone who likes old-timey piano, surf music, Carpenter-esque ballads, proto metal, AOR schlock, and/or cult films should enjoy this.”

Considering that “Phantom” features a Satanic record producer, multiple murders, contracts signed in blood, and an onstage electrocution — in addition to the expected amount of egomaniacal behavior — it’s worth noting again that Sidener (who played in local '90s legends Zoom and now holds down the bass for indie act Major Games) calls the film “realistic.”

After Sidener floated the idea to Lawrence Arts Center Director of Exhibitions Ben Ahlvers, he got Eric Mardis (from Split Lip Rayfield) on board. Kliph Scurlock (former Flaming Lips drummer) and Cameron Hawk (The Dead Girls) soon signed on, and keyboardist Michael Paull rounded out the core of the band. In order to replicate the different wild characters from “The Phantom of the Paradise,” though, it was obvious the show needed more talent — and theatricality.

Suddenly, the musical performance took on a concept of its own, which includes singer/actress Kitty Steffens playing the role of tortured Swan protégé Phoenix, John Cutler (Tenderloin, Parlay) as glam-rock prima donna Beef, and Drakkar Sauna’s Wallace Cochran singing “Somebody Super Like You” by “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”-inspired goth rockers The Undead.

Mardis has some experience paying tribute to rock theatricality, as he fronted a live concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” that played to big audiences in Kansas City, Lawrence and the Wakarusa Festival. This time out, he’s excited to adapt the music of Paul Williams, which ups the ante even from “Superstar” on the cheesiness scale.

“The mere fact that [‘Phantom of the Paradise’] exists at all is intriguing to me,” Mardis says. “It will be interesting because the movie is campy, funny, and very groan-worthy at times. So people can digest that with a few beers, then we will come out and hit the soundtrack hard and all 70s out. Sounds like a hoot to me. Plus, I have a strange fascination with Paul Williams, it turns out.”

“Phantom of the Paradise” screens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Lawrence Arts Center, with the live performance to follow directly after the movie.

My Old Lady

“My Old Lady,” now playing at Liberty Hall, has Kevin Kline playing a familiar kind of ugly American: the loudmouthed jerk who is blind to the magic of Paris.

He’s also blind to a bunch of obvious plot developments that the audience has figured out already, but the perfect casting of Maggie Smith as his foil would be enough to keep everybody pleasantly distracted for awhile, I suppose.

Smith is an Englishwoman living in the apartment Kline has inherited from his father, but because of some strange French real estate rules, he doesn’t get it until the old lady dies.

Kristin Scott-Thomas plays Smith’s angry live-in daughter and the trio make unlikely roommates, rehashing the past and fighting over the future. Anyone who thinks that sparks won’t eventually fly hasn’t seen very many of these adult-oriented rom-coms.

The device that gets things rolling is a little creaky and requires the actors to make some pretty big jumps. Luckily for playwright and first-time director Israel Horovitz (adapting his own play), they are all up to the task.

Kline is gruff on the outside as a defense mechanism, and the actor gives a typically strong performance, which increases in depth once his character’s full backstory is revealed. Smith is reliable as well, and when Scott-Thomas’ disagreeable Chloe blooms before our very eyes, it’s a welcome sight.

“My Old Lady” doesn’t break any new ground and sometimes feels too much like a play, but its actors help smooth over some of its more predictable patches with their estimable charm.

Running Time: 1:47. Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual references

Local movie alert

Locally produced film "The Sublime and the Beautiful" will open at Screenland Crown Center in Kansas City on Oct. 24. Evening screenings that Friday and Saturday will be followed by Q&As with producer Jon Niccum and actors Kip Niven and Laura Kirk.


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