Michael Feinstein: Caught Between the Moon and New York City, Peter Allen ne Peter Richard Woolnough (1944-1992), was a talented and flamboyant performer/songwriter. Often remembered by the public as an entertainer, his songs last the test of time and are celebrated tonight. When asked to write a memoir, Allen responded, “My biography is in my songs.”
Born to an Australian household that owned only three record albums, all Fats Waller, the preternaturally talented musician was also, we’re told, influenced by Al Jolson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Francis Faye. As Allen’s father had committed suicide, he became the family breadwinner, entering professional life at age eleven.
After solo efforts, Peter formed The Allen Brothers with Chris Bell. The pair hit it big on Australian Bandstand and toured extensively. In May 1964, Judy Garland serendipitously saw them at The Hong Kong Hilton, became their manager, and brought them to the states. When she introduced Allen to her daughter Liza Minnelli, sparks flew and they married.
Four years later, he broke up with both Bell and, coming out of the closet, Minnelli. It was she who encouraged his songwriting. They never stopped loving and respecting one another. Peter Allen blazed as a solo performer selling out Radio City Music Hall ten times. He wrote and performed until dying prematurely.
Feinstein’s rendition of “I Could’ve Been a Sailor” rides a sea of brass with drums as ballast. The song is rhythmic, expansive; thoughtful.
Storm Large, herself an outsize personality, delivers “Love Crazy” in powerful alto. Wonder becomes “wunda,” crazy becomes “crazA.” The lady can mooove. Percussion takes off on solo flight. Firth comes down hard on piano chords. It’s dynamic, infectious.
“Quiet, There’s A Lady Onstage” follows. Inspired by quieting an obtrusive audience member during a Julie Wilson show, the lyric starts: Quiet please, there’s a lady on stage/She may not be the latest rage/But she’s singing and she means it/And she deserves a little silence…
Perched on a stool, a sinuous curve of black sequins, Large sings with gut feeling, clarity, focus. …Put your hands together and help her along…Wowza.
“I’m Not the Boy Next Door” is offered by a bouncing, strolling, Erich Bergen. Head jerks back, he pivots-kinetic, laser eyes on the audience, legs like Elvis. Percussive guitar and a sax solo command. “Singing Peter Allen’s music is a great cardio workout,” he quips.
The less well known “Six-Thirty Sunday Morning” arrives quietly backed by brushes and a light right hand on piano keys. Hand in his lap Bergen paints a picture of Central Park. Muted horn solo is all shadow. Terrific Tedd Firth Arrangement.
“You’re in fine fettle tonight,” Feinstein comments joining Bergen. “I’ve never heard that word before,” his guest answers. “Look it up,” Feinstein grins. Ah youth. “When I Get My Name in Lights” is from Allen’s ill-fated Legs Diamond musical. Horns swing cool:I’ll dance and I’ll sing. I’ll do anything/Just to get my name in lights/I’ve got to try to hit the heights…the pair sings with gusto.
Tonight’s third guest, performer/songwriter Melissa Manchester, knew Allen well. Her rendition of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” is filled with emotion, more acted than sung. Manchester leans forward extending a hand, fingers splayed. “I Love You, I Honestly Love You,” the first worldwide hit for Olivia Newton-John follows. “This song changed my life from being a simple songwriter, to being a simple songwriter with a house on the beach,” Allen said.
Manchester’s pop inflection is well honed. She has such a subtle back-of-throat vibrato, it’s almost swallowed. Lyrics emerge slowly, savored. Piano is lovely. Feinstein joins his guest in a folksy, swaying “Tenterfield Saddler” written about Allen’s grandfather and the anthem “I Still Call Australia Home.” Respect and affection fill the stage.
Our host’s feather light version of “You and Me (We Had It All)” is wonderfully restrained showcasing the immensely successful, symbiotic relationship he has with MD/pianist Tedd Firth. …You and me, we wanted it all we wanted it all/ Passion without pain/sunshine without rainy days…It’s beautiful.
“I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love” follows, starting on a cushion, swelling. Feinstein understands that volume is not necessary to communicate deep emotion. His focus is complete. Arms spread. We’re with him.
The company closes with an iconic “Caught Between the Moon and New York City” – evidently inspired by endlessly circling a New York airport during a traffic controllers strike, and the energizing “Rio” during which our audience claps and more than a few chair dance.
A swell evening.
Photos by Ayano Hisa
Michael Feinstein: Caught Between the Moon and New York City
The Songs of Peter Allen
Presented by Liza Minnelli
Michael Feinstein-Host/Vocals/Director Jazz & Popular Song Series
Erich Bergen, Storm Large, Melissa Manchester- Vocals
Tedd Firth Septet
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s The Appel Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall
April 11, 2019