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Ziegfeld Follies of the Air – The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue

Anne Carrere
(Walter Willison, Liliane Montevecchi, Lee Horwin)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors, January 30, 2017

Flo Ziegfeld, the grand impresario was gone in 1932.  Still his name remains the signature of lavish productions, as grandiose as the musical, Showboat and the glamorous Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 to 1931.  He proved that "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" by presenting lavish lines of extravagantly un-clad beautiful girls.  He featured songs that remain standards of the American Songbook performed by singers and musicians who became legends.

After Ziegfeld's death, the inspiration of his shows remained.  Today, The Ziegfeld Society devotes itself to presenting performances of past Ziegfeld shows.  On January 30, Birdland featured the Society's gala benefit performance, Ziegfeld Follies of The Air: The New 1934 Live from Broadway Broadcast Revue.  It should be no surprise that from a talented cast of 19, one performer stands out as the gala's centerpiece this year, Liliane Montevecchi.  If any performer represents the esprit and glamour of the Ziegfeld showgirl, it is Montevecchi, a saucy, sexy 84-year old femme fatale, Tony winner and former Folies Bergère showgirl.  This year she received the Ziegfeld Society's first Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Devised and directed by actor/singer Walter Willison, the memories of the Ziegfeld era reached back "to those glorious radio days of yesteryear." Inspired by the radio show, The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air (1932 to 1936), legendary entertainers returned once again from Heaven’s WHVN, introduced by Willison as emcee/singer Eddie Dowling and accompanied by music director Mark York as Paul Whiteman at the grand piano.

The setting included 1930's style microphones with Ian Whitt and his sound effects and an "Applause" reminder.  With the 1934 Ziegfeld Follies Quartet (Jamie Buxton, Chelsie Nectow, Taylor James Hopkins, Matthew McFarland and Ian Whitt) adding commercial breaks and backup singing, the memorable stars sang their trademark songs.  The Quartet's own high spot, "Limehouse Blues" was embellished with a sinuous specialty dance by Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman as Renee and Tony De Marco, slinking around the room and onto the stage with spectacular grace and flexibility.

A winning Carole Demas as Billie Burke ("Mrs. Flo Ziegfeld"), sang "A Twinkle in Your Eye" and Loni Ackerman added Fanny Brice's comic "Becky Is Back at the Ballet."  Another light spot was Sheila Wormer as Matilda "Goldie" Clough, Ziegfeld's long-suffering long-time secretary.  David Giardina, a Will Rogers look-alike, performed "Wagon Wheels" and "The Last Roundup" and Willison was a standout with his rendition of "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart."

Erin Cronican (Marilyn Miller) paired with Candice Oden (Ruth Etting) for a medley of their signature songs.  One of the hot spots went to Lee Horwin, whose smoky voice revealed Libby Holman's checkered life through songs like "Moanin' Low" and "Am I Blue?"  Another notable was Shelly Burch with a sad reminiscence of a shaky torch singer, Helen Morgan singing "Bill" and "Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine."

Ziegfeld featured many of theater's greats but French icon, Mistinguett was the one he had his eye on.  Unfortunately it was his rival, the Shubert brothers, who snagged Mistinguett's signature and produced her Broadway shows.  Nevertheless, Ziegfeld held publishing rights to the chanteuse's trademark song, "Mon Homme" and here Liliane Montevecchi, swathed in crimson velvet, swept in as Mistinguett to sing "Mon Homme" and playfully flirt, sing and flaunt with theatricality and humor. 

She also accepted her Ziegfeld Society Lifetime Achievement Award and Willison closed the show with the society's theme song, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.”

Ziegfeld Follies of the Air – The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue
Birdland
315 W 44th St, NYC
The Ziegfeld Society presents Their First Annual Gala Benefit
Devised and Directed by Walter Willison
Musical Direction and Special Arrangements by Mark York
Running time: One hour.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
January 30, 2017