By Sandi Durell
Music runs through every inch of Walter Willison, a man filled with great soul-filled interpretations of songs that make his heart sing. It’s joyful, uplifting and pinpoints what great entertainment is about. Willison is an extraordinary Broadway performer – an entertainer’s entertainer. Luckily, it was Marilyn Maye who gave him the inspiration to finally do a solo show when she told him “if not now, when!”
I know Walter Willison as a director at the Ziegfeld Society, most recently attending a BIG birthday celebration (We’ll Take A Glass Together) featuring many of the singers who have been part of his life and career including Karen Akers, Liliane Montevecchi, Lee Horwin and others, along with knowing him as former Vice President of the Theatre World Awards. He’s had an auspicious career in theater and film and as a Tony nominee in “Two by Two” (music Richard Rodgers, lyrics Martin Charnin); Martin Charnin and show mate Joan Copeland in the audience.
Entering the Metropolitan Room, he greeted us with “Sweet Beginning” (Newley/Bricusse – Roar of the Greasepaint…1964) segueing into “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” (Fields/Coleman – Seesaw,1973) and continued with a passionate story, ‘You and I” (Bricusse – Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1969).
As expectations go in cabaret-land, many asked him ‘what’s your theme?’ to which Walter replied “Just what I love.” And what he loves turns out to be the “Music in My Heart” (Wright/Forrest – Music in My Heart, 1939) the evidence that brings forth the glorious rich vocal sounds that are so engaging. He’s a master interpreter of the many wonderful songs he chose to sing and he has all the behind-the-scenes backstories when it comes to “Two By Two” and its star Danny Kaye. Suffice it to say, Willison has to write a book! From that show he sang “Something, Somewhere” and “You Couldn’t Please Me More” (cut from the production), as Martin Charnin kvelled in his seat with daughter Sasha next to him.
From dreamy ballad to swinging changes, Willison did wonders with “Just In Time” (Comden/Green – Bells Are Ringing, 1956) as stories flowed about Garson Kanin (who wrote the book and directed Comden/Green’s Do Re Me, 1960) regarding first wife Ruth Gordon and second wife Marion Seldes, while the audience chuckled heartily, Walter singing “Make Someone Happy.”
As a storyteller, Willison rates high marks, especially charming when talking about the section of songs by Wright & Forrest folded into “A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream” that included “The Donkey Serenade” – a great throwback of tunes from the 1930s in a medley arranged by musical director Ian Herman.
The set was filled with songs that made our hearts sing, kept our feet tappin’ and focused on the man at the mic . . . the expressive, sophisticated au natural Walter Willison, so capable when it comes to channeling emotions in every lyric.
The trio was rounded out with Sam Lazzara on drums and Wilbur Bascomb on bass.
This show is a real winner that will have audiences clamoring to get a ticket.
Metropolitan Room – September 19, 2017
Photos: Steve Friedman