A tribute to Michael Lavine, musical theater’s secret treasure.
By Joel Benjamin
Michael Lavine is a very important showbiz personality, one whose name perhaps only insiders would recognize immediately. He is a brilliant vocal coach, easygoing performer and possessor of a massive collection of sheet music, a treasure trove that hundreds of famous names have taken advantage of (myself, included!). He provided his pianistic talents for all the singers at Feinstein’s/54 Below, as well as MC’d the program with loads of fascinating vignettes.
His Michael Lavine & Friends felt more like an informal gathering around a piano in a living room than a cabaret show. All the proceeds of this sold-out event went to the Actor’s Fund, an important source of assistance to performers down on their luck. Several of the performers on this program had been helped by the Fund and were grateful to give something back.
Lavine opened the show with the dirty ditty, “Come Te Gusta Mi Pinga” (Alan Chapman). His sweetly sung version tempered the meaning. (Find a Spanish/English dictionary!)
Carol Weiss, songwriter and singer, had the audience in the palm of her hand with her cute kiddie song, “The Story of Egbert,” for which she asked the audience to shout out “egg” to fill in words like “egg-citing” and “egg-stravagant,” not to mention “Egbert” using an egg-shaped sign as a cue.
Heather Mac Rae paired with Lavine on a witty arrangement of “Tea For Two” (Youmans/Caesar) and also soloed on Hope Floats using every layer of her rich voice to communicate its sweet message.
Fay DeWitt, a true theater veteran whose career blossomed in 1949 (!), proved that experience is all. Lavine called her “Broadway Divinity” and no one who heard her sing “Nobody Loves a Gypsy” (Carol Weiss) and “French With Tears” (Harold Rome) could disagree. Both were hilarious. The first made fun in delightful rhymes of the supposed abuse directed at the unfortunate, put-upon Gypsies and the latter was a laser sharp comic paean to Edith Piaf. DeWitt’s agility with accents and timing was perfect.
Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony as an eleven-year old, showed that she was no longer a little girl. She sang a saucy “You’d Be Surprised” (Berlin) and the sultry “One for My Baby.” Definitely no longer a little girl!
Steven Brinberg showed that Barbra Streisand wasn’t the only celebrity he “does.” In quick succession he did Anthony Newley singing Newley’s own “Who Can I Turn To” (written with Leslie Bricusse), Cher as Mame, Lena Horne as Mrs. Lovett, the late Julie Wilson singing “Downtown” (Tony Hatch) and, best of all, Gwen Verdon as Eliza Doolittle. Of course, he had to show off his brilliant Streisand with “The Way We Were” (Alan & Marilyn Bergman/Marvin Hamlisch).
Young contingents—Mark Blowers, Sarah Wadsley and Dianne Fraser—were properly sardonic in Charles Strouse’s “You Can Be a New Yorker, Too” which made the Big Apple appear to be populated by foul mouthed monsters, which we all know isn’t so…!
Christine Pedi’s rendition of “Remember Facts?” a song about “false news” was not only sung with all the necessary sarcasm but was right on target. This song was written just a week ago!
The extraordinary Tonya Pinkins closed the show with Glen Hansard’s lovely “This Gift” backed up by the young contingents on the program. She sang, as no one else could, about the gift of love that will support you your entire life.
If there’s anyone around who supports singers’ careers, it’s Michael Lavine.
Michael Lavine & Friends (July 13, 2017) A Benefit for The Actors Fund
254 West 54th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
New York, NY
For reservations and information, call 646-476-3551 or v
Photos: Sandi Durell