David Johnson: At Last: David Johnson Sings Harry Warren

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David Johnson

At Last: David Johnson Sings Harry Warren

Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, Los Angeles, CA, January 13, 2018

Reviewed by Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

David Johnson

David Johnson is a splendid singer with a delightfully charming stage persona. His self-effacing personality belies a booming, sonorous voice, which he used extremely well to perform a series of songs by Harry Warren.

At 82, Johnson grew up listening to most of the Great American Songbook as it was being written, and his preference is clearly to sing those songs pretty much as they were originally sung rather than trying any flights of melodic fancy — a very solid choice for these eternal classics.

Throughout the evening, he displayed his passion for the music itself and the films for which they were written, delighting his audience with the stories behind the songs as well as the songs themselves.


And what songs!

His voice soared on a gorgeous version of “I Know Why (and So Do You)” (written with Mack Gordon, from Sun Valley Serenade), with musical director Andy Belling adding a touch of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” at the beginning and end. Johnson crooned a smooth “You’ll Never Know” (Gordon, from Hello Frisco Hello) to a woman in the audience; offered a delicious version of “I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five-and-Ten Cent Store” (Mort Dixon/Billy Rose) — abetted by Belling on kazoo; and was particularly amusing on “Whoa, Emma,” a love song to a horse (Dorothy Fields, from Texas Carnival) — with Belling clicking his tongue to simulate the sound of a horse’s hooves.

Johnson also offered a pair of numbers from Pagan Love Song: a deep, intimate “Sea of the Moon,” and a bouncy take on “House of Singing Bamboo” (both written with Arthur Freed). He dedicated a soft, dreamy “Friendly Star” (Gordon, from Summer Stock) to Constance Towers, whom he called his mentor and the person who encouraged him to sing.

Besides Belling, Johnson had excellent musical support from Steve Bringelson on bass and Kevin Widener on drums, plus a pair of guest singers.

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 Jessica Buda exhibited a flawless delivery and lovely tone on a plaintive “September in the Rain” (Al Dubin, from Melody for Two), then teamed with Johnson for a brilliant mashup, arranged by Belling, that had him singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (Gordon, from Sun Valley Serenade) and her singing “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (Johnny Mercer, from The Harvey Girls). Joe Hui, his other guest, used his lovely tenor to win over the audience with an unforced, slightly jazz-infused take on “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Dubin, from Dames) and a simple, low-key version of “The More I See You” (Gordon, from Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe).

Johnson tossed aside his self-effacing personality — albeit only slightly — by removing his glasses, donning a fedora and selecting a dancing partner from the audience to sing “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” (Mercer, from The Belle of New York). He closed the evening with a fully committed “At Last” (Gordon, from Orchestra Wives), with pretty harmonies from Buda and Hui.

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach loves the music of The Great American Songbook and classic Broadway, with a special affinity for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He's been a professional writer for 45 years and a cabaret reviewer for five. Based in Los Angeles, Zwiebach has been exposed to some of the most talented performers in cabaret—the famous and the not-so-famous—and enjoys it all. Reviewing cabaret has even pushed him into doing some singing of his own — a very fun and liberating experience that gives him a connection with the performers he reviews.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. mary

    David is a friend of mine. I love his singing , stories of long ago . Missing songwriters , that I’ve memories of recorders of my late parents time. Now they were classic. Keep up, with the those songs . My friend. Love you. Tine

  2. Clay Callaway

    Andy Belling, not Beiling!

  3. Chuck Prentiss

    At Last, Harry Warren gets some of the Glory to which he is rightfully entitled. Harry Warren was probably Hollywood’s Greatest Songwriter of All-Time. Chuck Prentiss

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