Eric Michael Gillett
Written by Roy Sander
"Widescreen – Songs From and About the Movies"
Feinstein's at Loews Regency - September 1, 2
Film is one of the dominant forces in popular culture. Is there a soul in the modern world for whom going to the movies was not one of the chief pleasures and most vividly memorable experiences of growing up? American movies, in particular, are part of the everyday life of most countries and cultures worldwide; they are a nearly universally shared experience. Music is another dominant cultural force and shared experience, and songs from films form a significant part of our musical heritage. A show of songs taken from the movies could unquestionably make a thoroughly satisfying evening; however, vocalist Eric Michael Gillett has chosen to enhance our experience by including also songs about the movies. The result is a splendid show filled with wonderful material and extraordinary interpretations—and rich with the stuff that dreams, and life, are made of.
The show's title song, Rupert Holmes's "Widescreen," is a powerful expression of the contrast between movies and real life, and Gillett gives it an equally strong rendition. Stephen Bishop's "Separate Lives," which some may remember from Gillett's previous show, remains a searing explosion of hurt, pain, and anger. Using his magnificent tenor voice to maximum effect, Gillett's rendition of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's classic "Three Coins in the Fountain" is pop schmaltz at its most glorious. Gillett delivers a dramatic performance of Maury Yeston's "I Can't Make This Movie," but Michele Brourman and Amanda McBroom's "Hope Floats" would be even more effective if it were "acted" a bit less. This is one of the few instances in which I have a reservation about Gillett's performance, for he is as accomplished an actor as he is a singer. Another is that in a few of the songs that are addressed to "you," he sings resolutely to a single spot or person in the audience for the entire song; this choice becomes, in itself, a distraction. The desired level of focus can be achieved through more natural, though not naturalistic, movement.
While his voice is one of the most beautiful and robust around, he can also handle delicacy—as in a medley of "Moon River" (Mancini, Mercer), "Serenade of Love" (Tony Hatch, Jackie Trent), and "Somewhere in Time" (John Barry, Larry Kerchner), which starts in a gossamer falsetto and gradually progresses to full-out singing, just as it builds in emotional tone from sweetness to passion. And though he is a master of the dramatic and intense, he also is adept at lightness and comedy. With "At the Moving Picture Ball" (Joseph H. Santly, Howard Johnson), he handles the lyric's references to prominent personages of the past with playful relish; it makes a very welcoming opening number. He delivers a similarly skillful rendition of Francesca Blumenthal's paean to bygone film stars, "Heroes," which has equal parts affectionate nostalgia and humor. A highlight of the evening is Craig Carnelia's "Blood on the Moon," which recounts the ups and downs in the life of a bit- or supporting player; it is as incisive and poignant a statement about a career choice as Carnelia's "The Mason" and "Just a Housewife"—very high praise, indeed. The encore, Kander & Ebb's "At the Rialto," is a dear song about accepting and enjoying one's life; Gillett performs this gem with considerable warmth.
The fine arrangements are mainly by Gillett's long-time musical director, Don Rebic. Jeff Cubeta accompanies on the piano, and Matt Wigton on bass. Kudos to all. If there's any justice in the world, this show will have a life beyond its current two-day engagement.