Shana Bousard and Brian Runbeck : Fancy Meeting You Here: A Celebration of Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney

Shana Bousard and Brian Runbeck

Fancy Meeting You Here:
A Celebration of Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney

ASU Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale, AZ, April 2, 2023

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Brian Runbeck & Shana Bousard

Vocalists Shana Bousard and Brian Runbeck, accompanied in this show by pianist/vocalist Joe Bousard and Scott Hay on drums and percussion, are cabaret veterans and are among the finest in our state. Their Swinging Christmas shows (reviewed in 2018, 2019, and 2022), in which they took on the personas of Crosby and Clooney for a few songs, have been praised in Cabaret Scenes. Finally, we’ve now had a musical marathon in which they touched on 50 songs that were recorded either as solos or duets by Crosby and Clooney, musical icons of the 20th century. After a short competition to decide on their opening number, they settled on “Zing and Little Zong.” Shana and Brian oozed charm and their repartee reminded me of sibling rivalry combined with a deep artistic connection that showed mutual respect and friendship. Both are masters of the quick lyric, and the songs flowed from one to another, many arranged as medleys and mash ups. 

Runbeck took the first solo turn as he a offered number of Crosby’s 400 hit songs from the 1930s and going into the 1940s. Runbeck’s deep opening note of “Dinah” immediately brought Crosby into the room. Other highlights included “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” with Joe Bousard adding vocals; “Pennies from Heaven”; and the sentimental “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby.”  Shana jumped back in for a big finish covering the 1940s that included “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive,” “South America Take It Away” and, joined by Joe, “The Whiffenpoof Song.” Joe told how he fell in love with the Yale drinking song as a young boy. “I didn’t understand it, but I knew I loved it.” He and Runbeck then had great fun trading quips on “Gone Fishing.”

Shana took her solo turn and described Clooney’s problem with working for Mitch Miller. He forced her to record novelty songs when she much preferred torch ballads, such as her first solo recording, the sad and sultry “Bargain Day” and the standard “Tenderly.” These songs benefitted from perfect piano and percussivion. It was the novelty songs that first made Clooney a star, and Shana shined on a medley that started and ended with “Come On-a My House,” and included “Mambo Italiano,” “Botcha Me,” and “This Ole House.”

The duo divided the cabaret into two acts. They teamed up for one of Clooney’s big hits, “Hey There” which surged like a theatrical scene. It could have soared to make a big ending to Act One, sending the audience out to refill their wine glasses on a high note. Instead, they chose to keep it intimate and added “I Have Dreamed.” It was musically lovely, but it was sung with the singers behind their mics and facing straight out with no interaction between them.

Act Two opened with Christmas in April as they hit all the highlights from Crosby and Clooney’s only film together, the 1954 classic White Christmas. Shana and Brian made it clear that they were there not to imitate the musical icons but to pay tribute to them. However, Brian did allow himself to hold a pipe for “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep),” giving us a warm, living-room moment. Crosby was 25 years older than Clooney when they met on the set of Paramount Pictures in the early 1950s. She became his most-recorded duet partner throughout his career, which lasted into the 1970s. He became a good friend and father figure to her. The hit parade of duets included “How About You?”; “I Get Ideas”/”Two to Tango”; “On a Slow Boat to China”; this show’s title song, “Fancy Meeting You Here”; “Brazil”; and “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis.” This section peaked with “Blues in the Night,” which was combined with “How It Lies.” Then Shana and Brian delivered a funny “Love Won’t Let You Get Away.” After they thanked the staff and musicians, the singers encored with “True Love” and their traditional finale, “I Love Being Here with You.”

Brian’s baritone voice was perfectly suited to the Crosby repertoire. He moved about the stage with ease and confidence and clearly enjoyed being there. Shana’s voice was like honey, rich and easy on the ear. Its range delivered the smokey low notes equally as well as did her natural soprano lilt. She was a beauty inside and out and, and, like her counterpart, she was at home on stage. The cabaret was well crafted and full of brilliant arrangements that included just enough parody lyrics to keep it personal. To its credit, it was not scripted or overly rehearsed. That allowed the audience to forgive when the perfect storm of pitch, page, and piano were off, an opening lyric was forgotten, or there was a quick dash to the side of the stage to find a water bottle. It was all done with a playful smile.

Joe Bousard is a cabaret hero in my book. His accompaniment and vocal harmonies provided support at every turn, and he never allowed the energy to drop between songs. Hay is a fine percussionist and a beloved member of this cabaret team. Unfortunately, the show was booked for one night only at the Kerr Center, but hopefully other Valley venues will add it to their bookings. Hopefully also, Bousard and Runbeck will come up with more tributes to the performing icons of The Great American Songbook. I for one would love to see them take on Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.