"OH, the stories, I have. But... they'll have to wait. They make me too sad. Maybe later, when it doesn't hurt too much." That was Liza Minnelli onstage at the Manhattan memorial for the late and very much lamented Marvin Hamlisch.
The memorial tribute to composer Marvin Hamlisch earlier this week in the Jay Sharp Theater at NYC's Juilliard School was not just a memorial. It was joyful and bittersweet and it most certainly was art, in its highest form from a collection of the world's greatest pianists, cellists, violinists and singers.
The evening began with Marvin's wife Terre, speaking eloquently, thanking Marvin's friends, urging the audience to contribute to one of her husband's great loves -- the Juilliard School. Her voice broke only once, toward the end, when Terre turned to the huge black and white portrait of Marvin that hung above the stage, "I love you, so much," she said, before exiting.
And then the show began. And where to begin in even relating what happened onstage? What could be considered the highpoint of an event that consisted of nothing but highpoints? Was it Chris Botti's divine trumpet rendition of "What I Did for Love?"... was it pianist Lang Lang's rapturous overture from A Chorus Line?... cellist Carter Brey's theme from Sophie's Choice?... Maria Friedman's hilarious rendition of "Nothing" from A Chorus Line?... was it Dena DiGiacinto, Emily Fletcher and Hollie Howard's" "At the Ballet?" (Another Chorus Line classic.... Brian D'Arcy James' bombastic "At the Fountain" from Sweet Smell of Success? Maybe it was Itzhak Perlman?
Or was it the legendary once-in-a-lifetime happening of Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand, appearing on stage at the same event? (They did not appear together, which is perhaps all to the good. The roof would have come off the place and all the heads inside would have exploded.)
Barbra Streisand -- who actually closed the show, and was the impetus behind the tribute -- came on with the usual business of the stool to sit on, the end-table with the tea cup and water, and, in this case, a sheet music stand, from which she rather distractingly at times, read the lyrics to "The Way We Were" and "Through the Eyes of Love." (The stand obscured Barbra's face to a section of the audience. Thankfully, she didn't perform her numbers entirely seated!)
Natch, the creamy buttah of Barbra's voice negated these nitpickings; at 70, rich velvet still resides in that throat. There was an audible sigh from the audience as she began the famous humming intro from The Way We Were. And she got the night's biggest laughs, talking about how she and Marvin bonded over chocolate donuts and their mutual hypochondria. ("I was always having these sinus problems, and Marvin said, 'Sinuses, of course. It's a Jewish thing!'") Barbra, who seems to have been dieting, was very blonde and looked remarkably fresh, all in black, with glittery pendants dangling down the front of her sweater. (Probably vintage pieces, well-researched, and lovingly purchased.)
I have saved Miss Aretha Franklin for last, though she was the second legend out. There have been star entrances, and then there was Aretha on Tuesday night. Epic!
Slooowwly she sashayed onto the stage, remarkably trimmer, exquisitely dressed in an ensemble of black and white. She gestured to Marvin's photo, she regally gestured to a gasping, whooping crowd. Suddenly, it was All About Aretha. She stood at the microphone and poured out "Nobody Does It Better," (the theme from The Spy Who Loved Me.) Well, nobody does it better than Aretha and the pull she exerted on the audience was a visceral thing. Many had never seen the legend perform live, given her fear of flying. And it was like, "Oh, my God, that voice is for real!"
It sure was. And one number was not enough. After finishing Marvin's composition, she launched into a powerful gut-wrenching gospel song, "Deep River." It could have turned into an Aretha Franklin concert with very little effort, that's how electrified the audience was. And then, she bowed to Marvin's portrait, sloooowwly sashayed off stage, gave another salute to Marvin and another grand gesture to the audience. Then she was gone. She'd wrung-out that classy New York crowd, for sure. They don't call Miss Franklin the Queen for nuttin.'
And in the spirit of the evening, and in memory of Marvin, the man who couldn't say no to any request, big or small please find a way to donate to the Juilliard School. This was his wish, and he gave so much, we should give a little back.