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Moreno, Minnelli and more highlight Palladium gala

June 30, 2013

June 29 was a night to remember for music fans and stargazers as Michael Feinstein offered the second year of the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame gala concerts.

Honorees this year were Frank Sinatra for the posthumous Legend award, Jimmy Webb for the Songbook award (for lyricists and composers), and Liza Minnelli and Rita Moreno for the New Standard award (for any artist "who continues to create the soundtrack of our lives by writing and/or performing music that will stand the test of time and become the pop standards of tomorrow.") The festivities actually began on June 28 with a dinner and Feinstein performance at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.

Having just returned from the Saturday evening portion of the celebration, which featured the concert/tributes and post-show parties, I thought I'd simply outline some of the evening's many highlights. If you attended, please share your favorite moments.

—The Broadway-cred dancers brought in to spruce up the "There's No Business Like Show Business" overture.

—Feinstein's crack about "It's a Small World After All" making everyone want to kill Walt Disney.

—The choice of Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" as the song sung in his tribute. While "Up Up and Away," "Wichita Lineman" and others may be more familiar, "Mistress" is a great Webb tune not identified too closely with one version. And Tom Wopat handled it well.

—The fact that there was only one "cake left in the rain" joke.

—The gorgeous photos of the very young Rita Moreno in her tribute video.

—The fact that Rita Moreno is even more beautiful and poised now (but why no reference to "The Electric Company"?).

—Jimmy Smits' heartfelt tribute to Moreno.

—Jose Feliciano's compelling playing and singing—in Spanish—of "Strangers in the Night" (although he nearly crashed the song by ending with a juvenile joke).

—Dance Kaleidoscope's Jillian Godwin's fierce dance to "That's Life" for the Sinatra tribute.

—Liza Minnelli's intense, enthusiastic, "go for it girl" attention on Godwin during that dance number.

—Feinstein's earnest plug for DK after Godwin's performance. ("You folks have to see the work of Dance Kaleidoscope. They're sensational.")

—Feinstein's calling Minnelli "a really great dame" in his intro to her tribute (but why no mention of "Arrested Development"?).

—Feinstein's fill-in for the announced Megan Hilty (weather-related transportation problems) with a powerful take on the Minnelli standard "Maybe This Time"—with killer support from the overall strong on-stage orchestra.

—The orchestra's equally strong partnership with Great American Songbook competition winner Nick Ziobro on "I Won't Dance"—and the fact that Feinstein trusted the young man enough to have him follow such a strong lineup. 

—Webb's humble acceptance speech, classifying himself as occupying only a corner ("with an asterisk") of the Great American Songbook.

—Moreno's flamboyant approach to the podium—with a broken toe no less—and her wonderful acceptance speech. Yes, I agree with what Feliciano said earlier: Give this woman another part on Broadway.

—Minnelli, "too insecure to just get an award and leave," delivering a rendition of "New York, New York" in which, even with trouble with both her slacks and some of the notes, she managed, once again, to define "star."

—The gentleman usher who, in talking to me about upcoming Palladium shows, referred to Diane Ross as "that gal who sang with the Supremes."

—In one of the after-party lounges, Wopat's taking the microphone for a rendition of "Makin' Whoopee"—with Indy's own Brent Marty on piano, playing like the two have been partners for years.   

—The realization that galas aren't the only time central Indiana is attracting Great American Songbook talent: Webb recently played the Palladium. Wopat performed at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club. Minnelli sang with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The commitment of the Palladium, the ISO and the Cabaret to the genre certainly makes me feel like I've got the world on a string and that I'm sittin' on a rainbow. 

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