Ziegfeld Follies of the Air
Birdland, NYC, January 30, 2017
Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes
For its first Gala benefit, The Ziegfeld Society celebrated big and bold with a delightful recreation of the Ziegfeld Follies of the Air, a radio program which ran in the early 1930s. The gathering Birdland audience was privy to sound checks, call announcements and other bits of radio business leading up to air time. The program was conceived and directed by Walter Willison, Associate Artistic Director of The Ziegfeld Society, who also acted the part of host Eddie Dowling. Once live, “Dowling” introduced Musical Director Mark York, Ziegfeld Society Executive Producer and founder, who, as Paul Whiteman, was the evening’s pianist/arranger. Thence “direct from the other side,” a gathering of some of the greatest Ziegfeld stars launched into song and even dance (Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman as Renee and Tony DeMarco). Comedy was on tap, too, with Sheila Wormer as Maltida “Goldie” Clough, Ziggy’s secretary, and Loni Ackerman as Fanny Brice with her “Becky Is Back at the Ballet.”
Candice Oden as Ruth Etting and Erin Cronican as Marilyn Miller Erin opened with a (lengthy) “rivalry” duet medley, including “No One but You” and “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” Shelly Burch played a boozy Helen Morgan singing several numbers, including “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” A lengthy monologue was the province of Lee Horwin as Libby Holman, singing a medley of her songs and recounting her life story from a murder scandal to mega-philanthropy and civil rights activism. Two high points were: dulcet-voiced Carole Demas as Ziegfeld’s wife, Billie Burke, delightful with “A Twinkle in Your Eye” and “Look for the Silver Lining”; and David Giardina as an uncannily realistic Will Rogers, excelling with “The Last Round-Up” and “Limehouse Blues.” But the pièce de résistance was show-closer Liliane Montevecchi as Mistinguett, stunning in blazing red velvet, and knocking them dead with “Je cherche un millionaire” and “My Man.” At 84, Montevecchi was a bundle of youthful energy and pizzazz, voice strong and comedy chops in high gear. She also received the first Ziegfeld Society Lifetime Achievement Award. The Ziegfeld Society theme song, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” closed the show, led by Willison in very fine voice.
Also responsible for a successful and satisfying night of entertainment were Jamie Buxton, Chelsie Nectow, Taylor James Hopkins, Matthew McFarland and Ian Whitt singing backup and handling commercial breaks. Period costumes were executed by Mitchell Bloom and sound design was by Stuart J. Allyn.