Legacy: Elaine Stritch Everybody Rise!

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch 1925 ~ 2014


How do you mourn a legend who’s lived more than you and me combined? At the ripe old age of 89, the great Elaine Stritch has taken her final bows. To see her in a show was to expect the expected AND unexpected, and to bear witness Broadway royalty non pareil. I’m thrilled, delighted, and now nostalgic that I was able to be a mortal spectator over the years – in the astounding “Eliane Stritch At Liberty,” over a dozen years ago, and more recently as Angela Lansbury’s replacement in the revival of “A Little Night Music.” And, I can still, forevermore, as Colleen Donaghy on “30 Rock,” my already worn out copy of the making of the Original Cast Recording of “Company,” and countless YouTube treasures.

Rest in peace and respect, Elaine. And everybody rise…rise…RISE!


Recording her legendary “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s “Company”:


On The Rosie O’Donnell Show from the 1990s:


“I’m Still Here” at the White House:



The full “At Liberty”:


 

Music Box: Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow

 

The Late, Great Phoebe Snow

The Late, Great Phoebe Snow


 The idea was noble, the benefit, beyond worthwhile, the execution a little cheesy in hindsight, but back in 1995, Lincoln Center staged a concert reading of “The Wizard Of Oz In Concert: Dreams Come True” to benefit the CDF (Children’s Defense Fund), the child advocacy group whose motto of No Child Left Behind defined their great cause.

The cast included Jewel (as Dorothy), Debra Winger (The Wicked Witch of the West), Natalie Cole (Glinda The Good Witch), Nathan Lane (the Cowardly Lion), Jackson Browne (the Scarecrow), Roger Daltrey (the Tin Man), and Joel Grey as the Wizard (he also narrated, played various other parts).

Rather than an absolute faithful concert, the songs were altered – stylistically – to better suit each singer’s voice, rather than role (e.g. a Rock N Roll-ish “If I Only Had A Heart” – a la Daltrey’s classic rock front man persona).

But the single moment I fell in love with from the whole affair was the addition of the late, great Phoebe Snow. Acting as a muse, of sorts, she performed a medley of “If I Only Had a Brain; a Heart; the Nerve” – as a reprise, alone with only piano accompaniment (with lyrics in hand), and it’s the most glorious 3 minutes of the production. Her voice simultaneously bluesy, bittersweet, nostalgic and haunting, she soars while staying grounded.

The concert was never released on DVD – I transferred the Phoebe Snow medley from an old VHS recording, and converted it digitally (so excuse the shoddy quality) because as a lifelong Snow fan, I feel it deserves to be seen. And what better day than on the date she would have celebrated her 64th birthday?

So, Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow. Your voice…your brain, your heart and your nerve…are still – and will forever be – missed.


Music Box: Sheryl Crow & Stevie Nicks Live 2002

Sheryl & Stevie

Sheryl & Stevie

On March 6th, 2002, Sheryl Crow filmed a concert for TV benefiting Breast Cancer Awareness (it aired later that year). She invited the Queen of Rock N Roll (Stevie Nicks, of course!) to perform with her on a few songs.

Strong Enough
Sorcerer
Come On, Come On
The Difficult Kind
Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers cover)

At the end of “Midnight Rider,” you can see Stevie mouthing to Sheryl, “I think we should do…” suggesting that she wasn’t happy with the performance. So, they re-recorded “The Difficult Kind” and “Midnight Rider” (Stevie missed a cue during one chorus on this second try and looked adorable when she realized it), and then part of “The Difficult Kind” for a third time (they missed a verse – and needed to re-record it).

These are rare performances – so enjoy!


Strong Enough/Sorcerer


Come On, Come On


The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rider Take 1


The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rambler Take 2 / Difficult Kind Take 3

Music Box: Idina Menzel Live At Radio City Music Hall

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 8.19.29 PM


Idina Menzel lives in a musical kingdom where she rules as the Queen and her uber-fans are of many facets – her disciples, her defenders, her watchdogs, her court jesters, and her steadfastly dedicated army. Dare, if you will, to publicly state that the Emperor has no clothes, and you will be harangued, and scolded, and her votary will wish you banished to the tar pits of another land.

Yeah, they’re nutty like that.

I’ve often taken to Twitter and FB to complain (ok, mock, really) Menzel’s status as a theater (and gay) icon. Loathing the bloated, yet seemingly beloved, Wickedit’s always been a curiosity that so many have elevated her to the status that she thrives in (more recent examples include her “screeching” at the Oscars and her “Live: Barefoot At The Symphony” PBS special and album). But I live with someone who adores her, so, as a good boyfriend/partner/whatever – and thanks to my work connections – I was able to finagle two free tickets to her sold out Radio City Music Hall one-night only event. (As an example of that snark, here’s what I posted once the tix were secured: I was just comped 2 free tix to Idina Menzel’s Radio City Music Hall concert on June 16th. Lucky me. I get to endure 2 hours of shrieking. All for Rob. What a man suffers through for love. #‎HeyItsFree #‎IHaveAHeadacheAlready.Yeah, I know – no boundaries.)

Now, to be fair, and completely honest, I’ve always liked Menzel as an actress and a personality, where, whenever interviewed, she was lovely, earthly, un-manufactured, if you will, despite her vocal “styling” seldom pleasing my ears. (Of course I never meant the literal definition of “screech” or “shriek” in my description. It was always colloquially.) Her high belts were, and remain powerful, yet always thin – often bordering on shrill, rarely full, or robust. Every power note hit often results in a tinny tone, resulting in her wavering off-course, missing the landing. Her propensity to slur many of her words together leaves some lyrics indecipherable. When she hits her highs in head register, it always bamboozled me at the almost biblical reaction of the audience. (Although, I’ve always admitted that her tone was gorgeous when she sang in chest register.) Though such gut reaction is a personal emotion and cannot be negated by snark (especially mine), like the aforesaid emperor, I’ve sat in abstract awe at the rapturous response, always wanting to bellow, “She’s naked!!!!!”

In the three times I saw her in Wicked (don’t ask) her act-1 show-stopper, “Defying Gravity,” was bombastic (not her fault), anticlimactic (sorta her fault) and strident (yeah, her fault). Sure, she could’ve had an off-night, but three? I admired her in Rent a few years prior to Wicked (though admired no one from the disastrous filmed version), she was fine in (Andrew Lippa’s version of) the otherwise meandering The Wild Party, and liked her arc in Glee. (Forget about the insults hurled my way when I audaciously, apparently, declared that Lea Michele out sang Menzel on the latter, though Menzel’s performances were always stellar.)

So, night of the concert, I hurried Rob (he didn’t like Wicked either, but he became enamored with Menzel from Glee), packed my earplugs and Advil and hoped for the best.

And while I didn’t get ‘the best,’ I was surprised as anyone that I was besotted and instantly smitten – faults and all – during her Radio City debut. I can’t explain it, really. But after a rough start (that damned “Gravity” song opened the show and was problematic), with every successive word spoken, story strung and song sung, she was kinda sorta magical. As seemingly unrehearsed (she does, after all, perform 8 shows a week in the dreadful If/Then and, I suspect, didn’t get much rehearsal time for this show), scattered, unusual, inconsistent as it all was, to my ears and eyes, this eternalized the charm.

Perhaps I was expecting a banshee jamboree – a nightmare filled with the sounds of dinnerware clattering on the classic Radio City stage, mired in yelps and scowls. Instead I witnessed a woman who was charming, sweet, hilarious (having losing a week earlier to foregone conclusion Jessie Mueller, she gave a fantasy Tony Award acceptance speech, which was lovingly heartfelt and very funny) and totally aware of her fallibility. She cursed at whim, despite the audience scattered with children (thanks to the treacly muck that is “Frozen” – hey, she didn’t ask to be a role model for children – and that damned Oscar winning song), performed a hooker mash-up (“Love For Sale” and “Roxanne”), kept all the “fucking special“‘s in Radiohead’s “Creep,” and, during one of her costume changes where her right breast was partially exposed, before an audience member let her know, said, “Fuck it, they’re real.” Oh, yeah…and she sang her guts out. Sure, bum notes were in profusion but I come to realize that’s part of her métier. And she doesn’t give a shit, and that’s refreshing in a genre stifled with constraint.

Midway through the show, Menzel quoted a recent review, which lambasted her “screechy” tendencies (and for a brief moment, I imagined that she was calling me out – yeah, I know, me. A miniscule, nonexistent blip in the blogosphere. I got over myself swiftly). That this was a preamble to a misguided Ethel Merman tribute almost proved that particular reviewer correct (Menzel is the polar opposite of Merman).

Personal highlights include 2 Menzel concert staples; a haunting, emotive reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which brought Rob to tears, and a song that always brings me to emotional overload, “No Day But Today,” from Rent. Through these performances – as well as “Creep,” and a U2 cover (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) – Menzel was adamant to break away from that misbegotten role as the Tween Queen thanks to Wicked and Frozen.

If her one night at Radio City proved anything, it’s that she might have finally broken free from such shackles. Despite how many ghastly covers of “Let It Go” the world will be saddled with eternally thanks to YouTube.

Sigh. Let it go, Jeffrey. Let it go.


Wardrobe malfunction:

Both Sides Now:

No Day But Today:

Her faux-Tony Award Winning speech:

Creep:

Take Me Or Leave Me:

Legacy: Casey Kasem

Radio Legend, Casey Kasem

Radio Legend, Casey Kasem


More than 500 Sunday mornings of my pre-to-teen years were spent with my ears glued to the radio from 8am-12pm listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. It was a weekly ritual; while my mother and sisters were downstairs in the kitchen starting Sunday’s afternoon dinner (the scent of sausages frying in the pan wafted throughout our home) and my brothers played outside in the backyard, I was in my room, bed on the floor, pen in hand, jotting down that week’s Billboard hits in my notebook as narrated by Kasem – in between the myriad of artist facts, chart trivia and of course, Casey’s Long Distance Dedications.

As my teen years progressed, this tradition waned – friendships, love, passion, sex, girlfriends, boyfriends, reality, high school, life all snuck up on me – but I’ve always harbored these memories in the storehouse of my mind as idyllic relics of my youth. So, for the thousands of hours of happiness you’ve given me, I hope you are resting in peace, Case6y Kasem. And thank you for telling a million kids to “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars…”

Read Kasem’s obit here.

 

Legacy: Jimmy Scott, The Voice of an Angel 1925 – 2014

The Late, Great Jimmy Scott

The Late, Great Jimmy Scott


“The Voice Of An Angel” has become such an insipid cliche that it surpasses pure ludicrousness. But, if heaven actually existed (yeah, yeah, I know), and if there were such entities as angels, and if those angels were actually able to bluss us in song, I always hoped that they would sound like Jimmy Scott.

Now they might. And I just might believe.

Rest in peace, Jimmy.

Photo courtesy Howard Baden.

Read Scott’s obit here.


Legacy: Phil Everly – Bye Bye, Love

EverleyBrothers

Their perfect harmony nonpareil, their catalog too mammoth to fully convey, Don and Phil Everly – The Everly Brothers – created some of the most gorgeous and ubiquitous recordings in the annals of Rock N Roll. I mean, Bye Bye Love, All I Have To Do Is Dream, When Will I Be Loved, Cathy’s Clown, Wake Up Little Susie, Let It Be Me and on and on and on.

Phil Everly (Photo courtesy the WSJ)

Phil Everly (Photo courtesy the WSJ)

Sadly Phil crossed over to Rock N Roll Heaven. Earlier today, Everly died of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, at 74.

Rest in peace, Phil. And thank you for the music.

And their 1984 “comeback,” written by Paul McCartney: