By Brian Scott Lipton
He was the first composer to win three Academy Awards; the first to receive the coveted “gold record” for selling one million copies; he worked for almost every movie studio, including Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, and MGM; and he wasn’t even Jewish. Can you name this songwriter?
As the always informative (and charming) Michael Feinstein rightly pointed out in “Lullaby of Broadway,” his latest “Standard Time” program at Zankel Hall, Harry Warren never received the same measure of household fame as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or the Gershwins, despite his many accomplishments and the fact that he literally had more hits than any of them.
Perhaps it’s because Warren (born and raised in Brooklyn as Salvatore Antonio Guaragna) was something of a journeyman songwriter, working with numerous lyricists over his lengthy career (among them Johnny Mercer, Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, Leo Robin, and even Ira Gershwin) and toiling away for decades in Hollywood (despite his lifelong love of New York) on numerous less-than-stellar movies.
His biggest hit was, of course, “42nd Street,” and many songs from both that legendary 1933 film (and its award-winning Broadway musical adaptation) showed up in this highly entertaining show. Feinstein even opened the 90-minute concert with a swinging medley of “About a Quarter of Nine,” “Lulu’s Back in Town,” and “Jeepers Creepers” and then concluded it with a jazzy “Lullaby of Broadway.”
In between, the handsome, stirring-voiced Jay Armstrong Johnson beautifully performed three songs from “42nd Street;” the jaunty “Young and Healthy,” the haunting “Shadow Waltz,” and the exuberant title tune. Meanwhile, Feinstein served up a spirited rendition of another of the show’s famous numbers, “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” (after making us think differently about the lyrics by revealing that writer Al Dubin had a serious drug habit), and showed his singular way with a ballad on the divine “I Only Have Eyes For You” (which was interpolated into the 2001 Broadway revival).
Speaking of ballads, Warren wrote some of the best ones ever, and Feinstein did them full justice, including the ultra-romantic “The More I See You” and the wistful “There Will Never Be Another You.” Also showing just how well she can handle a ballad was the ever-fabulous Melissa Errico, bedecked in a stunning black gown and offering up a gorgeously plaintive “Friendly Star” (made famous by Judy Garland in “Summer Stock”) as one of her three welcome solo turns.
But Feinstein can also be the consummate showman, and he proved it again with a toe-tapping “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” (written for Fred Astaire) and crowd-thrilling “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (which was the song that earned Warren that first gold record!). In fact, I’ll be going to sleep having the “craziest dream” of having ham and eggs in Carolina.
Standard Time with Michael Feinstein was performed at 7:30pm on Tuesday, March 21 – www.carnegiehall.org