Rainforest Benefit Review

New York Daily News – http://www.nydailynews.com
Rock stars raise standards
(to raise funds)
Mr. Jim Farber

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Critics constantly berate baby boomers for being hopeless Peter Pans who won’t grow up. But in their recent music, middle-aged stars have shown a lust to be even older.

Consider the standards albums released by everyone from Rod Stewart to Bette Midler to Cyndi Lauper, casting classic rockers on the tunes of their parents’ generation.

This will-to-croon reached a harmonic convergence Wednesday night at the annual rainforest benefit when the top tier of boomer brand names took the Carnegie Hall stage for nearly three hours of standards.

Elton John, Billy Joel, Sting, James Taylor and Bette Midler headlined a show dubbed “Singing in the Rainforest,” which once again raised money to save the wilds of Brazil.

Even listeners who think they can’t stand one more standard would have been disarmed by the easy nature of the event – and by several performances that rose above a sweet gesture to nail the essence of the song.

The casual style of the night was established in the opening bit, when Joel, John, Sting and Taylor came out in Rat Pack black suits to mug through “That’s Amore.”

It had to go up from there – and it quickly did.

How smart for the openly gay Elton John to do “Secret Love,” announcing that his “secret love is no secret anymore.”

And how perfect for Sting to milk his honeysuckle tones on “Moon River.”

Taylor’s elegant diction made him ideal for “The Way You Look Tonight.”

And it was a relief for a real singer like Midler to deliver “Singing in the Rain” rather than the dancer whose version most of us know: Gene Kelly.

Joel knew he couldn’t sing such romantic songs straight, so he went for a Bill Murray satire of Sinatra in “I Got You Under My Skin.” But later, he showed surprising range on the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.”

Antonio Banderas offered a sweet “Mona Lisa,” and India.Arie did a bar mitzvah take on “The Long and Winding Road.”

But even in its weakest moments, the night charmed by allowing stars to preserve not just nature but songs.

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