One of my favorite celebrities is Bette Midler. I own her albums where she sings the songs of Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee. Of course there are many other reasons aside from her singing. In 1994 when the award-winning performer returned to New York after nearly 20 years in L.A. she started the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to bringing abandoned and neglected parks, gardens, and open spaces in all five boroughs back to life. So-o when I learned from the theater buff manager/waiter, Renzo, at Café Bello that Bette Midler was returning to Broadway I waited for his critique and he gave it a strong thumbs up. Happily, my discriminating friend was able to get tickets to “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers,” memorializing the legendary talent agent. Midler’s no-intermission monologue is an event without quite being a play. Midler just sits—no singing, no shoes—but she manages to look sexy in a blue chiffon caftan simply telling stories. “I love gossip, don’t you,” she says. “Tis like mother’s milk to me.” The Surgeon General’s warning on the show curtain prepares us. “This play contains profanity, smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, and gossip.” The Divine Miss M holds court in this biographical play. It’s surprising that she sits and talks for an hour and a half without any music; yet it’s very exciting. Midler makes this vulgar, fun-loving Mengers completely compelling. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the gutsy Bette Midler playing the gutsy Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers. But, please, don’t stop singing!
It’s difficult to define the word “jazz.” Duke Ellington, recognized by many as the greatest jazz composer in history, conceded that if jazz meant anything it meant “freedom of expression.” Even though Ellington transcended the jazz world I can’t think of another composer with the exception of George Gershwin whose works were performed not only by big bands and jazz musicians, but also by pop singers, Broadway divas, and leading men, blues shouters, and even coloratura sopranos. I attended a program titled “Elegant Ellington.” It was held in a room that’s an experience in itself. It seats just over 400 with such comfort that a six-footer can stretch his legs. A medium-sized concert hall, it’s based on the design of a Greek amphitheater. The breathtakingly beautiful Allen Room, a 50 x 90-foot wall of glass looks out with luxurious splendor onto views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. The “Elegant Ellington” program was hosted by singer, pianist, curator of jazz, Michael Feinstein, and included a top-notch 15-piece orchestra on stage. I was happy to recognize a couple of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks: Jon-Erik Kellso, who is regarded as the most important traditional jazz trumpeter of his generation, and Andy Farber, a saxophonist, arranger, and leader himself. The unsurpassed orchestra played many of the wonderful Ellington songs, too many to list, but here are a few: “Mood Indigo,” “Caravan,” “Take The A Train,” “Sophisticated Lady.” I have one small complaint. Jazz at Lincoln Center is not truly located at Lincoln Center but at the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle. Need more info? Visit jalc.org and you’ll be in jazz heaven.
The Berenstain Bears is a series of books to be read to children. In more than 200 stories they combine fun and learning for the kiddies. Last month I was part of the audience at an off-off-Broadway enactment. I was slightly hesitant as I opened the doors to the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center on West 61st Street and saw dozens of baby strollers in the foyer. Obviously this was a show for ages 2 to 10 years old. But I confess that I was there only for one reason: one of the show’s stars, my friend’s granddaughter. There's quite a Bayonne connection because her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all Bayonneites. An aspiring actress, Mia spent her early years singing and dancing, and enjoyed more formal training at Northwestern University. As a result, the young gal is well-trained to act, sing, and dance. In The Berenstain Bears she was a true star in my prejudiced opinion. As Sister Bear, Mia was spirited, energetic, and bright, aside from looking adorable with blonde curls and dimpled cheeks (She reminded me of Shirley Temple although she is actually in her early twenties). I have to admit I did enjoy the show which taught children not to eat junk food, not to speak to strangers, and not to neglect one’s school lessons. Amazingly, the child-packed audience of very young children sat quietly, laughed, and clapped in the right places, and appeared to be having a very good time. That was a surprise to me, and a positive reflection on The Berenstain Bears and its cast. I predict that we’ll be seeing Mia Weinberger’s name in bright lights very soon. If you’re a theater-goer, watch for it.
Our country could use a Pierpont Morgan today. The American financier (1837-1913) gathered in 1907 a group of bankers to orchestrate a dramatic resolution to a national financial panic. I learned so much more about him when I went to the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. My eyes widened and my mouth opened when I entered the monumental rotunda replete with opulent detail. Even the ceiling has paintings depicting three of the major library epochs represented in Morgan’s collection: the ancient world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Morgan strived to build an American library that would rival the great collections of Europe, but he also included the history and literature of his own country. On view are literature, art, and music from the Middle Ages to the present. In reading the calendar of events for this spring and summer, I learned that there are concerts, lectures, and discussions galore, including related films free with museum admission. Of course I always have to eat at a museum (looking makes me hungry) and it was very satisfying to enjoy lunch in the original Morgan family dining room. From an interesting menu, my son, Andy, and I selected the “Pierpont Salad” which was actually a delicious chicken salad. Andy noticed, as we dined, a huge portrait hanging close to us. We learned that it was Pierpont Morgan’s great-grandmother. We also learned that museum admission is not required to visit the dining room. The Morgan Library and Museum is a national historic landmark—one needs many visits to absorb its treasures.
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