In Le Grand Tour, which debuted recently at the Metropolitan Room, singer Jeff Macauley completes his trilogy of shows about classic Hollywood songwriters. Having previously paid tribute to Henry Mancini and Norman Gimbel, he focused this time on Michel Legrand, a true master of film music, with over 200 film and TV scores to his credit, as well as numerous jazz and pop songs and pieces for the concert stage.
The show was smart, funny and well-constructed. Macauley was so good at encapsulating the plots and backstories of the movies and songs involved, that I would gladly tune in regularly to a film podcast if he chose to go in that direction. He provided just enough biographical and critical information as well. The song choices were a good mix of classic and rarer material. With music direction, arrangements, and piano by Tex Arnold and bass by John Burr, he surrounded himself with some of cabaret’s best. He obviously put a great deal of thought into the presentation of the lyrics and the stories; in fact, he might have put too much thought into them. The songs and the singing were filled with intellect but lacking in emotion.
Legrand’s work is nothing if not passionate and sensual, and that is just what was lacking─so much so, that at times it seemed as though Macauley was actively avoiding it. The singer never really relaxed on stage: he was rarely still, and his delivery was hard and direct when it needed to be soft and subtle. His hands moved constantly in repeated motions, and when they were not moving, one was on his hip and the other had the index finger pointed at the audience as if he were lecturing. He was once removed from the stories, commenting but not participating. The show was filled with songs that are one-on-one love songs, and we never believed he was one of the participants; his focus was constantly moving around the room, when a choice of single focus, at least occasionally, might have made the performance more successful.
In his introduction to a pairing of “His Eyes, Her Eyes” and “The Windmills of Your Mind” (lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman, from The Thomas Crown Affair), he actually mentioned the sexual heat in the scene in which the first song appears, but none of that found its way into the singing; it was as though he were watching two people through a window. The intrusive arm movements reached their nadir in in a Kurt Weill-ish arrangement of “Windmills”; he resembled a flight attendant pointing out a plane’s exits. This may have been an attempt to physicalize rather than internalize the emotional turmoil of the lyrics.
It seemed that the arrangements were also hampered by this lack of sensuality and emotion: the swing numbers had an odd “oom-pah-pah” sound to them that grew tiresome with repetition. Even the most romantic numbers had a cold, brittle overtone, mirroring the somewhat stiff vocals. Macauley also has a habit of holding out the last few notes of a song simply for the sake of holding them until the music stopped, with no narrative or musical reason for doing so. The same musical moments repeated again and again making the show feel much longer than it actually was.
His take on “Pieces of Dreams” (the Bergmans) came closest to genuine- rather than described emotion, but there, too, the incessant hand gestures made it seem like he was conducting the song rather than living in it. In a trippy ’70s song called “Sweet Gingerbread Man” (the Bergmans, from The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart) his vocal stiffness actually provided hilarious counterpoint to the psychedelic lyrics and bubblegum tune.
Given his ingratiating stage presence and thoughtful show structure, I would chalk this shortcoming up to a mismatch of styles. But then again, Jeff Macauley is so good at everything else, I wish he would take the chance, let his guard down, breathe, strip away his defenses and dive into the emotional pool Michel Legrand’s music provides. It can be exhilarating to jump into the deep end and just swim.
Le Grand Tour: The Music of Michel Legrand
Metropolitan Room – August 12 (returning in November)
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”