It was suggested that guests for the 2017 Songbook Celebration I attended at The Palladium, Saturday, wear black tie or ’60’s “Mad Men Chic” attire to match the evening’s theme. Consequently, I reached out to my friend Cheryl Harmon who own and operates Costumes by Margie in Indianapolis. She supplied me with a vintage suit and a skinny tie from the era so I could fit right in. As it turned out, however, there were more tuxedos and gowns worn by guests, than clothes from the “Mad Men” period. Nevertheless, I enjoyed revisiting my youth, by dressing in the style popular during my high school and college years
The glamorous annual event which, in terms of scope, surpasses any other local non-for-profit gala, was an entertainment extravaganza. It was presented by title sponsor Krieg & Devault. Prior to the Songbook Hall of Fame induction ceremony and concert, several cocktail receptions took place in the east and west lobbies. They were followed by an elegant dinner held in the concert hall during which 550 guests sat at tables placed on a temporary floor that covered the venues seats. The program was hosted by five-time Grammy nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein, founder of the Great American Songbook as well as artistic director for the Center. He oversaw the induction of Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Gilbert (both deceased) and Mitzi Gaynor who was present to receive the honor. Paying tribute to the inductees in song was Songbook Youth Ambassadors Finn Sagal (2017), Julia Goodwin (2013) and Annie Yokom (2010).
After the Songbook Hall of Fame induction portion of the evening’s program, a concert headlined by Broadway, film and television star Kristin Chenoweth took place. After the concert, three different after parties, with settings that evoked New York, Hollywood and Miami, took place in various locations throughout the center. The $600,000 proceeds from the event will go towards supporting the Center’s artistic and educational programming.
Kicking off the program were members of Dance Kaleidoscope. Dressed in ’50s and ’60s wardrobe, designed by Indiana Repertory Theatre costumer Guy Clark, they performed in a nostalgic dance sequence. Dancing to a recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Come Fly with Me” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” they portrayed airport passengers and a flight crew. Performing downstage in front of a grand piano and the band’s preset instruments, the company exuded vitality and charm. The number was conceived by Ellen Kingston who also staged it along with DK artistic director David Hochoy.
After the opening number, Feinstein commenced the program with introductory comments about each Songbook Hall of Fame inductee after which brief videos showcasing their respective careers were projected on a screen hung above the stage. After each inductee was announced, Songbook Youth Ambassadors and Feinstein sang tributes to each honoree. They were accompanied by music director John Oddo on piano and a four-piece band. Yokom sang “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” in memory of Ella Fitzgerald. Feinstein poignantly interpreted Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dendi” to honor Ray Gilbert, and Goodwin recognized Gaynor in a medley of songs the entertainer performed on Broadway and in films. Medley songs included”You’re the Top, “Wonderful Guy,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “No Business Like Show Business.” After the induction ceremony, the newest Songbook Youth Ambassador, Sagal, sang Frank Loesser’s “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys & Dolls” All three Songbook Youth Ambassadors displayed charisma, poise beyond their years, youthful appeal and most importantly—vocal excellence.
Feinstein indicated that Fitzgerald’s award was to be given to her foundation and Gilbert’s to his widow, actor-singer Janis Paige. Gaynor, who had suffered a foot injury was unable to make her way to the stage so Feinstein spoke with her at a table where she sat with other guests in the hall. During humorous comments to the audience, the still precocious Gaynor said, “I’m a widow and I’m rich.” and deadpanned “I am completely sober.” Flanked by DK dancers, Tim June and Cody Miley, she playfully flirted with each after which they both kissed Gaynor on her cheeks.
Following the Songbook Hall of Fame inductions, Kristin Chenoweth, accompanied by her music director Mary Mitchell Campbell, took to the stage for a program that felt more like an intimate cabaret show than a concert. Absolutely dazzling, the petite Chenoweth who possesses an exquisite soprano voice, also showed comic flair (she could easily do standup comedy) during her program when the self-effacing entertainer shared funny stories and anecdotes about her family and Oklahoma background.
Highlights of Chenoweth’s set, of which there were many, included her rendition of “Moon River”; “Fifty Years” in which she sang a tribute to her beloved parents while a video montage of family photos was projected on the screen; “Bring Him Home” from “Les Misérables”; and “Popular” a song she originated as Glinda in the original cast of “Wicked” which has become her signature song.
Of all the songs performed by Chenoweth, the one that moved me and tugged at my heartstrings the most was Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are,” which she sang in a duet with Feinstein. Their combined voices and interpretation of the classic was flawless and a performance I will long remember for its emotional impact.
After weeks of being inundated with news of natural disasters and political strife, I needed a respite from reality so there was no better diversion than the Songbook Celebration. The combination of Feinstein, Chenoweth, the Hall of Fame honorees, the Youth Ambassadors and music from the Great American Songbook was just the balm I needed to soothe my weary psyche. In a world filled with so much turmoil the event reinforced why we need the Great American Songbook now more than ever to sustain and grow our humanity.
For tickets and information about the Center for The Performing Arts 2017-2018 season call (317) 843-3800 or visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.