Welcome to the first Show Biz column of 2023.
For the first time in years, I spent New Year’s Eve in Waikiki, at the Paradise Lounge of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where my wife Vi and I enjoyed two of three lovely sets of jazz and tunes from the Great American Songbird, dispensed by the incomparable Shari Lynn, accompanied by pianist Jim Howard.
Nothing like spending the fading hours of 2022 and soak up the artistry of this endearing duo.
It was a splendid evening, in a living room-like setting where two consummate stylists shared their artistry, in what was a hastily booked gig not widely publicized. The gig turned out to be like a command performance witnessed by a small but appreciative audience, with occasionally random pauses by Waikiki visitors transiting to or from the Bali restaurant, curious about the music.
While it’s not the ideal venue, because of the criss-crossing traffic, but when musicians stick to classic old-school fare, dispensed with style and verve, it’s a joyous thing, particularly with a bit of Cole Porter and a sampling of George and Ira Gershwin and yes, Stephen Sondheim. Legendary folks with lingering melodies.
I’ve watched and admired Shari for decades now, and she brings a combination of music educator and storyteller traits to the plate. She’s also a seasoned actress who knows how to deliver lines so the feast is in the listening.
Over the two sets, her background and experience created stunning interpretations of familiar favorites, with Shari receiving incredible support from Howard. They’ve been partnering so long, they anticipate each other in a bond that heralds genuine musicianship.
The story-sharing element perhaps was best on her version of Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the ballad that packs profound intimacy and heartfelt honesty, like experiencing a love letter set to music.
Someone requested “Over the Rainbow,” and Shari’s version began with the rarely-performed introductory verse, appropriate for the occasion since the Paradise Lounge is situated in the. Rainbow Tower of the Hilton complex. The delivery was Judy Garland-level powerful, with a postscript – thanks to her instructional background (a retired music teacher at the Hawaii School for Girls at La Pietra) and anecdotal post script comment about the integrity of learning first this classic the way it was perceived – you know, as part of “The Wizard of Oz” legacy — before adopting the globally popular Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole island version with its departure from the original lyrics and Bruddah Iz’s hypnotic “ooooh-oooohs” embellishments. Lovely, but – ahem – with liberties taken.
An evening with Shari includes tunes not commonly heard, like “The Shadow of Your Smile,” from “The Sandpiper” film, or her well-known, seductive “Send in the Clowns,” from “A Little Night Music.” Vintage doesn’t mean it’s out of vogue.
And one tune I’ve heard before, but forgotten how wonderfully inventive her delivery is, brings new perspective to “It Isn’t Easy Being Green,” again with her savvy to make the “Sesame Street” ditty relevant to an adult audience. She has appreciation of lyrics with something to say, and she delivers ‘em and brings full glory to words.
Her journey also includes “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “Pure Imagination,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Day In, Day Out,” and lots more fare but not widely shared these days.
Appropriately, she programmed “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” and happily, we spent it with her. Ask, and ye shall get, a belated holiday classic, too, “The Christmas Song,” roasting chestnuts optional.
A fan and supporter of Broadway themes, Shari avoided rousing classics from the stage and chose instead to program “Lullaby of Broadway,” a well known title, and the novelty “I Happen to Like New York,” again with lyrical pizazz.
For his part, keyboardist Howard tickled the ivories – a Roland keyboard, not a grand piano – with a perky, delightful instrumental version of “My Favorite Things.” I kinda whispered the lyrics, since Shari sat this one out.
I’m not one for celebrity snapshots or selfies, but I left the club with a memorable phot of Shari and hubby Michael Acebedo with the Haradas, shared here.
Happy 2023, folks, and may this be a ‘swonderful musical year…
And that’s Show Biz. …