And the Winner Is! (Review: Konk Life)

And the Winner Is! (Review: Konk Life)

Posted Wed, Nov 27, 2013 in Reviews

By Harry Schroeder

The Waterfront Playhouse opened its season Friday and Saturday night with a concert presenting songs which had earned Academy Awards: 13 of the Keys’ most accomplished singers presenting a total of 26 numbers. The concert, under Danny Weathers’ direction, was nicely designed: moods shifted again and again, solos were followed by groups, even costuming, always brilliant, presented a changing visual effect. And it is a tribute to the professionalism of this crowd that there was hardly a weak spot in the bill.

There’s a particular mood which infuses concerts like this one, where the performers and audience are known to each other. The relationship works both ways: the performer knows from the outset that there’s a reservoir of appreciation already out there, which enhances his performance, while the audience’s response is all the stronger, and the applause all the more enthusiastic, because they are clapping for a friend. That quality, as in this case, raises an already fine evening to the level of the memorable. It’s also one of the better reasons for living here.

One of the triumphs of the concert was how often it transcended its sources. Hollywood’s taste is not always of the best — it often can’t resist the temptation to descend into soap opera sentimentality — and noone could put together a concert with this theme without including a few dogs. It is a measure of the intelligence which went into this show that all of those were arranged, directed, and sung in ways which made them musically interesting. Thus, for example, the accomplished singing of Bobby Nesbitt’s intricate trio arrangement of “Three Coins in the Fountain” overcame the tune’s schmaltzy quality; thus Marjorie Paul-Shook’s unaffected sincerity saved “Que Sera, Sera.”

There were revelations. I did know that Carmen Rodriguez can sing with intensity, as she did in “The Way We Were” — I didn’t know she could sing cute, with a country accent, as “Buttons and Bows” absolutely requires. I did know Danny Weathers can sing with poignant intimacy, as in his medley of “When You Wish Upon A Star” with “Secret Love” — I didn’t know Vicki Roush could sing tenderly, as in the early sections of “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

There were high points: Chris Peterson gorgeous in a shimmering silver gown. Laurie Breakwell, always a pleasure to hear, playing the vamp, reversing the usual roles in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Gordon Ross on “The Windmills of Your Mind.” J.B. McClendon’s version of the theme from “Arthur (The Best that You Can Do)” was rhythmically the strongest tune of the evening — it just flowed irresistibly along from beginning to end. It even included a trombone solo.

Gayla Morgan’s singing of “It Might As Well Be Spring” was for me another high point, with every note sung right and without effort, and an easy but solid swing to the rhythm. A special revelation was her two arrangements. One, in five parts, was on Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” with interesting harmonic voicings, done daringly a cappella in the faith that five singers could stay in tune on a contrapuntally difficult chart — which they did. The other chart was quite astonishing: a duet on “You’ll Never Know” and “The Days of Wine and Roses,” with Gayla and David Black, each song sung once by itself and then, believe it or not, the two of them sung together, rather as in a chef ’s successful blend of two entirely dissimilar ingredients. I’m not sure it worked in all its details — I think I heard David sliding one note which didn’t quite fit — but most of it was fine, and it testified to a brilliantly inventive musical imagination. More, please.

One can’t say enough in approbation of Charles Lindberg’s playing. Piano accompaniment—”comping,” in the trade—is a special skill, and the great ones—Tommy Flanagan with Ella Fitzgerald for eleven years, Ralph Sharon with Tony Bennett for twenty-five—turn it into a high art. It requires a first class musical intelligence, in the moment-by-moment choice of what to play to provide the greatest support. It requires a wide range of piano technique, but technique held firmly in control; the accompanist has to throttle any desire to call attention to himself. It requires quick musical reflexes, in the readiness to adjust immediately and accurately to any unplanned changes a singer might make (and they do make them). Listening to Mr. Lindberg, one heard all that. In addition to the general excellence of his support, which owed much also to the playing of bassist Joe Dallas and Skipper Kripitz, there was his attention to the fine points. He was always listening, always making slight adjustments as needed, staying right with the singer on rubato passages and coming in precisely at the end of every pause. He also wrote some musically interesting arrangements.

The very highest point of the concert, for me, was Joy Hawkins’ appearance. Every now and again—much, much too seldom—she steps down from the director’s chair to sing something which stays with you for years. She did that nearly five years ago in a Pops concert, with “Tell Me On a Sunday;” she did it that evening with “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae. The song is a good one, with real emotional depth to it, especially in the lyric, and Joy’s singing got right to that, with its mixture of sadness, and pain, and acceptance. If the rest of the concert hadn’t been that good, this one number would have made the evening.

After the show on Friday night there was a party in the yard outside the theater. The provisions were a veritable feast of finger food, catered by Small Chef At Large, who have found some very interesting things to do with mussels, and Brie, and profiteroles, and salmon balls on lollipop sticks. Luckily the rain, which had been heavy before the show and during the intermission, let up in time, which saved the party.


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