Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Theater review: Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, Feinstein evening shows

Michael Feinstein.

By Hap Erstein

Bowing to the economic realities, the Kravis Center had to scrub its planned, low-cost family film series earlier this season. But if you still had a craving for movies with a cultural spin, you could have attended Monday evening’s stroll down memory lane, a.k.a. Michael Feinstein’s Salute to the Stars of MGM and Hollywood.

It featured a trio of stellar names from the past -- Jane Powell, Jane Russell and Arlene Dahl -- in one of the more curious and disjointed shows ever presented on the Dreyfoos Hall stage. Each of the three women made a solo appearance, sang a few songs with varying ability and answered a few softball questions from Feinstein or TCM cable film historian Robert Osborne, few of which elicited any insight into bygone Hollywood or much evidence that these three gals were ever there.

That was provided by the projected film clips, almost entirely from the MGM library, which had a way of skewing the careers of the assembled stars. Much of the show was excerpted from Feinstein’s concert act, with an emphasis on such film-themed ditties as Hooray for Hollywood and That’s Entertainment!

Feinstein is a walking encyclopedia of musical information and his song introductions feel crammed with footnotes. Aided by an overzealous sound system, he tended to over-sing most of his selections, making a more mellow rendering of Begin the Beguine stand out for its relative subtlety.

Although Feinstein seemed to have the impression that the audience came to hear him, the women were surely the draw. And for those who were there to be able to say that they saw Powell, Russell and Dahl live and in person, that certainly was accomplished. As to the main question that was surely on most of the audience’s minds, the answers are 79, 87 and 80 respectively, at least according to the Internet Movie Datebase.

That said, you have to admire the three of them for putting themselves on display and subjecting themselves to scrutiny under the unforgiving spotlight. Powell did look the best of the trio in a fetching one-shoulder yellow gown and her soprano voice on Love Is Where You Find It still has plenty of power and pitch.

Dahl was never really known for her singing, though the clips show that she sang plenty on-screen. She wore a black figure-concealing balloon dress, clowned a bit with a pink feather fan from the 1950 movie Three Little Words, and gave a game rendition of I Love You So Much.

Russell seemed the most unsteady, both physically and vocally, but she looked the part of a star in her blue sequined jacket, even if the years did not melt away with her delivery of Bye Bye, Baby, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

At a running time of slightly more than two hours including an intermission, the show felt stretched out. Nevertheless, the film clips did look good.

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