by Alix Cohen
“Theater is living truthfully in an imaginary situation. “ Tammy Grimes
The theatrical range of Tammy Lee Grimes (1934-2016), she with the utterly distinctive voice, is typified by Tony Awards for two very different plays, one for the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and the other for Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Saturday April 29, The Ziegfeld Society celebrated the musical side of this distinctive artist’s life in story, song, and intermittent film clips from an interview by Rick McKay.
Walter Willison and Laura Kenyon began the festivities with an infectiously bouncy, balanced version of “You’d Better Love Me” from High Spirits. Grimes then appeared on film talking about replacing Kim Stanley in Bus Stop, a play about which she was hesitant, not thinking it well written. The actress evidently analyzed every role for motivation and backstory.
Andrea Prestinario’s interpretation of “That Old Black Magic” sung by Cherie in the play, is simply lovely, showcasing control, taste, and emotion. Watch for this performer. (Mike Rosengarten-very cool guitar) From The Unsinkable Molly Brown, young vocalists Taylor James Hopkins and Chelsea Nectow were joined by veteran Champagne & Roses Joe Sirola for a lively “Belly Up to the Bar Boys”, a song Sirola introduced on Broadway. Nectow then offered a thoroughly convincing “I Ain’t Down Yet” for which no microphone was necessary. (Accompaniment by The Playbillies: Mike Rosegarten-guitar & Douglas Tieman-fiddle)
Adrienne Angel offered the vexed “Was She Prettier Than I?” from High Spirits. Kenyon returned for medley of songs she was given when the exiting Grimes suggested her as replacement in a revue titled The Decline & Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter. The jazz-meets-Broadway-style number was appealing.
Ever remarkable, Steve Ross assumed the piano for Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All” and “Home Sweet Heaven”, the latter lyric apparently written overnight when Grimes requested a better closing number for High Spirits. Phrasing was perfection, not the least because Ross understands where others just perform.
“George and I” from Mademoiselle Colombe was delivered, replete with evocative dialogue, by Klea Blackhurst with the help of Taylor James Hopkins. A highlight of the afternoon, the number was warm, conversational, and very real. People forget Blackhurst is an actress.
Willison performed several solo numbers. Of these, his rendition of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Grimes was in the West Coast premiere) shone brightest. The singer appeared to overflow with wonder; one arm reached, his clear, full throated voice soared.
The rest of the program was occupied with 42nd Street for which producer David Merrick sent the honoree this opening night telegram: Good luck until further notice. After her New York run, Grimes chose to tour the states rather than go to London with the musical because “I owe the American people my stardom.”
Songs from that show included Jane Summerhays/Jamie Buxton’s jaunty “About a Quarter to Nine,” Chris Orbach’s 42nd Street, Lee Roy Reams’ effervescent “You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me” (he still charms) and the company’s “Lullaby of Broadway.”
Actress/producer/author Patricia Bosworth described loyalty and determination exemplified by Grimes’ last performance when the artist insisted on leaving her bed to participate in a benefit at The National Arts Club for which she appeared with a coat over her flannel nightgown.
As always, Mark York’s symbiotic piano accompaniment flattered every vocalist and style.
This afternoon’s smooth running event was an entertaining glimpse into both Grimes’s career and her feelings about craft. In an attempt to allow venue to too many contributors, it was, however, about ½ hour too long.
Directed by Walter Willison
Coming up: Secret Love: A Tribute to Doris Day starring Karen Oberlin May 27th
We’ll Take a Glass Together-The Songs of Robert Wright & George Forrest June 24th
Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College- 69th Street between Lexington & Park)
The Ziegfeld Society http://www.theziegfeldsociety.com/
Photos: Courtesy of Ziegfeld Society