Uneven variety spec taped at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater Feb. 1 is a consciousness-raiser for spinal cord injuries, with proceeds to exec producer Christopher Reeve’s foundation benefiting various research and quality-of-life organizations.
Guests follow typical blend of those with a connection to the star and/or cause (as a child, Mary Chapin Carpenter lived across the street from Reeve; Gloria Estefan was temporarily paralyzed in an accident; John Lithgow worked with Reeve in regional theater; host Robin Williams and Reeve studied at Juilliard under John Houseman). Others are present mainly due to their willingness to perform for a good cause.
Event alternates performances with plethora of informational segments. Those tuning in for Meryl Streep, Phil Hartman, Ted Danson, Glenn Close, Christine Lahti and other billed actors will see them introducing filmed segs spotlighting success stories of people coping with spinal cord injuries. Only the musical guests and Williams actually perform, unless Hartman’s pointless assumption of vapid pretty-boy actor “Troy McClure” persona here constitutes a performance. McCartney’s pretaped song clocks in at something like 40 seconds.
What the show might have been is demonstrated by segments showing National Wheelchair Basketball Assn. teams in action (a brief clip, called by Chick Hearn); ballet sequence featuring dancer Mary Verdi-Fletcher in wheelchair (with two able-bodied male dancers) providing visual counterpoint to James Ingram’s rendition of R. Kelly hit “I Believe I Can Fly”; and comics Nancy Becker Kennedy and Chris Fonseca making light of their physical condition.
Most effective musical moments were rendition of “The Music That Makes Me Dance” by Reeves’ wife, Dana, who was performing the number the night they met; closing medley of “friendship”-related songs “That’s What Friends Are For,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” by all the singers save McCartney; and rousing “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by the Crenshaw High School Elite Choir. Numbers weren’t particularly pertinent to spinal injuries, but sincerity of the performances was almost worth the wait.