San Francisco Cabaret Review: TRIBUTE TO MARVIN HAMLISCH (Bay Area Cabaret at the Venetian Room)

by Stacy Trevenon on June 7, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

MARVIN HAMLISCH GETS A WARM-HEARTED, STAR-FILLED MUSICAL TRIBUTE

You had the feeling you were watching the cream of musical theater history come fully, wholeheartedly alive on the evening of June 2 in the Venetian Room. That’s when its elegant intimacy enfolded an affectionate tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch on what would have been the legendary composer’s 69th birthday.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema San Francisco review of Bay Area Cabaret's "Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch"A wonderful sampling of his songs that defined his shows through the years came to life through a sparkling roster of singers, including established stars Grammy Award-winning pianist Billy Stritch, Broadway’s Lisa Vroman (Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd), and fellow Broadway alumna Karen Mason (Mamma Mia!, Sunset Boulevard); Hamlisch’s colleagues and Academy Award-winning songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman; 2012 Bay Area Teen Idol Bobby Conte Thornton; and up-and-comer musical theater students Danielle Bowen, Julia Cassandra Smith and Hannah Sears. This dazzling lineup put their all into rendering the evening unforgettable but, in keeping with Hamlisch himself, kept it close to home with personal touches, reminiscences and very human stories. I felt like the whole evening gave me a very personal as well as personable glimpse of Hamlisch, the man with an extraordinary gift of seeing into the human heart and the human condition and capturing it all neatly in song.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema San Francisco review of Bay Area Cabaret's "Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch"Following a warm welcome by Bay Area Cabaret Executive Producer Marilyn Levinson, Stritch kicked off the evening with a lusty rendition of “The Entertainer” against a photo show of Hamlisch and his musical milestones. Thornton followed with “I Can Do That” in an electrifying baritone. Mason lustily performed “Nothing” from A Chorus Line, which she called “a story of my heart” and which brought us all into the heart of an aspiring star while showing what is really important. Also electrifying was the chemistry between Stritch and Vroman in their very sweet duet of “When You’re In My Arms.”

Thornton took the stage with “At the Fountain,” in which he did double duty by paying emotional tribute not only to Hamlisch but also to his own vocal teacher, the late Richard Nickol – a juxtaposition that fit well into the evening. Mason with “Through the Eyes of Love” and Vroman with “That’s How I Say Goodbye” rounded out the first act with a fireworks-like shower of applause.

After intermission when attendees perused silent auction items and I overheard enthusiastic remarks about how much everyone was enjoying it,  Stritch and Mason brought the show to what seemed to me to be even deeper levels of bringing viewers closer to Hamlisch with jazzy touches in “They’re Playing Our Song” and drawing them into “If He Really Knew Me” from They’re Playing Our Song, a musical based on the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager Sears. Smith Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema San Francisco review of Bay Area Cabaret's "Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch"and Bowen took over for a richly harmonized “At the Ballet,” making the song flow like a pas de trois on pointe. During “Ordinary Miracles” which showcased Vroman’s vocal range, the thought flashed through my mind that you really could feel the audience reciprocating the obvious love the singers had for this material.

The Bergmans held the audience mesmerized, as first Marilyn offered heartfelt “Reminiscences” including going back to when the songwriters met, how working together creatively was “like playing in a big sandbox,” and how Hamlisch could have been many things in life – such as a standup comic or an ambassador or second baseman with the Yankees – but “his mother made him practice.” Then Alan gently crooned to a rapt audience “The Way We Were,” which the Bergmans collaborated on with Hamlisch. That sizzling, heartfelt energy only built as all the performers gathered on the stage for “What I Did for Love” and the rollicking “One.”

Marquee lights of 40 Broadway theaters were dimmed in honor of the composer who had in his life racked up every major performance award: Three Oscars (all won on one night), four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema San Francisco review of Bay Area Cabaret's "Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch"Globes, and the Pulitzer he garnered for music of A Chorus Line. It fell into what must have been Hamlisch-like human perspective with loving birthday wishes written by Terry Blair (Mrs. Marvin Hamlisch) in the program.

For me, being privy to such a show with such stellar entertainers (the Bergmans have been adding their work to the Great American Songbook for more than a half-century) was humbling to an extent that would have been overwhelming were it not for the sheer enjoyment of the music, the palpable sense of the down-to-earth humanness as the focus of the tribute, and the delight in getting a glimpse into the development of such a musical and songwriting genius. Thank you Marvin, Marilyn and Alan.

Tribute To Marvin Hamlisch
Bay Area Cabaret
Venetian Room at the Fairmont
played June 2, 2013
for future events, visit http://www.bayareacabaret.org/

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