Review: ‘Singers’ Salute to the Songwriter’

Seventh annual fundraiser for Betty Clooney Foundation was typical of the series: high on star power and good intentions, a marvel of efficient staging and unquestionably entertaining, offset by an almost defiant refusal to credit anybody involved in the songs or presentation other than the honorees.

Seventh annual fundraiser for Betty Clooney Foundation was typical of the series: high on star power and good intentions, a marvel of efficient staging and unquestionably entertaining, offset by an almost defiant refusal to credit anybody involved in the songs or presentation other than the honorees.

Living songwriters feted this edition–all of them on hand–were Motown vet Lamont Dozier and team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and, in the “arrangers” category, Billy Byers.

Bob and Dolores Hope received the Wind Beneath Our Wings award in recognition of duo’s previous assistance in Clooney Foundation fundraising, and Johnny Mercer was given a posthumous American Legend award.

Major gaffe of the evening may have been recognition of Dozier without host Nick Clooney or Dozier himself making a single mention of brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, with whom the honoree wrote virtually all of the Motown standards performed during his segment.

In deviations from format, Alan Bergman sang one of his own early songs, “South of the Mason Dixon Line,” a collaboration with Buddy Bregman in tribute to Bergman’s mentor, Mercer; and Henry Mancini conducted an instrumental version of his “Charade,” for which Mercer had written the here-unheard lyrics.

Another oddity in the Mercer segment found Dianne Reeves singing the verse of “Autumn Leaves” in the original French by Jacques Prevert; Mercer had written the English lyrics.

Among the many highlights of the Mercer section were Bernadette Peters’ witty reading of “The Glow-Worm” (to music by the uncredited Paul Lincke), Reeves’ stunning “Autumn Leaves” and a medley by Joel Grey of “I’m Old-Fashioned” (Mercer with the uncredited Jerome Kern) and “Something’s Gotta Give” (Mercer solo) that were as much tributes to Fred Astaire–who had introduced both songs–as to the songwriters.

Another high point was Bea Arthur’s world-weary rendition of “When the World Was Young (Aah, the Apple Trees),” Mercer’s lyrics to a melody by uncredited French composer M. Philippe-Gerard (original lyrics, also unattributed, by Angela Vannier).

Barry Manilow sang his own melodies to Mercer’s lyrics “Just Remember” and “Can’t Teach My Old Heart New Tricks,” and Rosemary Clooney sang the Mercer-Manilow “When October Goes.”

Above two were among the very few to credit individual accompanists or conductors: Nick Perito helmed for Arthur, and Tommy Morgan sat in on harmonica during Manilow’s set.

Most touching moment of the evening may have been emotion-packed appearance of Mercer’s widow, Ginger, at end of tribute to her husband.

The Holland-Dozier-Holland compositions included the Pentacostal Community Choir’s gospel version of “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You),” Freda Payne’s rendition of her hit single “Band of Gold,” Michael McDonald’s surprisingly effective ballad reading of “You Can’t Hurry Love” and the Four Tops’ medley of “Baby, I Need Your Loving,””Standing in the Shadows of Love,””Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself.”

A reunion of Supremes alumnae Scherrie Payne, Jean Terrell and Lynda Lawrence resulted in far-from-overrehearsed versions of H-D-H-‘s “Stop! In the Name of Love,””Reflections,””My World Is Empty Without You” and “Baby Love.”

Dozier may have failed to acknowledge his former collaborators, but in a nice touch he did fondly recall having listened to the Clooney Sisters on the radio while he was growing up in Detroit.

Livingston and Evans segment included Cleo Laine and John Dankworth’s jazzy rendition of “Buttons and Bows,” Stephen Bishop’s tender “Mona Lisa,” Tony Martin’s “To Each His Own” and Bob and Dolores Hope’s “Silver Bells.”

Arranger segment is always the most puzzling inclusion, if only because there’s no sign that those who put the show together understand what an arranger does or care to share such information with the audience.

Byers’ charts for “Les Fils de …,” by (the uncredited) Jacques Brel and Gerard Jouannest, was sung in French by Mariette Hartley; Donna McKechnie sang and danced “Music and the Mirror,” which Byers orchestrated for Broadway’s “A Chorus Line,” by (the uncredited) Edward Kieban and Marvin Hamlish; and the orchestra played Byers’ chart for the old Charlie Barnet flagwaver, “Battery Charger.”

Failure to credit songwriters may well have led audience to believe that Byers was involved in writing the first two tunes, which he was not; it might also have been nice to explain whom the “Les Fils de …” chart had been commissioned for in the first place.

Other singers, performing one or, infrequently, two of writers’ works, included Debby Boone, Linda Hopkins, John Pizzarelli, Steve Tyrell and Margaret Whiting and Joe Williams.

Nick Clooney, former L.A. TV news anchor and brother to Rosemary and the late Betty, hosted smoothly, though it occasionally seemed that he had only the vaguest idea of what he was talking about.

Singers' Salute to the Songwriter

(Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 3,197 seats; $ 300 top)

Production

Promoted by Allen Sviridoff Production Central. Orchestra conducted by Peter Matz, John Oddo, others. Reviewed April 28, 1992.
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