by Joe Regan Jr.
Jeff Macauley first did his tribute to the lyrics of Normal Gimbel in 2012. I was never able to see it the many times he has performed it since then. Now, in celebration of his new CD, on May 12 he rreprised It Was Me: The Lyrics of Norman Gimbel at the Metropolitan Room. Besides the songs on the CD, the show featured a new song that Gimbel, still alive and living in Montecito, California, recently sent him. Macauley’s music director and arranger for both shows and CD was Tex Arnold with Jon Burr on bass.
The opening number, “Let Go,” Macauley explained, was a song that he first saw Mitzi Gaynor do—on a swing—in a stunning Bob Mackie outfit in one of her annual specials. Macauley is a great actor and his dramatic chops gave very familiar songs new shades of meaning. This certainly applied to one of Gimbel’s most familiar songs, “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” one of many he wrote with Charles Fox. Gimbel also wrote many theme songs for television, movies, and cartoons, and won an Academy Award and two Grammys in the process.
Macauley was hilarious in his description of Where’s Poppa, a strange movie (that features the police chasing a man in a gorilla suit) with a jazzy score (which starred Ron Liebman, George Segal and Ruth Gordon) for which he wrote the theme and title song.
Among the many bossa novas for which Gimbel wrote lyrics were songs by Tom Jobim, including “Meditation,” “So Nice (Summer Samba),” “Sway,” (which was a big hit for Dean Martin), and “Song of the Sabia.” All of these were enhanced by Arnold and Burr‘s musicianship.
Among the rarities performed were three songs from the Broadway musical The Conquering Hero which was written with Moose Charlap and starred Tom Poston.
Macauley sang two of Gimbel’s biggest hits: “The Boy From Ipanema” and “How Insensitive.” He sang “Boy” without changing the gender and, with Arnold’s riffs, kept the sexual content intact. “How Insensitive” was acted dramatically and was heart-breaking. It was one of the few times the lyrics made sense to me.
Next Macauley sang “It Goes As It Goes” from Norma Rae—for which Gimbel (with music by David Shire) won his Oscar in 1980— slowly and beautifully, giving full impact to the lyrics “bless the child of a working man.”
The two lyrics Gimbel wrote for the Michel Legrand/Jacques Demy French musical film, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “I Will Wait For You” and “Watch What Happens” were delicately sung and again created a great poignant impact.
There were two songs with music by Gilbert Becaud. “Too Good” and the penultimate number, “It Was Me,” the sad ballad about seeing the photograph of the singer looking at the childhood photo of his lost love.
The encore, sung as Macauley strolled the audience, was “Live For Life,” the great Francis Lai theme from the movie of the same name which starred Yves Montand and Candice Bergen.
The studio recording is available on CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon, http://www.cdbaby.com/ccd?jeffmacauley.