Posts Tagged ‘stephen holden’

R.I.P.: Whitney Houston

February 12, 2012

Like everyone else, I suppose, I’m not terribly surprised yet very sad today after the death of Whitney Houston, once a super-talented singer, gone way too young at 48.  I had the pleasure of seeing her in person three times, very early on. The first time was before she even had a record deal. I think it was Eliot Hubbard, one of the music business’s eagerest early adopters, who encouraged me to check her out when she sang with her mother at a tiny club right around the corner from my apartment in the West Village. I wrote a tiny review of the show for the Village Voice. When her first album came out, I reviewed it for Rolling Stone, and Stephen Holden and I saw her perform at Sweetwater’s, a now-defunct nightclub near Lincoln Center. Probably not even a year later, Stephen reviewed her Carnegie Hall debut, by which time her meteoric ascent had begun — what I remember most from that concert was that she tore up “I Am Changing” (from Dreamgirls), getting a standing ovation in the middle of the song. After that, I was content to keep my distance and enjoy that glorious voice on record — my favorite memory being dancing on a party boat in Hamburg and hearing several thousand German leathermen sing along to “I’m Every Woman.”  Those were the days, my friend….


March 16, 2010

March 15 – In 1985, Stephen Holden and I sat in the tenth row center to see Follies In Concert” at Avery Fisher Hall, which turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of musical theater I’ve ever experienced. If you’ve heard the excellent recording, you can imagine what I mean. Happily, Stephen invited me to be his guest for “Sondheim: The Birthday Concert,” the spring gala for the New York Philharmonic – same venue and some of the same cast. The occasion was Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, and the show was a tasteful and surprisingly low-key affair, directed by Lonny Price – pleasurable, never boring but never actually thrilling either. For one thing, hardly any surprises. The one Sondheim rarity showed up early in the program, when Victoria Clark came out to sing “Don’t Laugh,” a number that Sondheim wrote for Judy Holliday as a favor to Mary Rodgers when the short-lived 1963 musical (Holliday’s last) Hot Spot was in trouble out of town.

The biggest musical discovery for me was Nathan Gunn, whom operagoers have been drooling over for a few years (both for his gorgeous baritone and his gorgeous bod, stripped to the waist in Billy Budd — see above). He sang “Joanna” from Sweeney Todd and “Too Many Mornings” from Follies with Audra McDonald, which was the highlight of the evening for me – what  a great song! Laura Benanti sang a lovely version of “So Many People” from Saturday Night. It was great to see some original cast recreations: Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason from Into the Woods, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters from Sunday in the Park with George. And the show culminated in a Diva Showdown where Bernadette, Audra, Patti LuPone, Donna Murphy, Marin Mazzie, and Elaine Stritch (all in beautiful red Diane von Furstenberg gowns) sang songs they’re not associated with. Stritch was forgivably shaky, and the others were fine, but there were no revelations. David Hyde Pierce made for a droll host, nattering on about wanting to hear Sondheim songs in other languages and perpetually chiding conductor Paul Gemignani (who did a spectacular job, by the way) to stay away from Sweeney Todd (“We’re eating cake tonight, not people!”). The choruses from a bunch of Broadway shows filled the stage and the aisles and the balconies to end the show with a blast of “Sunday.” And Sondheim himself took a curtain call, sweet and humble, as you might expect, and moved to tears, which I don’t think any of us would have expected.

We had fun chatting at intermission with Tony Kushner and Mark Harris (Tony said he’s freakishly adept at memorizing lyrics and had astonished Sondheim at dinner once by reeling some off) and afterwards with Tony Tommasini and his friend Scott Wheeler.

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