Jeff Macauley: Hollywood Party: Movie Songs 1928-1936

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Jeff Macauley

Hollywood Party: Movie Songs 1928-1936

Pangea, NYC, November 30, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Jeff Macauley
Photo: Stephen Hanks

To my knowledge, no other cabaret performer has plumbed Jeff Maculey’s chosen sector of material making this, yes!, an original show. The material is terrific. Songs are wry, funny, suggestive or romantic, often reflecting the very different era in which they were created. Framing this evening as a Tinseltown fête attended by actors who performed the numbers offers atmosphere and anecdote. Macauley is earnest and knowledgeable, though less information between paired numbers would be easier to take in.

“…Your white tie is the right tie…” the vocalist sings in “Hollywood Party” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart), more determined than lighthearted. “It’s a holiday.  Today’s the wedding/Of the painted doll…” he sings, tinged with just a bit of darkness (“The Wedding of the Painted Doll”; Arthur Freed/ Nacio Herb Brown from 1929’s first all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing The Broadway Melody). Two films from 1930 offer the priceless “Never Swat a Fly”: “…He may love another fly” and “(I’d Like to Be) A Bee in Your Boudoir,” delivered with sincerity rather than playfully. “Let’s Make Love Like the Crocodiles” (“…our blessed event will be traveling bags…”) and “I’ve Gotta Get Up and Go to Work” come from the historically iconic Moonlight and Pretzels, “the first prohibition, beer hall musical,” Macauley tells us. Apt resolve colors the work song. Three ordinarily grand torch numbers emerge, alas, without heat. (Haunting piano accompanies Freed/Brown’s “Temptation,” and later inimitably enhances Clifford Grey/Victor Schertzinger’s “Nobody’s Using It Now”). These are followed by the more successful “Bend Down, Sister” (Ballard MacDonald/Dave Silverstein/Con Conrad) and “Keep Young and Beautiful” (Al Dubin/Harry Warren) performed in films by Constance Bennett, then the highest-paid actress in Hollywood!

The most hysterical parentheses describes a scene from 1929’s Sunny Side Up featuring chorines, wearing scanties under Eskimo parkas, who dive into a pool after their igloos melt and everything bursts into flame. It’s clearly worth renting the film. From this, we’re treated to an animated “Turn On the Heat” (Buddy DeSylva/Lew Brown/Ray Henderson). The artist has a way with comic phrasing and an admirable long note.

Macauley closes with a nod to the after party, “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?” performed by Janet Gaynor in Sunny Side Up. For the first time he perches on a stool— relaxing demeanor. I believe him.

Caveats: The vocalist needs to be less stiff. There are numbers during which we have no idea what he’s feeling, numbers where he turns, but looks neither into audience eyes nor at an invisible person to whom he’s ostensibly singing. Vocals can be too big for subtle emotion, especially harming ballads. An appealingly softened “Isn’t It Romantic?” (Rodgers & Hart), for example, becomes abstract. Jeff Macauley has talent and taste, but a director is needed here.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.