They Write the Songs A tribute to Jerry Leiber and
CHRIS WILLMAN. The Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1991
No songwriters were better equipped to preside over the uneasy transition from the Tin Pan Alley tradition to the rock era than the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose wide range of material was equally the stuff of Edith Piaf and Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and James Brown, Peggy Lee and Jerry Lee Lewis.
It was appropriate, then, that the honors afforded Leiber and Stoller would be the climax of five tributes offered during the sixth annual "Singers' Salute to the Songwriter" held Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion-ending the evening on a note of controlled rock 'n' roll chaos after three hours of impressively professional, impeccably rehearsed homages to less raucous veteran show-biz tunesmiths Cole Porter, Jerry Herman and Matt Dennis and arranger Marty Paich.
Providing the symbolic capper: Little Richard, doing a very loose version of Leiber and Stoller's classic "Jailhouse Rock."
There was something more than a little ironic about a parade of Broadway and film musical veterans flawlessly crooning the intricate, pithy wordplay of Porter or the shrewdly manipulative, craftily heart-wrenching theatrical ballads of Herman-followed by Little Richard muffing the basic words to "Jailhouse," even as a stagehand in the wings held up cue cards (dutifully ignored by the rocker) emblazoned with the lyrics, one of which read simply: LET'S ROCK! LET'S ROCK!
The salute succeeded and failed to varying degrees in drawing the significant connection backward between "let's rock" and "Let's Do It," the saucy Porter standard that Beverly D'Angelo did a fine, robust job of interpreting earlier in the evening.
The opening salute to Porter provided the greatest nonstop entertainment of the lengthy show.
Sam Harris provided all the hammy, brassy exuberance you could ask for on "Blow Gabriel Blow"; Beatrice Arthur brought her flair for musical comedy to "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love"; Bob Hope provided the "Tin Pan-tithesis of melody" dueting quite efficiently with host Rosemary Clooney on "It's De-Lovely."
The Herman tribute was highlighted by a surprise appearance from ever-blustery Carol Channing, turning his "Hello, Dolly!" into (of course) "Hello, Jerry!" and more significantly by Leslie Uggams' bravura ballad "If He Walked Into My Life," easily the show's musical high point.
The Matt Dennis salute opened the show's second half, with Ray Charles over-tentative but welcomely bluesy on "Let's Get Away From It All" and "Everything Happens to Me," which Al Jarreau more confidently followed up with the scat-ready standard "Angel Eyes."
Quincy Jones introduced "New York homies" Leiber and Stoller, whose trend-setting nihilism anthem "Is That All There Is?" was given an altogether spooky treatment by Peggy Lee herself-followed by nice turns from Jarreau, Ruth Brown, Billy Vera, Debbie Gibson, LaVern Baker and country crooner Mike Reid.
Peter Matz and John Oddo's lush orchestrations came close to the playful pop spirit in which Leiber and Stoller's songs were originally recorded, yet the show lacked a performer-Little Richard notwithstanding-who could truly make the numbers rock, who could make the duo seem relevant, in the way that Porter clearly remains, instead of merely revivable.
The tightly paced show was held to benefit the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons with Brain Injury, which will reap proceeds from the estimated $500,000 gross.
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