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.


  1. sounds kind of like that Xmas party when the wife of a coworker I didn't know latched onto me and kept talking and talking and talking while he slipped away quietly to drink.

  2. Wow....... I am speechless. The only thing I can say is that his marriage to Jan is the ONLY one to have lasted or worked in any way at all. They seemed sorta cute on their insurance commercials. Thanks, as always for a YOU ARE THERE review of a show I could never see. It's a shame Mickey couldn't be more of the show. BTW, you say "A big, blowsy, badly-permed blonde strode into the spotlight" like it's a bad thing! LOL I guess in this case it was...

  3. Sometimes, its best for people to fade into the hallowed halls of memory before events like this sear itself into our brains.

    For me, I prefer to think (when I must) of Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy. In my mind, Andy is still chasing Ann Rutherford and Judy Garland through SAG Retirement home in Midvale, USA.

  4. what a horror. was it advertised as mickey only?

  5. This is on Feinstein's website:

    JAN CHAMBERLIN ROONEY, a well known singer in her own right, has been married to Mickey for over thirty years. Jan has the voice of an angel. Whether singing old standards or belting out country western tunes Jan's powerful, melodic voice brings people to their feet.

    I guess her voice brings people to their leave. Am I right?

  6. i suppose feinstein's nose fits quite well up rooney's ass.

  7. Yikes!
    I live vicariously through you, darling, but this time I'm sorry for both of us!

  8. YE Gods! I saw the show advertised and was pondering a visit just to see it! Awfully glad I passed! though I missed seeing you TJB!

  9. How heartbreaking to read this. If she managed to take over his cabaret act, what, can you imagine, has she done with his life!


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