Review By Ron Fassler . . .
When the lights went down at Feinstein’s 54 Below Sunday night, a spotlight picked up Marilu Henner in the audience, microphone in hand, ready for action. For the next 85 minutes, this former Broadway chorine and prolific television star, never stopped moving and talking in her solo performance. She told stories, showed videos, danced, and sang, all in a carefully rehearsed and well written show. What the sold-out crowd got was an extremely polished evening led by someone with an abundance of natural charm and ability.
As many might already know from a story which showcased her on 60 Minutes, as well as by the nine books she has authored or co-authored, Marilu Henner is one in a million. Or to be more accurate, sixty in 7.8 billion, as there are only that many people in the world diagnosed with hyperthymesia, of which Henner is one in sixty. What that means is that she has the extremely rare ability to visually conjure up any date in her life effortlessly. If you mentioned to her March 14, 1972, she instantly sees in her mind’s eye all major and minor details, such as what a friend wore to lunch, what they ate, etc. This allows for her cabaret act to confidently rely on her memories of nearly fifty years in show business with total recall.
The result is that Henner has all the spontaneity of someone making it up on the spot. No dropped lines in her script means her confidence on stage brims up and over the top. And though not possessing the greatest singing voice in the world, she more than makes up for it with a dazzling personality and a sincerity and eagerness to perform that made for a fulfilling night’s entertainment.
In addition to singing many standards, Henner has personally written parody lyrics to songs that address her many lives in show business. “Nutrition” (sung to the tune of Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition”), is a case in point. And not only does Henner sing it, she lives it. I’m sure members of the audience were Googling her to ascertain just how old she is (guilty!). And even though it’s no secret, I won’t repeat it here as I would like to indulge in the fantasy that it’s simply not possible. As the lady says in When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Delving into her personal story, Henner shares a great deal, but doesn’t overshare. Well, maybe that’s not true, as she instructs us that if we enter “Marilu Henner Having a Baby” on YouTube, we will be treated to that video! And speaking of video, we are invited to watch well-edited ones during the act which include her main TV credit, the wonderful ensemble of the 1980s sitcom, Taxi, and odes to her children, which never feel maudlin or cheesy. Her affable personality doesn’t allow for such things.
Little known fact: although she was part of the first national tour of Grease, after it conquered Broadway in the early 1970s, Henner was also in the very first production of the beloved musical in her hometown of Chicago, creating the role of Marty. Not going with it to Broadway (she didn’t think it had a chance) she thus missed out on introducing her characters’s solo “Freddy, My Love” along with the original cast. She uses that story to fast forward to 2018 when she DID get to introduce a song on Broadway in the short-lived musical Gettin’ the Band Back Together. Naturally, she sang both numbers. She was also a replacement in the long-running Chicago revival, being the first Roxie to take over from Ann Reinking (her former chorus mate in 1974’s Over Here, when both were unknowns).
A trip down memory lane is best served by someone with a perfect memory. Aided by a wonderful group of musicians, Michael Orland (musical director/piano), Marc Schmied, Damien Bassman and Matt Hinkley, Marilu Henner’s Music and Memories! is a charmer.
Marilu Henner’s Music and Memories! was at https://54below.com/, 254 W 54 Street, NYC, October 17, 2021.