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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Shirley Jones, Betty Buckley and Mary Wilson
in San Francisco

Also see Richard's reviews of Elektra

Recently, three great songbirds played in our city and all gave perfect performances for their adoring fans.

Shirley Jones at the Rrazz Room

Seventy-nine-year old Shirley Jones sang and told stories at the Rrazz Room in October. This Oscar winning (Elmer Gantry) movie, theatre and TV veteran ("The Partridge Family") sang many of the songs from the movies and Broadway musicals in which she appeared. She looked wonderfully trim in her black sequined gown. She was a consummate pro as she talked about her films, especially her role as Marian the librarian in The Music Man, and sang "Seventy Six Trombones," "Till There was You" and "Goodnight My Someone" from that film. She sang these songs with the same intensely touching straightforwardness she had on screen nearly 50 years ago. Her voice is in better shape than a lot of her generation of singers.

Shirley Jones navigated the pitfalls of some of the songs, such as "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel and "Out of My Dreams" from Oklahoma!. Her voice has deepened and it no longer possesses the shimmering quality it once had. She does not rewrite the endings of these songs where she could avoid the high notes. She hits the high notes with astonishing force. This is intelligent singing, thanks to her musical arranger and pianist Sam Kriger, who appeared with Steve Pemberton on drums and Pat Klobas on bass. Jones showed off her husky chest voice on "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" and "Can't Help Loving that Man" from Show Boat. She even sang a brief snippet of "Come On, Get Happy" from "The Partridge Family."

The diva talked about growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, then studying drama at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. She told some great inside stories about her audition for South Pacific before Richard Rodgers (she had no idea who he was when she auditioned, and he took her across the street where a large symphony orchestra was rehearsing and she sang her first song, "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy," with the large orchestra). She also told of the time Stephen Sondheim told her that "Send In the Clowns" was "the biggest piece of crap I've ever written."

There were great stories about her two month shoot on The Music Man. She was pregnant and the director devised a "wrap around" that would not show her pregnancy. They also filmed her from the waist up. During one of the scenes she was to kiss Robert Preston. As they embraced, he felt a kick to the stomach. It was Patrick Cassidy kicking. Later when Patrick was a rising singing star he ran into Robert Preston. He introduced himself to Preston and Preston replied, "Oh I met you before."

Shirley Jones played the Rrazz Room from October 23rd thru October 28th.


Betty Buckley at the Rrazz Room

Betty Buckley, one of the greatest singers of our generation, played the Rrazz Room in October to her enthusiastic fans. This was the Bay Area premiere of the show based on her new CD Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway. With subtle yet beautiful arrangements by her musical director Christian Jacob (who appeared on piano, with Alan Hall on drums and Peter Barshay on bass) mixed with that undeniable voice, it was a wonderful evening of entertainment. It was exhilarating to listen to her perform the Broadway songs that men would generally sing.

Buckley said at the beginning of the 85-minute gig that she always wanted to sing the men's songs from Broadway shows, and she opened with a soaring rendition of "I Can See It" from The Fantasticks, which was sung in the show by El Gallo and Matt. Her vocal cords were lively singing "The Jet Song" from West Side Story. Highlights included her take on Jerry Herman's "Song on the Sand," a suite of songs from Sweeney Todd, and a little gem that is William Finn's "Venice" from Elegies. Her range of song selection and depth of emotion were appealing. Her rendition of "Corner of the Sky" brought renewed and erudite cadences to the song.

Outstanding was "A Hymn to Her," a rewrite of My Fair Lady's "A Hymn to Him" in which Henry Higgins asks "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?" The fruitful singer reversed the questions in a humorous retort complete with musical references to male-centric Broadway roles like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Harold Hill in The Music Man. The concept and lyrics were by Eric Kornfeld and Eric Stern. She closed the show with a beautiful, heartfelt arrangement of "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys and Dolls.

Never once did Ms. Buckley judge her characters harshly or make of fun of them. When she softened her authoritative belting, her voice cracked open to reveal a sympathetic exposure, permitting her to find the tender essence of "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady.

Betty Buckley's Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway played the Rrazz room from October 30th through November 4th at the Hotel Nikko 222 Mason Street, San Francisco. For their complete lineup of upcoming events, visit www.therrazzroom.com or call 800-380-3095 for more information.


Mary Wilson at the Bay Area Cabaret

The Bay Area Cabaret opened its 9th season with the legendary Mary Wilson of the Supremes. The renowned singer with her pitch perfect voice thrilled the sold out crowd at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel on Sunday October 28th. She looked the diva in a long, blue sequined grown as she came onstage to sing a medley of songs including "My World Is Empty" and "Here's to Life." She strolled the stage and chatted between numbers and once invited three persons from the audience to come up and dance Supreme-style to "Baby Love," segueing into "Stop In the Name of Love."

Mary Wilson may not be the best known member of The Supremes but she lays claim to being in the group longer than anyone else. She is an amazing performer in her own right. In this show, she combined fresh talent with a stylishness that was matched by her unpretentiousness. The singer filled the stage with radiance as she combined elements of the great female performers from the sixties Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Diana Ross. She belted out "Here's To Life" and Sting's beautiful ballad "Field of Gold," then "Smile," which she pulled off with marvelous precision. Her rendition of "Stormy Weather" sent shivers down the spines of the audience. Her luxuriously exquisite voice rang out in such songs as "You Are so Beautiful" and "Both Sides Now."

The diva told the audience about the death of her son in an auto accident and that the director of the Bay Area Cabaret had asked her to sing "Tears of Heaven." She obliged but it was tough to see her singing this song with tears in her eyes.

On the light side she told the fans that she was touchy about the movie Dreamgirls, saying, "It's not about the Supremes" and joking that "I didn't get paid." She did say Jennifer Hudson's character representing Florence Ballard rang true. To her friend Ballard who died in 1976, Wilson devoted "I Am Changing," delivering her most sensitive performance of the evening. The crowd was on their feet as she concluded with "Someday We'll Be Together."

Mary Wilson was impressively backed by singer Parnell Damone and a quartet consisting of her musical director Mark Zier on piano, Daniel Fabricant on bass, Russ Gold on drums, and Bob Brumbeloe on guitar.

For more information on the roo, visit www.bayareacabaret.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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