Audio: Bette Midler THE CARIOCA -Tribute (Memorial) To Director, Choreographer Joe Layton -1995.mp3

“It’s forties Xavier Cugat,” director Joe Layton whispers. “It’s overproduced and terrible. And,” he hastens to add, “hopefully, terribly funny.” – Layton talking about The Carioca during an interview about Clams On The Half Shell

LA Times
Pop Music Review : Midler, Others Pay Tribute to Joe LaytonApril 08, 1995|DON HECKMAN

The imposing, wide-ranging lineup of L.A. Shanti’s “Tribute to Joe Layton” on Thursday at the Wiltern Theater–from Bette Midler to Carol Burnett to Melissa Etheridge–probably would have pleased the honoree, a highly regarded choreographer and director who died last year at the age of 64.

But he probably would have been even more delighted that a group of energetic dancers nearly stole the show with an excerpt (re-created by Gene Castle) from his choreography for “Barnum”–though annoyed by the fact that their identities were buried in the fine print of the “Special Thanks” part of the program.

The evening also included a presentation of the Daniel P. Warner Founder’s Award to singer Etheridge for her support of Shanti’s various services for people affected by HIV, AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. Despite the honor, Etheridge only performed two numbers, most notably a strong, dark-toned rendering of her Grammy-winning “Come to My Window.” It would have been nice to have heard more.

Among other featured artists, Burnett, Marilynn Lovell Matz and the vocal group the Tonics made brief appearances. Debbie Shapiro-Gravitte used her advanced state of pregnancy to have fun with “Lulu’s Back in Town.” Joel Grey offered some stirring song and dance from Layton’s Tony-winning choreography for “George M.” And Melissa Manchester, with one of the most gorgeous voices in mainstream pop, verged unnecessarily close to Whitney Houston-esque shouting an otherwise impressive “Come In From the Rain.”

Bruce Vilanch, hosting the event, provided the right tone of inside humor, and Ellen DeGeneres presented Etheridge’s award with characteristically wacky irreverence.

Closing her headliner segment of the show, Midler’s tribute of “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” was both tender and heartfelt, a fitting conclusion to a well-produced evening.

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