Richard and I saw Rita Moreno in concert at the Queensboro Performing Arts Center on 9/25. We were excited to see her, she is of course a legend, one of only six people alive with an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). She's also the longest-standing EGOT winner - - she's #3 on the list, and Richard Rodgers (#1) and Helen Hayes (#2) are both long dead.
She performed with a trio: piano, bass, and drums. They were real pros, and the arrangements were often inventive and/or sumptuous. Her performance, however, was underwhelming. Her voice is very small, and she just doesn't have a lot of oomph as a performer. I had the feeling that I was supposed to be excited, but I was not. And that's not a good feeling. Maybe she was uninspired by the Queensboro Performing Arts Center, which reminded me more than a little of the Elkhorn High School auditorium. But whether you're at Carnegie Hall, the Queensboro PAC, or Elkhorn High School, you are there to perform. You should deliver the darn goods.
Part of the problem is she chose some really dippy songs. Songs I had never heard and hope to never hear again (though if I were to hear them again, I would probably have no memory of having heard her do them, they were just that memorable).
There was a high point in the first half and a high point in the second half. The first half's high point was "On the sunny side of the street," a cute song and she did a wonderful job with it, sang it like a real jazz singer, even with a cute notated-scat verse in harmony with the piano. The song got off to a rocky start: "Grab your coat and get your HAT." I capitalized the word HAT because that note went off the rails a bit, it was not the note she or the songwriter had intended. There were a few moments like that in the concert, more than anyone would have wished. But she sang that song with great charm and savvy.
She said early on that it had been four years since she had done this show, and she'd need to look at her notes now and then, which she had on a music stand. She thought it was better to announce that, rather than be sneaky about it. I can see advantages to both sides. In long sections of the second half she was GLUED to the script, reading seemingly every word of a story or every word of a song. That felt really amateurish.
She sang "I wont send roses," a lovely song from Jerry Herman's *Mack and Mabel,*, and she couched it in a dippy story about a naive young woman dating an older man. But then at the end of the story the young woman shows more character than you would think, and her singing of the young woman's verse gave me chills.
Her last song was the best thing in the show, a groovy Latinapalooza rendition of "Brazil." In Spanish - - I might expect to hear that song in Portuguese, but she did it in Spanish. The arrangement was sensational. It started with the drummer playing a repeating, persistent pattern on the triangle. Rita came in singing a counter tune on "doo" or whatever. The bass came in, dropping into a new level of depth. The piano came in, adding its own gauzy allure. This spun out for a while, unhurried and hypnotic. This intro led into the intro of the song, which I don't imagine very many people know (but I do!), which of course led into the song itself. And what a joy, you can see and hear her performing this song at the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Awards on youtube: