Going to see an entertainment critic sing is probably like going to see a baseball writer play ball.
Rex Reed, New York’s legendarily bitchy film critic and celebrity journalist of long standing, brought his cabaret act to Crooners Lounge in Fridley on Sunday night.
As he sat down in the Dunsmore Room, he joked that he was prepared to cancel 30 minutes earlier fearing nobody would show up. Well, maybe 40 folks turned out for the first of two shows by the still-carping movie critic.
It was an entertaining evening if you delight in hearing stories about old Hollywood for 95 minutes. In fact, if the ever-natty Reed wanted to fit into his yarns, he should have dressed in black-and-white instead of his navy six-button double-breasted blazer, red striped cravat and beige slacks, looking so Jerry Lewis in 1962.
If you remember Reed from all his talk show appearances with Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson (yes, that was Reed’s heyday), you know he likes to share dishy stories about his friendships with the stars, especially Hollywood’s leading ladies.
So there were tales about Marlene Dietrich, Alice Faye and Doris Day, each story as fabulous as the goddess he was talking about.
He was LOL funny telling two anecdotes about Day – he called her Clara, which is another story entirely.
One involved her rescuing the restaurant house cat from the un-air-conditioned basement of the chic 17th Hole dining room at Pebble Beach golf club and feeding the feline Shrimp Louie, which prompted the cat to walk around the posh place vomiting -- and got Day banned.
For most stories (some were about songwriters like Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and Mel Torme), there was a song to go along, one that Reed said was overlooked or forgotten. Numbers like “Blame My Absent Minded Heart,” “Shocking Miss Pilgrim” and “A Stranger in Town.”
The 80-year-old has a great ear for picking choice tunes.
As for Reed’s singing, let’s suffice it to say he’s a shower singer who should have stayed in the bathroom and drenched himself with cold water. His upper register was breathier than Marilyn Monroe’s singing voice and thinner than Kate Moss’ waistline. His bottom notes were sometimes flatter than a bicycle driven on a road covered with brass tacks. By contrast, his sense of phrasing was studied.
To have brought along stellar New York pianist Tedd Firth to play a brief bridge on some of the numbers seemed to be to inconsiderate of his talents.
As for Reed’s stage presence, well, what is he without cue cards? His eyes were too often fixed on the clipboard on a music stand in front of him, with him constantly shuffling papers, whether he was looking at lyrics or a script for his reminiscences.
It reminded me of the time in 10th grade when my history teacher accused me of reading a speech. After two accusations, she approached the lectern, spirited away my notes and demanded I finish sans script. And I did just fine, thank you, and received a glowing grade.
That sounds a bit like the kind of tale Reed would tell except his teacher would have been Bette Davis and his classmates Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Betty Grable, all of whom were subjects of his narratives on Sunday.
It’s a good thing that almost every three-minute tune was preceded by a riveting or ridiculously funny 5- or 10-minute anecdote. Because with Rex Reed, a well-told story with a killer punchline is the thing.