She Loves Him: Kate Baldwin, Live at Feinstein's [PS Classics PS-1101]
One of the highlights of last spring, in the delightful/delicious/delovely category, was Kate Baldwin's act at Feinstein's, She Loves Him. The "him" in question being lyricist Sheldon Harnick; he was not only sitting at a table at the back when she started, but inevitably climbed onstage for five of the fifteen numbers.
Baldwin is the soprano who warmed Broadway's cold heart when she played Sharon, the lass from Glocca Morra, in the 2009 revival of Finian's Rainbow. She was just as grandish at Feinstein's; imagine what Baldwin can do with "Will He Like Me?" or "When Did I Fall in Love?" and you'll get a good idea of how the evening went. You needn't imagine it; PS Classics has brought the act to CD.
The musical She Loves Me was well represented, and not surprisingly so; Baldwin did a production for director Nicholas Martin at the Huntington (in Boston) and Williamstown in 2008, and that's one that we would have liked to have seen. It's time for another New York revival of She Loves Me, isn't it? (It's always time for another revival of She Loves Me, sez I.)
Harnick's presence was an extra-special bonus. For almost 50 years, the three authors of Fiddler on the Roof — librettist Joe Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and Sheldon — have been very much part of the Broadway scene; the only intact team of writers from a classic musical of the Golden Age. Joe and Sheldon, especially, were very much in evidence. Each year, during the height of the season, they were likely to show up at two or three events per week. (Jerry, being sweet and shy, was rather less visible.)
|photo by Aubrey Reuben|
But Stein died on Oct. 24, 2010 at the age of 98, and Bock died 10 days later, on Nov. 3, at the age of 81. This was jarring to all of us who were accustomed to having the authors of Fiddler around, sure; but it must have been positively numbing to the 86-year-old Sheldon. So it was poignant when the lyricist walked up to join Ms. Baldwin on March 8 at Feinstein's; I don't suppose he was any less hearty than he had been when last seen, but he seemed suddenly vulnerable.
And totally lovely. Harnick joined Baldwin for "To Life," replacing the lyrics about Tzeitel and her husband with some non-specific couplets he had long ago filed away and forgotten. He followed this with that regular showpiece of his, "If I Were a Rich Man." He then told us about "Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine" from Fiddler. This had been everybody's favorite during rehearsals; once they got onstage in Detroit, though, the song died night after night until it was cut. But the songwriters forever loved the song, and after you hear Sheldon and Kate sing it on this new CD I suppose you will too.
At this point, Harnick moved to a stool upstage, behind bass player John Beal, while Baldwin continued her act. As she sang "I Couldn't Be with Anyone But You" — a sweetly tender song written with composer Joe Raposo for the 1986 musicalization of "It's a Wonderful Life" — I found myself riveted to Sheldon. He was leaning back against the wall, eyes closed; but he seemed to be transported by the music, which seemed to almost lift him out of his chair. I've known Sheldon for years, but that's an image of him that I will always keep: eyes shut, midway between a trance and a dream, lifted on a cloud of song (his own).
As if this weren't enough, the 30-something singer and the 80-something lyricist finished with "In My Own Lifetime," which somehow seemed even more affecting coming from them than it did when Mayer Rothschild — or, rather, Hal Linden — sang it in 1970.
Liz Callaway & Ann Hampton Callaway; Boom! Live at Birdland [PS Classics PS-1199]
PS Classics brings us another tuneful CD suitable for repeat playing, this coming not from Feinstein's in March but Birdland in May. Those Callaway sisters, Liz and Ann Hampton, came in with a nostalgic act; given the acknowledged singing talents of the Callaways, alone or together, it is not exactly surprising that the resulting CD is so good.
Boom!, they call it. This is a salute to what the girls consider the soundtrack of their childhood, all those songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Joni Mitchell, Carole King, The Beatles, Jimmy Webb and more. Fifteen numbers (including some multi-song medleys), interwoven with sisterly banter.
These are the songs of my childhood, too; but they are the songs I endeavored to avoid as much as possible. So Boom! is not exactly a nostalgic whirl for me. The Callaways do so well, though, that many of these songs manage to sound most welcome — even to me. So let's call this an enthusiastic approval, with a disclaimer for folks who spent the 1960s listening not to Paul & John and Joni and Dylan, but to Steve, Jerry & Sheldon, and John & Fred.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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