For readers who may have thought that world-renowned Broadway and Hollywood composer Marvin Hamlisch was strictly a musician, perhaps it is because they have never seen him in concert with his one-man show. I have had that pleasure twice now. Once was a number of years ago when Hamlisch performed at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. On that extraordinarily sultry summer evening he was dripping with perspiration as he dazzled the audience while playing his countless musical hits on the Steinway grand piano. As is his performance custom, he invited that audience to shout out a possible song title for which he, on the spot, would write an original song. Noting his struggle with the Houston heat and humidity that evening, I called out “Houston Summer Nights!” To my amazement, he selected my title suggestion and proceeded to immediately compose a song spoofing our Texas summer weather. I would give anything to have a recording of that hilarious performance. My second opportunity to hear Mr. Hamlisch was last Friday night when the Montgomery County Performing Arts Society presented him at Conroe’s historic Crighton Theatre. It became even clearer to me then, that Hamlisch is a masterfully droll stand-up comic, in addition to being a brilliant composer.
This Grammy, Tony, Emmy, Oscar, and Golden Globe award winner for such scores as “The Way We Were,” (he wrote the title tune as well), and the “The Sting,” also captured the Pulitzer Prize for his record-breaking Broadway triumph, “A Chorus Line.” During this, his second appearance at the Crighton, this Julliard graduate demonstrated his technical brilliance on the keyboard while performing many of his own compositions, along with his own favorites from the American musical songbook. Between songs he would stand proudly beside the piano and jest skillfully with the enthusiastic crowd. He sweetly teased some youngsters in the audience, and then joked about the inevitable train that would doubtless interrupt the performance as it roared past on the tracks behind the theatre. He reminisced about chasing down donuts for Barbra Streisand as her rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl,” laughed about his own mother telling talk show host, Mike Douglas, that her favorite composer was Richard Rodgers, and then poked fun at his own age saying that at one time he had “…warned Abe Lincoln not to go to the theater.”
But clearly, the music was the message as he offered a wonderful Cole Porter medley that included “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s All Right With Me,” a breezy “Easy to Love,” and an elegant, “Night and Day.” Rodgers & Hammerstein were well-represented in a medley including “Hello Young Lovers,” “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “This Must Be Love,” and a “Some Enchanted Evening” that clearly displayed the Hamlisch ability to range from delicacy to power on the eighty-eight. Tipping his hat to losing songs that were nominated for Academy Awards, the artist played “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and his own Oscar-nominated composition, “Nobody Does It Better.”
The composer’s performance of his classic, “The Way We Were,” was full of interesting twists, turns, and flourishes. There was a wonderful medley from his score for “The Sting,” and before the intermission he composed the evening’s original song for an audience member who joked about the nearby rail yards by shouting out the title, “Here Comes the Train.” The resulting song was a riot!
Act Two opened with a wistful, thoughtful, and oh-so-gentle rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The “A Chorus Line,” medley had many delights, but seemed a bit rushed in parts. Performances of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” and “Always,” were much more satisfying, and I think it is safe to say that those of us lucky enough to be in the audience will always remember that lovely evening of music.