I was wearing my new brown wool sport coat at work on 11/2/07, and my boss said:
HER: Hm, you look nice. Where are you going?
ME: I’m going to see Steve and Eydie.
HER: Steve and Eydie who?
ME: Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.
She put her hand over her mouth and backed away in horror.
I asked each of my friends if they wanted to go to this concert with me, and they all chuckled and fled. I asked my boyfriend Richard, and he had a more valid response - - he saw them in Vegas about ten years ago, and wants to remember them as they were. So I took the Long Island Railroad out to Westbury, Long Island, and then a cab out to the theater. Alone.
Just as I expected, I was the youngest person there, out of about 1,000 people. I saw a woman who may have been about my age, but she seemed like a paid attendant. The ushers clearly don’t relish dealing with what my friend Vince Passaro calls “the halt and the lame”, but who else goes to concerts by Steve and Eydie, Olivia Newton-John, or The Two Kennys (Loggins and Rogers)? One woman asked an usher where her seat was, and the usher said, “You’re in seat E 15. It’s somewhere in the middle there.”
I paid slightly more money to be closer to the stage, and my seat was just one row away from the pit. The guy ahead of me was right in front of the drums. He called over an usher:
OLD MAN: Excuse me. I’m right in front of the drums here. I’m not sure I’m going to like it. Are they going to be loud.
USHER: Sir, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. This isn’t James Brown. It’s Steve and Eydie.
Other bits of overheard conversation:
“Are they gonna put the heat on? It’s freezing in here!”
“Who’s Kenny Rogers?”
“Kenny Rogers is the guy Alison always used to go see with Stephanie.”
And the best, between an old woman I’ll call Fossil (four feet tall, blonde helmet of hair, eyebrows drawn with a Sharpie) and a less old woman I’ll call Cranky (strawberry blonde, plump, wearing a leopard print blouse).
FOSSIL: I think you’re in my seat.
CRANKY: You do?
CRANKY: What’s your seat?
CRANKY: What row?
FOSSIL: I’m in seat 5.
CRANKY: What ROW, though.
FOSSIL: [louder] I’m in seat 5, you’re in my seat.
CRANKY: No I’m NOT. What ROW are you in?
FOSSIL: [no response]
CRANKY: Gimme your ticket.
CRANKY: GIMME YAA TICKET!!!
FOSSIL: [gives her the ticket]
CRANKY: [trying to read the ticket over her bifocals] Oh, I can’t read this thing…
A few minutes later an announcer came on the PA. “Excuse me, may I have your attention, please.” Silence. “There’s a Ford Mercury with New Jersey plates, license number ____, with its lights on.”
I was amazed by the size of their orchestra: 12 strings, timpani, piano, guitar, drums, 5 saxophones, 3 trombones, and 4 trumpets. The great thing about being so close to the pit is I was able to read the names of the songs off the sheet music on the bass player’s stand. I was most excited to hear “I gotta be me” arranged by Don Costa.
The lights dimmed and they showed a ten-minute video montage on screens lowered in front of the stage, clips of Steve and Eydie from the 50s to the 80s. Steve on the Arthur Godfrey show when he was 16 years old, so cute! The two of them on Edward R. Murrow’s *Person to Person*. Eydie with Lucille Ball singing “Bosom buddies”. Both of them with Frank Sinatra. Both of them singing to the Reagans, with John Forsythe and Linda Evans in the audience, also Charles Bronson looking rather lost and confused. And funniest of all, Eydie as the mystery celebrity on *To Tell the Truth*. For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, *TTTT* would often have a mystery celebrity guest on the show who would answer questions from the blindfold-sporting celebrity panel, disguising their voice so as not to be recognized. The thing that made this truly hilarious is that Eydie was the mystery, but Steve was on the panel! Steve asked a question, Eydie answered it, and the audience laughed for no apparent reason. Steve thought about it for a moment and said, “Are you the mother of my children?” The audience went insane. The other celebs on the panel took off their blindfolds, but Steve didn’t. The host said he could take his off, and he said, “No, I’m still trying to figure out who she is!”
The screen went up, the tympani rolled (so old school), and the announcer (Mr. Ford Mercury) said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé!” They slowly made their way down the aisle and onto the stage. Did I mention the theater is in the round? Their first song started with the words, “We don’t look like the film.”
And indeed, they DON’T look like they do in the film, but then, at 72 and 76 (Eydie is older), why should they? Eydie is chunky, was wearing a bad black wig, and looks like she’s had some sketchy plastic surgery. She wasn’t helped by her white shmatta pantsuit with silver sequins and silver flats, but then I’m not sure what a better choice would have been. Steve said later in the show that she just had knee surgery, so I should cut her some slack. Steve looks great, was wearing a tux. His hair, though, was troublesome. It was exactly the color of yellow split pea soup.
Eydie doesn’t sound good, her voice is very limited, and rather opaque. Steve, on the other hand, sounds great, he sounds more or less just like he did 30 years ago. I have a theory about this: Eydie, in her prime, had a truly amazing instrument - - a big range, lots of color, wonderful breath control, she had it all. Steve always had a handsome voice, but nothing really too special. Eydie, since she really had to SING to sing, wore her voice out. Steve, since he always played it rather cool (Sinatra-style), has aged very well.
After a few songs together (“This could be the start of something big”, “Baby, it’s cold outside”, and barf, “That’s what friends are for”), Eydie did a set on her own. The first song, “What did I have that I don’t have”, was OK. “If he walked into my life” was odd - - she’s no longer able to sing the high section of each verse (“Did I give too much”, for example), and she reroutes the melody so it hangs around in the middle of her voice. In the last verse she went for the high part, and you wished she hadn’t. My thought: why not scrap or adapt the Don Costa arrangement, and lower the whole thing a third or a fourth, or whatever? We’d all be happier.
Her last solo song, “Send in the clowns”, was stunning. I was a little worried, because that song can be mawkish, but she sang it with warmth and beauty, and it was genuinely touching. And, to be perfectly frank, I had the unfair advantage of watching her back through the whole song (she was facing the other direction).
Then it was Steve’s turn for a solo set. “When I was first getting places in the business, one Christmas I got this big present delivered to me, a huge box wrapped in green cellophane with a red velvet bow. The card said it was from Frank Sinatra. This was a surprise, because I’m not the kind of guy who gets Christmas presents. [Big laugh from the Long Island Jewish audience.] But I opened it up and it was all his arrangements. With a note, saying, ‘I think you’re the only young guy around who could really do justice to these, so use them, and always say it was me who gave them to ya.’ And I always do.” I have to confess that I got a little teary when he told this story. He did Frank’s Nelson Riddle arrangements of “More”, “I’ve got you under my skin”, and “These foolish things”. Then he did “Portrait of my love”, a grodie Hit Parade song that Frank never would have sung, and I thought I was gonna hurl. That song is too gross and sappy and overblown, even for me.
Eydie came back, and they said they were going to do a medley of songs Sinatra had done. They started with “All or nothing”, then “Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered”, then “Come fly with me” - - and I thought, “Oh, they’re going through the alphabet.” I remembered having heard an alphabetical Sinatra medley on some Sinatra tribute show on TV in the early 80s. Well, that was a pipe dream. Would that there were only 26 songs in this medley. It went on for what felt like a week. It feels like they’re still doing it.
About a third of the show was Steve doing jokes, all these old Borsht Belt jokes.
When a Jewish husband says something in the forest and nobody hears him, is he still wrong?
A woman goes to the pharmacy and says to the pharmacist, “I need a bottle of rat poison, I’m gonna kill my husband.” The pharmacist says, “I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t help you with that.” She says, “But look at this. I’ve got a picture of my husband having sex with your wife.” The pharmacist said, “Well you didn’t tell me you had a prescription!”
STEVE: You know how they have a long list of side effects for every pill you take? Well, I started taking Viagra, and now every night Eydie has a headache!
EYDIE: It’s such a shame that you have to take Viagra, you didn’t used to be…
STEVE: Don’t use that word! They have a new term for it, they call it E. D.
EYDIE: Oh, they named a disease after me?
STEVE: Yeah, they’ve got your picture on the bottle.
A woman is about to marry her sixth husband, and she decides to go see her gynecologist, to make sure everything’s working right. He examines her and says, “Ma’am, I can’t believe you’ve been married five times. You look like an 18-year old girl down there, like a virgin!” She said, “Well, my first husband was a gynecologist. All he wanted to do was look at it. My second husband was a psychiatrist, all he wanted to do was talk about it. My third husband was a politician, he just wanted to kiss my ass. My fourth husband was a stamp collector. [pause - - laughter] My fifth husband was a contractor. He never showed up. But my new husband, he’s a lawyer. This time I’m sure to get screwed.”
An 87-year old woman is arrested for stealing a jar of peaches from the supermarket. The cops tell her that she has to go to court on Monday morning and the judge will sentence her. She goes home, and she tells her husband, “Oh Morty, I don’t know how it happened, but I stole a jar of peaches from the supermarket and I was arrested and I have to go to court on Monday and the judge is going to sentence me, and I need you there with me, I need your love and I need your support.” The husband said, “Of course, honey, of course I’ll be there with you.” So they went to court on Monday and the judge looked at her and said, “Ma’am, you look fairly well off. What were you doing stealing a jar of peaches?” “Your honor, I don’t know how it happened. I had the jar of peaches in my hand, and I just put them in my purse, I don’t know what I was thinking. But I know it’s illegal, I know I did a bad thing, I feel awful about it, and you tell me what ever I need to do to make it right, and I do it, I promise I’ll do what ever you say.” The judge thought about it for a moment and said, “OK, how many peaches were in the jar.” She said, “Six.” “I think you should spend one day in jail for each of those peaches.” At this point the husband stood up and said, “Uh, your honor, she also stole a can of peas.”
* * *
Eydie sang a song in Spanish, that she had recorded with Trio los Panchos, and it was lovely. They did a medley of “Go away, little girl” and “Blame it on the bossa nova”. They did “Every time we say goodbye”, “Fly me to the moon”, and “Where or when” (gorgeous song). Then Steve did a song called “Where can I go”, in Yiddish and then in English, which he said he “learned at his father’s knee.” You can bet he got a standing O after that song. They closed with Steve doing “New York, New York” and the two of them doing their signature song, “Our love is here to stay”.
Steve said that next month they’re celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Who knows how much longer they’ll be working, so I’m glad I saw them. I’ll be trolling the Westbury theater website, looking for some other old timers I need to see, Debbie Reynolds being at the head of the list. “Tammy, Tammy, Tammy’s in love” - - cross your fingers!