- CHARITY BENEFIT
Written by: Jerry Osterbergg
There’s nothing like a concert of American popular music to liven up an early summer afternoon or evening! Thanks to the extraordinary talents of Bob Spiotto, Executive Director, Hofstra Entertainment Presents has been enthralling audiences for more than two decades. Spiotto kicked off the 2012 summer season in June with Hollywood Live! Delivering everything it promised and more, it was clearly up to the high standards of this long running series.
The all-star cast, all of whom have impressive credentials including Broadway, were absolutely stunning! They were Rachel Bay Jones (Hair), Gary Mauer (Phantom of the Opera, Christina Bianco (Raffi, Newsical, The Musical ), and Musical Director Barry Levitt, a composer, conductor and producer (Swinging on a Star) who’s played for Ben Vereen, Bernadette Peters, and Faith Prince among many others. Levitt is also the former Artistic Director of the 92nd Street Y’s world-renowned Lyrics & Lyricists series.
Sandi Durell and Shari Upbin, who have been working together for ten years (ShaRell Productions), produce Hollywood Live! They have a great deal of experience in theatre and cabaret, Durell as a reviewer/producer (the annual Songwriter Series for the New York Sheet Music Society, Broadway Live! Our Heart Sings, a special fund raising recording featuring such talents as Kristin Chenoweth, and other artists from the world of Broadway, producer on the Emmy Award winning documentary Broadway: The Golden Age) and Upbin as a producer/director (Bojangles, Danny & Slyvia, Jacques Brel).
So, with the team of Jones, Mauer & Bianco as our guide, we were off on a non-stop magical musical tour of Hollywood. Among the songwriters represented were Harold Arlen (“Over the Rainbow,” “The Man That Got Away”), Irving Berlin (“Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Top Hat”), Ralph Blane (“The Trolley Song”), Johnny Burke (“Swinging on a Star”), George and Ira Gershwin (“Strike Up the Band,” “Let Yourself Go”), Jerome Kern (“I Won’t Dance”), Johnny Mercer ( “Personality”), Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein (“Hello Young Lovers,” “It Might As Well Be Spring”) and Richard Whiting (“Hooray for Hollywood.”)
As a show devoted to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood and the films and tunes that made it sparkle, there was absolutely nothing to disappoint. Every song had been introduced in movie musical, some going to Broadway, and became a standard. Among the many highlights were the segments connected to specific themes and stars – a medley of memories associated with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (Going My Way, The Road to Morocco); Allan Jones, Rossano Brazzi, Dick Haymes and Deborah Kerr (The Boys from Syracuse, South Pacific, State Fair, The King and I); and Judy Garland (Easter Parade, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz).
Touching moments included Mauer’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” Rachel Bay Jones’ “The Man That Got Away,” and the entire cast in “Over the Rainbow.” Although humor and backstage gossip were scattered throughout the show, one of the funniest performances was Christina Bianco’s Divas of Film, in which she portrayed a number of famous singers – Judy Garland, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand and more, emoting their unique styles and attitudes. With her background in Forbidden Broadway, it’s no surprise that Bianco nailed her subjects with apparent ease, portraying Streisand as a bit over the top and self-indulgent.
There are two additional productions following Hollywood Live! in July and August so the curtain hasn’t come down yet. Til’ the End of Time (the music of Perry Como) and You May be Right (the music of Billy Joel) will complete the 2011- 2012 season and then Bob will be off to new challenges as Executive Director of Entertainment at a brand new theatre.
[Jerry writes for Cabaret Scenes Magazine and The New York Sheet Music Society and is currently at work on a biography about the late American pop singer Jo Stafford.]