JOHN GABRIEL AND CHARLES GRODIN PROVE THAT TALENT AND VITALITY NOT ONLY PERSIST BUT SPARKLE AT ALMOST 80 AND BEYOND
By Myra Chanin
John Gabriel and Charles Grodin have been very close friends for over 50 years so you know that they are not what most people would call youngsters, but they certainly fooled a rapt audience at the Metropolitan Room last night with a show that included the many of the best songs written during the decades of their friendship and by their ever present ability to still connect with and inspire an audience.
Actually, Charles Grodin didn’t do much during the show except assure everyone that he wasn’t Charles Grodin. “Charles Grodin is a young guy. I have grey hair.” But he was a winning prequel. As the audience arrived, Grodin perched on a stool in the lobby, allowed fans, including me, to pay our respects. Grodin’s an interesting guy who’s had a very varied career as an actor, an author, a comedian, a disgruntled talk show guest and host, a playwright, a political commentator and (whew!) a stay-at-home father. He was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe for his performance in The Heartbreak Kid and shared a Primetime Emmy for his writing on The Paul Simon Story.
His most recent gig? Last year Grodin became a regular on the FX network comedy-drama, Louie, and will be returning this season as Dr. Bigalow, a meshuganer MD who accepts Louie as a patient, despite being more interested in treating exotic blood diseases than Louie’s agonizing back pain. Bigalow’s advice? For Louie to walk on all fours like animals do because the human spine is still 20,000 years away from being operative in an upright position. Grodin also reminded me that playing Dr. B. was not his only medical gig. His training included being cast as the rejected, responsible obstetrician who never got to deliver Rosemary’s Baby.
John Gabriel, who is a few years older than his pal Charlie, is not only slim, handsome and personable, he wears clothes as if they were custom sewn for him that very morning, he has an irresistible sense of humor, he excels at selecting exemplary samples from the Great American Songbook which are perfect for his soothing baritone and he wows a crowd as though he was born to be on stage. His show was a singing biography which traced his life via video clips from his first film role in Sex and the College Girl, and his meeting with Charles Grodin, to his early days in LA, to his Hollywood professorship on Gilligan’s Island to Broadway where he played Bill Sampson, the boyfriend of Margo Channing in Applause, to the roll for which he is best known — Dr. Seneca Beaulac on Ryan’s Hope for 10 years, admitting “I never saved a patient, The actors knew when they were scheduled to see me, it was time to look for work.” Ryan’s Hope, however, got Gabriel an Emmy and 20 million faithful fans, many of whom packed the Metropolitan Room. Proof of his fearless frivolity was his actually performing the title song from a film in which he played Pedro the Mexican Bandito — Howard Hawks’ El Dorado. Gabriel only wrote the corny lyrics. Nelson Riddle actually composed the banal tune. Pictures of his family brought everyone back to earth in the most loving way.
Gabriel’s voice glides smoothly between key changes and delivers lyrics flawlessly. His arrangements and his charts were A+, actually A double + when performed by Ralph Barnes on piano and Boots Maleson on bass. After an upbeat medley of Nice Work if You Can Get It, Great Day; Blow, Gabriel, Blow; and Hurray for Love, he turned romantic with a lush, inviting There Will Never Be Another You. His Frank Sinatra selection included the best songs Old Blue Eyes ever warbled: All or Nothing at All, I Fall in Love Too Easily, When Sunny Gets Blue and the incredible What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life. The show closed with two songs written by another close friend, Ervin Drake, God Bless him, who’s still riding the stationery bike at age 95 – Good Morning Heartache and I Believe, and a most appropriate encore: You Make Me Feel So Young. He certainly did.
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