BWW Reviews: Winter Rhythms' Opening Night Tribute to Iconic Bing Crosby Doesn't Quite Swing On a Star
Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby, Jr., who died in 1977 at age 74, was one of the most popular American singers and actors of the first half of the 20th-century, garnering millions of fans with recordings, radio, film, and live performance. The artist used his microphone as a route to intimacy, rather than volume, and was known for phrasing shaped to lyrical intention. Crosby's seemingly casual, bass/baritone style has often been imitated but never duplicated. On the same night that PBS was premiering a new American Masters documentary on the iconic singer, Bing Crosby Rediscovered, the venerable Urban Stages opened its 6th Annual and widely varied Winter Rhythms series with A Tribute to Bing Crosby, curated, hosted, and mostly performed by Musical Director Bill Zeffiro (left in photo with Julie Reyburn, top).
Festivities opened with special guest Gary Giddins, author of Bing Crosby: A Pocket Full of Miracles-The Early Years 1903-1940 (who is also featured in the PBS Crosby special). The knowledgeable Giddins spoke to Crosby's meticulous preparation coupled with great improvisational skill and showed us a rare, highly entertaining clip from the 1960's Hollywood Palace television variety show in which Crosby duets (and quips) with songwriter Johnny Mercer.
Plumbing films rather than recordings, nine vocalists sang Crosby numbers from 1930s through 1950s movies such as White Christmas, Road to Morocco, Road to Rio, Blue Skies, Going My Way, and High Society. Except for a few songs so eclectic they seem out of place, sources are familiar. I'm sure few remember that "Moonlight Becomes You"--here nicely trilled by Marissa Miller--comes from Road to Morocco, or recollect "Mele Kalikimaka," a Hawaiian Christmas song cutely delivered by Marissa Miller (left in photo) and Marissa Mulder (right in photo) in bright harmony. (Later, Mulder nicely rendered a sweetly smitten "Sunday, Monday, and Always.")
Other notable moments included Jeff Harnar's croon of "East Side of Heaven," a difficult and curious choice, Susan Winter's infectiously animated "In the Cool. Cool, Cool of the Evening," and Julie Reyburn's pristine "Count Your Blessings," which would have been better served as a solo rather than as duet with Zeffiro. Steve Ross performance of "Swinging on a Star" from Going My Way approached stylish fun, but he was curiously denied access to the piano and I, for one, felt deprived.
While the show, as directed by Peter Napolitano, came across as enthusiastic nostalgia, the song arrangements were often intrusive and the talent/performances were a mixed bag. Vocalists: Steve Ross, Jeff Harnar (left in photo), Mary Foster Conklin, Marissa Miller, Marissa Mulder, Miles Phillips, Julie Reyburn, Anna Marie Sell, Susan Winter (right in photo), Bill Zeffiro
The Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Series (20 Shows, 100 Artists) continues through December 14. Urban Stages is located on 259 West 30th St. between 7th & 8th Avenues. For more information on the series schedule, go to http://urbanstages.org/
Photos by Maryann Lopinto