Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
With Rosalynn Carter waving from a box, former party treasurer Roger L. Stevens at her side, Averell Harriman signing autographs, folk milling and staring, everything a bit late and the band palying "Big Spender," the Kennedy Center Opera House Tuesday night looked like a Democratic convention.
But they were only saluting, this nonelection year, a laborer in their vineyards who's gone back to her trade, Shirley Maclaine. With such a buildup for her run through Saturday night and her first professional visit to her old hometown since she cracked the bigtime in 1954, would Shirley be worth the fuss?
Well, she's terrific. A marvelous, energetic performer, MacLaine has had the great sense to be backed by a big band, four grand dancers and a glittering professional 90-minute revue.
"If They Could See Me Now," sings MacLaine, coming on a after Don Trenner's 26-piece band introduction. She's wearing a black sequin suit and in time she'll have so many costume changes that you'll wonder how many unseen hands are stripping her down and building her up in the wings. Yes, she sings and dances "Steam Heat," that number from "The Pajama Game" which convinced Hal Wallis that Carol Haney's unknown little understudy would be worth signing for the pitchas .
Her material later includes "Big Spender," that "Sweet Charity" number composed by Cy Coleman, who composed or arranged all the music for this revue. She tells of the French "prostie" she studied for her "Irmala Douce" role. She spotlights her four "Gypsies," or chorus dancers, and expalins how that slang arose. She has a variation on her song from "Two for the Seesaw," and after "Nobody Does It Like Me," she has a wild Don Ellis arrangement for "Sweet Georgia Brown."
Solid if not really distinguished is what you'd say of such basic material.
What distinguishes it is the revue's glittering professionalism, from brassy arrangements, Tom Duekworth's drums, Trenner's strong beat and the headlong pacing of director Alan Johnson. Larry Vickers, Damits Jo Freeman, Gary Flannery and Michone Peacock are singing hoffers of class. The blend is Total Slick. The result is a string of bows for the intermissionless revue and a nice encore, "I'll Be Seeing You."
Behind the very public persona MacLaine has developed through the years is the wholly professional performer. Since she is dressed to show them off, surely it is not male chanvinism to remark that MacLaine's legs are the loveliest pins this side of paradise.
And how she uses them! Down on those sequined heels and up, up, way above her tousled head, arms that stretch to the infinity of long, tapered, gleaming red nails.
After a bout with the Hustle, the four Gypsies retreat to the wings, but MacLaine stays where she is, stage center, chatting admitting she's bushed and, after only a short breather, goes into a quiet number. Now, that's professionalism, to risk and to switch mood. It takes class and experience to do that.
Some of the experience came from MacLaine's teen-age years with two rare teachers, Mary Day and the late Lisa Gardiner of the Washington School of the Ballet. The morning after MacLaine took over Gladys, from the ailing Carol Haney, the second night of "The Pajama Game's" run, Daw was on the phone to tell the neighbors what had happened. Ever since, MacLaine's been Example Number One for how to make good by doing your homework.
This, too, is part of the persons which makes MacLaine unique. She refers to it with blithe honesty. She talked Tuesday night of being in Europe wihle President Carter was there and of great curiosity about him. "Boom or bust," she chatters, "at last I've got a President who goes for lust." Mentioning Robert Redford, she thinks of Paul Newman, frowns a few seconds and adds: "What do you think Anita Bryant would say about them?"
But, most of all she dances. Like crazy.