The Sacramento Choral Calendar
A Celebration of 79 Years of Oscar’s “Best Song” Nominees and Winners - January 27, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
This satire of The Oscars and that institution’s “Best Song” category made for a wonderfully entertaining evening of music and comedy. The idea was to present 79 songs from the 79 years of nominees and winners, though we were warned in the program as follows: “If you are thinking this means the best song from each year, you are sadly mistaken. This show is all about quantity, not quality.” And, indeed, by my count there were at least 79 songs presented, though obviously none in its entirety.
The 1½-hour-long show (with no intermission) began with a woman acting as a red carpet reporter, greeting and interviewing each of the eight singers – the women especially were dressed to the nines – as if they were movie stars arriving at the Academy Awards. The gag was even reinforced by humorous bios in the program. Sam Schieber, the creative force behind this madcap event, brushed off the reporter saying “I’m with the band,” as he took his position at the piano.
With the eight singers (5 women and 3 men) in a line of seats on the stage, one (I still can’t figure out who was really who) acted as the MC, reading the witty script that introduced each segment of the show. There were 15 segments in all: highlighting Disney songs, songs about women, songs from westerns, the contributions of Burt Bacharach, songs from disaster films, etc. (Click here to open the program in a new window.) In each segment, individual singers would come forward to perform the highlights of a song, typically well under a minute in length. These came one after another with no break, so the whole thing felt very fast-paced. And while a performer was singing out front (sometimes with outrageous overacting), something was going on behind them. The other actor-singers might provide a little back-up chorus for the song, or they might interact with each other in humorous ways, maintaining the fiction of their being at the Academy Awards. Or they might react in sarcastic ways to the song being performed, sometimes even heckling the singer. And part of the shtick at the end of each suite of songs was opening an envelope to reveal which song won the “award.” This was followed by giving out little plastic Oscar replicas – there were probably 79 in all.
Schieber pours enormous research into every one of his programs, and besides having dug up many gems among the great variety of Oscar nominees and winners, his script (and program) gave fascinating tidbits of the history of the Best Song at The Oscars. Of course, many of the tunes were delightful – part of the much-loved soundtrack of my life (and yours, too, I’ll bet). And most of these were performed straight – rather than satirically, as many of the songs were. And these serious moments, of course, made a nice contrast to the general comedic tone of the show. Come to think of it, so much of the presentation was deadpan, that I’m not really sure what was performed sympathetically and what was performed satirically – and I’m not sure it even matters.
The songs weren’t enumerated in the program – there were far too many of them – and I wish I could have noted a few as they flew by. Many of these were so obscure that despite my lifetime appreciation of movies and popular songs, there were many I’d never heard before – and deservedly so. For the most part, I just sat back and enjoyed the spectacle. But one I did note was the “Happy Working Song” from Disney’s Enchanted. Check out the lyrics online, and you’ll understand why I had to write down this title and check to see if I really heard what I thought I heard.
(After reading this review, Schieber kindly provided a list of all the songs and performers. Click here to open it in a new window.)
One of the most entertaining features of the show was the dramatic reading of lyrics without music. This happened in 3 of the 15 segments, and the effect was simply hilarious. Picture a woman in an elegant gown, reciting with great seriousness the full lyrics of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or one of her male counterparts giving a very dramatic reading of "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"
Apart from the comedy and the amazing array of tunes, one of the best parts of this show was Scheiber’s piano playing, which was almost constant throughout. He performed with energy in a variety of styles, a straight man for the frequent humor of the singers. If I had a CD of just his playing, it would make great, nostalgic listening all by itself.All the other reviews in the Sacramento Choral Calendar are of choral singing, and this event was nearly all solos. The exception was the finale, a medley of 6 tunes sung by the whole ensemble. It culminated in an uproarious and hilarious rendition of “Blame Canada” from the movie, South Park. Not having heard it before, I laughed till I cried. As it ended, the performers slipped out, never breaking character, concluding yet another over-the-top bit of musical entertainment from Samantics.