Bette Catchs Ex-Harlette’s Show This Past Weekend

Melissa Manchester, Paul Williams sing out
By Frederick M. Winship
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 4/22/2003 10:58 AM


NEW YORK, April 22 (UPI) — Singer-songwriters are abundant in the popular music field, but rarely do two of them team up for a cabaret engagement as Melissa Manchester and Paul Williams have done at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

In a show titled “Songs and Stories,” to run at Feinsgtein’s through Saturday, Manchester and Williams bring their special magic to a program of 15 songs they have written over the years to words by a number of lyricists, including Barbra Streisand, Kenny Loggins, Carole Bayer Sager, Kenny Ascher and Roger Nichols.

One of the songs, “Crazy Loving You,” is a Manchester-Williams collaboration, soon to be recorded for Manchester’s 16th album, due out next fall. It provides a perfect duet for two singers whose vocalism meshes so well together and whose sunny personalities imbue everything they sing with an upbeat sensitivity.

Manchester is an arresting looking redhead in black leather who replaces Christ Caswell at the piano when the spirit moves her. She has a voice of no special quality that takes on color and intensity in expression of each song’s particular emotional requirements. Williams looks like a rumpled professor in a dark suit, tie and shirt, and has a pixie style of singing to match.

They may look like the proverbial odd couple, but from their very first number, a Manchester-Sager ballad titled “Come in from the Rain,” it is evident that their talents were meant to be married in the service of music. This first impression is strengthened when they follow up with a smoky bar song from the Williams-Nichols songbook, “I Won’t Last a Day Without You.”

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One of their standout collaborations is a rendition of Williams’ “Evergreen,” the song written with Streisand that won him an Academy Award and had much to do with his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame two years ago. A timeless melody, it has become a part of America’s musical landscape along with Williams’ stirring “You and Me Against the World,” also included in the show.

Manchester’s “Midnight Blue,” with lyrics by Sager, was a smash hit single and proves an absorbingly sentimental number in contrast to her “Change in the Air,” a thistledown vocal lark with lyrics by Jeffrey Sweet. Another Manchester number, “Bend,” due out on her new CD, is a heavy by comparison, demonstrating the composer’s versatility in creating mood.

Other highlights are renditions of Manchester’s “A Mother and Father’s Prayer,” a thoughtful song suitable for the current wartime situation, Williams’ equally inspirational ballad, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and the only number in the show not written by Manchester or Williams — “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” a heartbreaker with music by Peter Allen and lyrics by Sager.

Manchester is celebrating her fourth decade as an entertainer with appearances schedule throughout the United States.

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She started as a back-up singer for Bette Midler and was soon under contract to make recordings for which she was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1978 and 1979. She won a Grammy in 1982 for Best Female Vocalist, then began a second career as an actress in several of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, the TV series “Blossom,” and a Los Angeles production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” playing opposite Kelsey Grammer.

She is the composer of a musical, “I Sent a Letter to My Love,” based on the Bernice Rubens novel, that has been performed on National Public Radio, and is currently being readied for a stage production.

Williams’ songs have sold millions of records worldwide and have been recorded by the biggest names in showbiz, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Sarah Vaughan. He has been particularly active in writing music for films, notably “The Muppet Movie” and “Bugsy Malone.”

His latest album is “Back to Love Again” on the Pioneer Entertainment label. He also has had a career as an actor in films and television, playing Little Enos in the three “Smokey and the Bandit Films” and a regular role on the CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful. He also was the voice of the Penguin in the animated “Batman” series.

Copyright © 2001-2003 United Press International

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