BWW Review: Jeff Macauley Revives Inspired, Humorous and Heartfelt Tribute to DINAH SHORE in New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits at Metropolitan Room
Jeff Macauley loves Dinah Shore. That's usually the case when a cabaret performer devotes an entire show to a star's body of work. But there's affection and admiration, and then there's all-encompassing passion and adoration that informs the performer's every note, lyric, and anecdote, and thereby imparts that love to us (whether or not we were previously fans). By that standard, MWAH! The Dinah Shore Show, Macauley's 1998 Backstage Bistro Award Winner for "Outstanding Theme Show" (revived last Saturday night as part of Stephen Hanks' monthly New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits series at the Metropolitan Room) is one of the most successful shows of its kind I've seen.
Full disclosure: As the daughter of a relatively recently deceased WWII veteran who worshiped Dinah, I had an anti-Dinah bias going in. At 44, I'm too young to have seen the television shows (which after Macauley's tribute I'm convinced I would have liked), and I wasn't a fan of her unusual and highly stylized voice in spite of her perfect pitch and artful phrasing. But Macauley combines a staggering amount of biographical information with specific context for each song, driving home the sheer magnitude of Dinah's stardom, chutzpah, versatility, and passion for a wide range of musical genres. Unlike some shows, which feel thrown together, MWAH! is exceptionally well conceived.
After a sweetly sung "Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy" (Sammy Gallop/Guy Wood), Macauley delivers a breathless catalogue of Dinah's recording, radio, film and TV accomplishments that sets the pace and tone for the hilarity that follows. Dubbed the "Nashville Nightingale," Dinah Shore (nee Frances) had 92 charted hits on Joel Whitburn's "Pop Hits 1890-1954," which predated the Billboard Charts. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Dinah overcame childhood polio and went on to win eight Emmys and release nine albums after earning a degree in sociology at Vanderbilt University. The biggest musical star of the 1940s (partly as a result of her devotion to the troops), Dinah outsold all other artists combined at Columbia Records in that decade.
As if all this were not enough, Dinah was what Macauley calls "sex-positive," a thoroughly modern woman long before Women's Lib. "Yes, My Darling Daughter" (Jack Lawrence) reached #10 on the pre-Billboard charts. Macauley convincingly takes on the persona of the mother who wants to encourage her young daughter to behave properly with men, but gives her tacit permission, as Macauley puts it, "to go for it."
But Dinah was not an instant success. Upon her move to New York, she failed to get into the big bands (like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller) and sang for free on radio. Macauley traces the intimate style for which Dinah became famous to her peculiar comfort with "the red light," which did not intimidate the young singer in the least. Instead of taking it as a symbol of a vast audience, she pretended to be singing to one person only. Appearing with Frank Sinatra in the late 1930s, Dinah's days of singing for free ended with "Yes, My Darling Daughter," her first gold record.
Macauley sings "(As Long As You're Not In Love With Anyone Else) Why Don't You Fall In Love With Me?" (Al Lewis/Mabel Wayne" and "Dearly Beloved" (Johnny Mercer/Jerome Kern), #3 and #10 respectively, with conviction, but his voice sounds slightly thin here (and elsewhere) and not as smooth as one would like. He's on stronger ground with "Blues in the Night" (Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen), which impressed itself on the gay teen in Swarthmore, PA who listened to Dinah with his mother. If Dinah--who managed to marry George Montgomery though he was then with Hedy Lamarr, arguably the world's most beautiful woman alive (and physicist to boot!)--couldn't find lasting love, he thought to himself, "What chance do I have?" The story of Dinah's and George's courtship and marriage is one of the show's most vivid.
"He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings" (Eric Mashwitz/Michael Carr" precedes the show's vocally strongest trio of songs: "Skylark" (Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael), "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" (Cole Porter), and "I'll Walk Alone" (Sammy Caan/Jule Styne). The talented musical director Daryl Kojak plays these numbers with particular feeling, anticipating the breathtaking piano solo in the melancholy Joan Baez song later in the show, "Diamonds and Rust," which sounds like a babbling brook.
The next part of the show features songs from Dinah's film career, which in her (unaccountable) view, never took off because she was insufficiently photogenic. The uptempo "Mad About Him, Sad Without Him, How Can I Be Glad Without Him Blues" (Larry Markes/Dick Charles) lightens the mood before "Tess' Torch Song" (Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen). Macauley artfully joins "I Love You For Sentimental Reasons" (Deek Watson/Pat Best) to another #2 hit, "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" (Frank Loesser), ending the latter with lines from the former.
Macauley is standup-comic funny throughout, but the humor hits a high point when he asks the audience, "So what's the difference between this show in 1997 and today?" "EBAY!" he proclaims, before launching into an uproarious show-and-tell, complete with Dinah paraphernalia accumulated over the years, including potholders, jackets, belt buckles, paper dolls, coloring books, cookbooks, and album jackets. The performer's Dinah worship might be borderline troubling if not for the innocent love the performer feels for the funny, beautiful, and talented lady who started "the affair [with Burt Reynolds] that broke all the rules." Macauley's bits about his mother, who gossiped about the star as if they were personal friends, are truly hilarious. I was not the only one surprised at Dinah's daring in her later years; she invited David Bowie and Iggy Pop on her show, revealing an admirable ability to change with the times.
Fittingly, "Buttons and Bows" (Jay Livingston/Ray Evans)--which remained at #1 for 10 weeks-is the show's musical highlight. Macauley does a nice job with the theme song of her long-time TV sponsor, "See The USA In Your Chevrolet" (Leon Carr/Leo Corday), well introduced by a story about his family's short-lived station wagon. Macauley wraps with "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" (Oscar Hammerstein II/Sigmund Romberg), not a hit for Dinah, but a strong finish to a highly entertaining show about the singer whose voice the eight-year-old son of Dinah Shore Chevy Show director, Bob Banner, aptly described as "warm in the middle and soft around the edges."
Jeff Macauley's MWAH: The Dinah Shore Show runs again at the Metropolitan Room on 3/1 at 7 PM.