Vocalists Accentuate the Positive

DON HECKMAN. The Los Angeles Times, Apr 30, 1992


Want a recipe for an outstanding benefit concert? Blend a roomful of good singers with a healthy serving of classic songs and sit back and enjoy.

That's what the "Singers' Salute to the Songwriter" programs have been doing for years, and the seventh annual installment at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Tuesday-which honored Johnny Mercer, Lamont Dozier, Jay Livingston & Ray Evans, Billy Byers and Bob and Dolores Hope-was a perfect illustration of how well the formula works.

The list of performers donating their skills for the benefit of the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons With Brain Injury was long. But with one exception, producer Allen Sviridoff did a superb job of programming the acts and shuttling them on and off stage with dispatch.

The exception was the scheduling of Barry Manilow's appearance at the climax of the event. Manilow's newly composed and not particularly memorable music for some previously unknown Mercer lyrics was a marked letdown after a string of splendid Mercer masterpieces.

The only other glitches in the performance were Mariette Hartley's histrionic interpretation of Jacques Brel, Beatrice Arthur's confused encounter with Mercer's lovely English version of "When the World Was Young" and Stephen Bishop's off-the-wall reading of "Mona Lisa."

The rest of the evening left little to be desired. Bernadette Peters very nearly stole the show with a rendition of "Come Rain or Come Shine" that brought new heat to the definition of torch singing. And Joe Williams' "Blues in the Night" was surely what Mercer had in mind when he wrote his evocative lyrics.

Among the many other high points: Rosemary Clooney's warmly vibrant singing of "My Shining Hour"; the gorgeous harmonies of the L.A. Jazz Choir; the Hopes tripping their way through a sweetly impromptu version of Livingston & Evans' "Silver Bells"; the Pentecostal Community Choir's rip-roaring revival of Lamont Dozier's "How Sweet It Is"; the Four Tops with "Baby, I Need Your Loving"; Debby Boone's thoughtful rendering of "Moon River," and Joel Grey's characteristically whimsical "I'm Old Fashioned/Something's Gotta Give."

Also included on the bill for the 3 1/2-hour production were performances by Margaret Whiting, Marilynn Lovell, Harry Crosby, Tony Martin, Michael McDonald, Freda Payne, Donna McKechnie, Alan Bergman, Steve Tyrell, Henry Mancini and Jean Terrell, Scherrie Payne and Lynda Lawrence of the Supremes.

Peter Matz conducted a well-rehearsed orchestra in vocal arrangements that were, appropriately, first-rate.

Omissions- Thursday's review of the Singers' Salute to Songwriters program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion inadvertently omitted John Pizzarelli in the list of artists, and left out a sentence describing Dianne Reeves' performance of "a breathtaking reworking of `Autumn Leaves.' "

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