Music, once a prime part of television, has been nudged to the fringe.
Mostly, it shows up in award shows, in competitions, in the final minutes of latenight talk shows. And it fills PBS pledge drives.
That’s where we are now. Stations are stuffing this pledge period with the songs of Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, the Rolling Stones and more, from a Pink Floyd cover band to, as usual, Celtic Woman.
And in a change-of-pace (shown here with Jenn Colella), they have Broadway’s Lerner-and-Loewe songs, given a fresh twist.
“If you want to hear the exact version of the way it was done, then go turn on the cast album,” said Luke Frazier, the producer and conductor for “An Evening with Lerner and Loewe.” He prefers to tell singers to “put yourself, your soul, your life” into a song.
Frazier has been a one-man force, creating a dozen PBS specials during the pandemic. That started with a cautious concert of Ella Fitzgerald music – done on a porch, with the musicians masked – and peaked with a cross-country collection of music from “Wicked.”
Now he’s back to the site of the Ella concert – but this time indoors and maskless. And he’s back to Broadway, this time with Broadway people doing the songs of Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
“‘My Fair Lady’ was my gateway into Lerner and Loewe,” Jose Llana said. “I think ‘On the Street Where You Live’ is kind of Baritone 101 in school.”
He did the duo’s “King and I” on Broadway in 1996 (as Lun Tha, the secret lover) … and did the revival two decades later, as the king. For others, these composers are new.
“I thought, ‘Lerner and Loewe – that doesn’t feel like a fit for me,’” Colella (“Come From Away”) said. “I felt very nervous. (Frazier) assured me that they wanted my voice (and) we were going to do a sexy Sinatra/Colella version of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night.’”
There are countless Lerner-and-Loewe versions out there. Pop stars used to grab and transform the songs of “Brigadoon,” “Gigi,” “Paint Your Wagon” and more.
One example is the “Camelot” ballad, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which first emerged from the potent baritone of Robert Goulet. Frazier, however, showed Aisha Jackson a version by Aretha Franklin.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Jackson said. “And … it was a cool challenge.”
She’s used to challenges, after being the first Black “Frozen” star, as Anna. Now she nailed it.
Michael Maliakel, who stars in Broadway’s “Aladdin,” said he was instantly impressed. “I am a baritone and grew up admiring Robert Goulet’s voice. (But) hearing Aisha Jackson put her spin on the song, I never need to hear Robert Goulet sing it ever again.”