"PIA AND PHIL" is not the soundtrack to a talk show, but the result of an encounter between Pia Zadora, the actress most critics love to castigate, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (not to be confused with the London Symphony Orchestra).
The meeting ground is the Golden Age of American popular song, such tunes as "Maybe This Time" (Kander/Ebb), "All My Tomorrows" (Van Heusen/Cahn) and "But Not for Me" (George and Ira Gershwin). Over the years, this material has provided inspiration to hundreds of singers, and it will undoubtedly survive its encounter with Zadora.
Zadora may be looking for credibility, but this project is a fine example of overreaching. It's not that Zadora is as bad a singer as she is an actress. She has a passable voice, somewhere between alto and soprano, that slips comfortably into torchiness. Unlike many pop singers, who tend to overwhelm this classic literature, Zadora seldom overrides a melody, preferring instead to coast naturally along its contours.
All the songs are comfortably familiar standards and none of the melodies is particularly challenging. But Zadora's performance is pedestrian, lacking the nuance and subtlety one might hope for. She reads lyrics, but hardly interprets them. And with minimal vocal dynamics -- that job is left to Phil -- songs that are one of a kind end up sounding alike. Too often, Zadora comes across overly polite, as if she's just been introduced to the songs.
(Phil, working with conductor Robert Farnon's arrangements, provides lush but workmanlike support. Zadora recorded with 88 pieces backing her up, and is touring with a slimmed-down 40-piece complement.)
Among the smoother cuts are a languid interpretation of the Gershwins' "Embraceable You" and the maudlin "Smile (Though Your Heart Is Breaking)," which, like several other cuts, features a Ray Coniff-like chorale. Zadora's less successful with a belter like "Come Rain or Come Shine," which proves more song than she can handle, or "The Man That Got Away," with its built-in dramatics. That never was Zadora's strong suit, anyway.
PIA ZADORA & THE LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA -- "Pia and Phil" (CBS FZ40269); Zadora performs Sunday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.