Linda Lavin: My First Farewell Concert. Birdland, January 31, 2016
by Joe Regan Jr.
Linda Lavin is receiving critical raves for her current Broadway performance in Our Mother’s Brief Affair. After eight performances including a Sunday matinee, Lavin chose to celebrate her personal history at Birdland Sunday night in a show entitled My First Farewell Concert. Lavin showed no fatigue and surrounded herself with several top musicians: her music director Billy Stritch on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, Ron Affif on guitar, and Steve Bakunas on drums and percussion. Simply dressed in a black pantsuit with a sparkling necklace, Lavin put on a show that was a series of spectacular highlights, all punctuated with great autobiographical detail.
Stritch opened with a terrific piano solo on “The Way You Look Tonight,” before Lavin appeared and sang a slow but dramatic “Where or When.” She plunged right into a swinging explosive medley of “New Sun in the Sky,” “I Hear Music,” and “I Never Knew,” interacting with each musician.
Lavin revealed that she grew up in Portland, Maine, and was the daughter of an opera singer. Her sister was to be the singer and she was to be a dancer, taking classes as a youngster. For the class recital, she was dressed in a rainbow costume, and at the last minute was told she was to sing—and not dance—only make one gesture and one plié! The song was “Look To The Rainbow,” and her mother realized that singing was her talent. When she did a disastrous “Almost Like Being In Love” at a high school performance, using all Judy Garland’s gestures, and received boos and hisses, her mother only advised her to never sing that song to teenagers.
There were personal anecdotes about her college days, an audition that she thought she failed, but won; and suddenly there was a bossa nova beat for her big number “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, as she vamped with all the musicians. Of course we had her hit from The MAD Show, the Mary Rodgers/Steven Sondheim “The Boy From . . . ” not missing any of those tongue twisting lyrics.
After Stritch did a solo on a compassionate “A Cottage For Sale.” Lavin replaced him at the piano and played and sang an emotional “But Beautiful,” matched with “I Walk A Little Faster.” She told us how much she loved the music of Bobby Short and did a great match of “Hooray For Love,” “You’ve Got That Thing” (playfully sung by Stritch to her,) and “I Like The Likes of You.” Bakunas, the drummer, had a solo singing “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” Lavin revealing he is her husband from North Carolina; and she sang “I Just Found Out About Love” to him.
After a moving “The Very Thought of You,” with only Stritch on piano on the first chorus, Lavin brought on her special guest star, Aaron Weinstein, the comic jazz violinist, and the two of them riffed on “Fun To Be Fooled.” Weinstein’s solo was his great “After You’ve Gone.”
In discussing the blizzard last week, which was the first time that Lavin had a Broadway performance cancelled, she told us how she coped. It was to think about “You Must Believe in Spring,” Michel LeGrand’s gorgeous melody from Umbrellas of Cherbourg with lyrics by the Bergmans.
To wind up, she got the whole house to sing along with her on her reprise of “Almost Like Being In Love,” figuring all of this audience weren’t teenagers!
But she did have an encore, a smashing “How High The Moon,” bopping and bouncing with each musician.
Linda Lavin’s My First Farewell Concert is unique and should not be missed. Reservations are a must because Broadway and television luminaries will undoubtedly be present when it repeats Monday, February 1 at 7 pm. Birdland is at 315 West 44 Street. Go to www.BirdlandJazz.com or call 212 581-3080.