Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Andy Hardy Meets His Match
There is, we are sure, a special place in hell for nasty curmudgeons who would give a 90 year old legend a negative review; but we'll take our chances, as that special place couldn't be more hellish than Feinstein's at the Regency was this past Sunday.
It needn't have been so, which is the saddest part of all. When a still-impish, still-energetic Mickey Rooney took the stage, gamely "belting" out "Nothing Can Stop Me Now" from The Roar of the Greasepant, the Smell of the Crowd, it seemed that, indeed, nothing - not dropped lyrics, not a heavily-miked band which completely drowned the star out at points, not even the obvious effects of age - could stop this indefatigable charmer from putting on a show.
When Rooney eased into a medley of songs associated with his halcyon days as MGM's number one box office superstar ("How About You," "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and "But Not for Me"), all was right with the world. Rooney was never the world's greatest singer, but he could certainly get a lyric across, and that gift was fully intact on Sunday night, even as 90 hard-lived years occasionally lent a wobble or a rasp to his delivery. A tribute to his erstwhile film partner, Judy Garland, was heartfelt and touching. A brief comedy interlude, complete with rim shots from the drummer, was corny, but oh-so-effective: bad jokes made laugh-out-loud funny by the sheer magnetism of Rooney's out sized charisma, his easy professionalism, and his twinkling charm.
And then: disaster. Rooney introduced his wife, Jan, to the stage. A big, blowsy, badly-permed blonde strode into the spotlight, her voluminous, turquoise sequined-and-fringed pantsuit causing poor Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, seated squarely in front of the stage, to go slack-jawed. And then Mrs. Rooney sang. And sang. And sang.
She sang "Makin' Whoopee." She sang "Moon River." She sang "Walkin' After Midnight." She sang "Crazy." God help us, she sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads"!
Jan Rooney doesn't have a bad voice; but she certainly doesn't have the voice, talent or presence to give what amounted to a solo cabaret performance at an esteemed New York nightclub, before a very prominent audience. Everything, from her appearance, to her phrasing, to her repertoire, smelled cheap and obvious and tacky. It wasn't even Vegas; it was a bowling alley in Reno. And it played like an attempt to grandstand and outshine one of the greatest of Hollywood legends, which made the aftertaste even more bitter.
Things went from bad to worse when Jan finally wound up her solo spot, and she and Mickey engaged in a series of duets. Their Steve and Eydie-style put-down patter fell completely flat; Steve and Eydie's loving barbs are only funny because the two are equals in terms of talent and celebrity status. When Jan Rooney belittles Mickey Rooney's age, or height, or anything else, even in jest, it's painful. A particularly cringe worthy moment wasn't scripted: mid-song, Jan scolded Mickey for supposedly dropping a lyric; it turned out he hadn't.
This dizzying train wreck finally came to a haphazard halt as Mickey played a rambling solo piano piece, and then was feted by Nathan Lane, Donald Trump and Michael Feinstein, each of whom paid tribute to the entertainer, with salutatory messages read from President Obama and Liza Minnelli (surely, the only time you'll ever see those two names linked together).
In the space of about 80 minutes, we'd seen and heard Mickey sing five songs by himself, three of which were part of a medley. For the remainder, we'd been subjected to his "better" half for nearly an excruciating hour. Even at Feinstein's premium prices, we would have been happier just seeing Mickey work his magic for 20 minutes, receive his telegrams, citations and cake, and then take his bows. Stretching the program out as a vanity showcase for his wife was a bait-and-switch of the most ear-splitting kind.