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Review: Carol Channing's 95th Birthday Party!

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Lily Tomlin speaks about Carol Channing during "Carol Channing's 95th Birthday!

In Celebration of A Broadway Legend" at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert Saturday March 5, 2016.

 

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Lucie Arnaz is the evening’s second presenter in “Carol Channing's 95th Birthday! In Celebration of A Broadway Legend” Saturday at the McCallum Theatre.

(Photo: Taya Gray, Special to The Desert Sun)

 

The McCallum Theatre used to present “spectaculars.”

 

Bob Hope launched the theater (back when it was the Bob Hope Cultural Center) with such a special event in 1988 in which his Rancho Mirage neighbor, Lucille Ball, presented him with the first America’s Hope Award as part of an NBC special. In 2001, current president and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld produced a 9/11 benefit with a local all-star cast led by Barry Manilow.

 

They’ve had many spectacular shows since then. But the old-fashioned “spectacular” seemed to be a thing of the past. Until Saturday.

 

Gershenfeld’s new staff member, singer Chad Hilligus, formerly of the Ten Tenors, decided the desert really needed to celebrate Rancho Mirage resident Carol Channing. So he took it upon himself to produce “Carol Channing’s 95th Birthday! In Celebration of a Broadway Legend.”

 

Never mind that her 95th birthday was in January. The wrong month just made it easier for Carol’s devoted sister-in-law, Sylvia Long, to keep the nature of the event a secret from Carol.

 

It turned out to be a stunning spectacular. Hilligus got the casts from a dozen Broadway shows to send her “happy birthday” videos. “Love Boat” captain Gavin MacLeod of Rancho Mirage read a congratulatory message from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. Tommy Tune, Kaye Ballard, Stefanie Powers and Dawn Wells of “Gilligan’s Island” were among the stars in the audience.

 

Most significantly, Hilligus got an all-star cast of local legends and Broadway stars to perform for Channing in front row center.

 

Ten Tenors music director Steven Baker created special arrangements and conducted a full orchestra under five chandeliers, spewing elegance befitting Broadway royalty.

 

Kristin Chenoweth and Cloris Leachman didn’t appear, as touted in pre-show publicity, but the sold-out audience got great interpretations of songs from Channing’s 75-year career by Broadway stars Laura Bell Bundy, a Tony nominee for “Legally Blonde”; Eden Espinosa, from “Wicked” and “Rent”; and Anika Noni Rose, co-star of the “Dreamgirls” film who re-imagined “I’m A Jazz Baby” after Channing re-invented it in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” from James Reese Europe’s pre-Jazz Age version.

 

Presenter Alan Cumming, a Broadway star in “Cabaret” before becoming a TV actor in “The Good Wife,” opened the evening and was quickly upstaged by Palm Springs’ own Lucie Arnaz, bringing the McCallum “spectacular” full circle from the night her mom introduced Hope. She did a dead-on impression of Channing and called her “More down to earth than any star I ever met, and I’ve met a few.”

 

A video clip was shown of Channing doing her brilliant turn as Cecilia Sisson, the silent movie star whose acting career was ruined by her sibilant whistling problem. But, just as amazing was a clip from her 1966 TV show, directed by Desi Arnaz and written by the “I Love Lucy” writers, in which she delivered Lucille Ball-type humor better than anyone since Lucy.

 

This show was mounted in one day and that showed when Lily Tomlin couldn’t read her lines on a monitor or a mezzanine scroll that proceeded too fast for any actor to read with flair. But the frustrated Tomlin turned it into a comedy routine, once flashing a two-fisted middle-finger salute – ostensibly to the network that canceled Channing’s show. MacLeod and Florence Henderson handled the speeding scrolls with aplomb, but, Tomlin got laughs – even if they were unintentional – with her perfect timing.

 

Carole Cook, theater’s second star of “Hello, Dolly!” did a “Dolly” soliloquy revealing the show’s “spine” (as Channing always says), in which Dolly decides to resume life before the parade passes her by. That and Tom Wopat’s performance of “Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle” from “Chicago” and a big “Hello, Dolly!” finale with Broadway-quality singer-dancers roused the audience – and Channing.

 

Someone handed Carol a microphone and she turned the clock back 10 years, singing with perfect timing and heartfelt enthusiasm, “Wow, wow, wow, fellas/Look at the old girl now, fellas!” Finally, throwing her arms in the air, singing at the top of her lungs, she vowed “Dolly will never go away again!”

 

It was like that moment in a late 1990s when Hope sang his one-word part in “It’s Delovely,” from his 1930s Broadway show, “Red, Hot and Blue,” with perfect comic timing despite being unable to see his wife, Dolores, standing next to him on the McCallum stage. But Channing added a context that she has fought through financial hardships and frauds for much of her life and now, this was her moment. She had overcome her obstacles with the love of an audience and her dear Sylvia Long. It even left Ballard in tears.

 

I’m sorry it wasn’t videotaped like the spectaculars of old. Gershenfeld said it came together too quickly to get the necessary clearances for things like union participation. But, if you want a taste of Carol’s music and comedy, watch Michael Holmes portray her in the original musical revue, “The Palm Springs Jump,” Thursday at his Purple Room in Palm Springs. He captures her magic.

 

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Carol Channing, center, attends "Carol Channing's 95th Birthday! In Celebration of A Broadway Legend" at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert on Saturday night, March 5, 2016. With her are, Tommy Tune, left, and Bea Levi

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Alan Cumming at the "Carol Channing's 95th Birthday! In Celebration of A Broadway Legend" at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert on Saturday night, March 5, 2016.

 

Bruce Fessier,

The Desert Sun

March 8, 2016

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Palm Springs own huh? Is it just me or is Lucie with glasses looking a bit Sarah Palinesque?

 

What they didn't say was Lucie talked about Carol's show her dad produced.

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Very cool. Carol is a powerhouse and deserves every honor she gets. I do wish the Kennedy Center would recognize her "before the parade passes by", as they say.

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Palm Springs own huh? Is it just me or is Lucie with glasses looking a bit Sarah Palinesque?

 

What they didn't say was Lucie talked about Carol's show her dad produced.

Yes, Palm Springs' own as in she's a resident, what's wrong with that?

 

And god NO she looks nothing like that whackjob Palin, glasses or no glasses. Oy! :blink:

 

And it may not be clear the way it's described here, but not only did Lucie tell the story about Channing's pilot but Lily referenced it as well in one of her "speeches" too but stated it shouldn't even have been brought up since the network was remiss since they didn't buy the show!

 

Maybe this is a better representation of how she appeared that night:

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and

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and one of my favorites:

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And it may not be clear the way it's described here, but not only did Lucie tell the story about Channing's pilot but Lily referenced it as well in one of her "speeches" too but stated it shouldn't even have been brought up since the network was remiss since they didn't buy the show!

 

 

Carol was too good for that show. If only the rest of the pilot was as hilarious and well-executed as the dance hall sequence. She was marvelous.

 

I recognize the others, but who is the guy in the ruffled shirt?

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Carol was too good for that show. If only the rest of the pilot was as hilarious and well-executed as the dance hall sequence. She was marvelous.

 

I recognize the others, but who is the guy in the ruffled shirt?

The clip they showed of the pilot was the park bench hot dog nabbing scene -- which was very "Lucy" in its re-enactment -- but cut it off right before Jimmy Garrett's appearance. :lucywow:

 

A friend (Patrick Rinn, an associate of Lucie's friend Tommy Tune who was Carol's escort) of Lucie's in attendance (I'd have to look it up but I think I got it from Lucie's FB page). .

 

This shot was taken at the "Invitation Only" after party (unless you're a certain "Number One Fan") :blink:

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Also, do I spy behind said man in ruffled shirt a portrait of Dolores Hope, of all things, above the bar? lol

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Also, do I spy behind said man in ruffled shirt a portrait of Dolores Hope, of all things, above the bar? lol

Looks like it and it would make sense as the McCallum was originally known as The Bob Hope Cultural Center! :peachonthebeach:

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The clip they showed of the pilot was the park bench hot dog nabbing scene -- which was very "Lucy" in its re-enactment -- but cut it off right before Jimmy Garrett's appearance. :lucywow:

 

A friend (Patrick Rinn, an associate of Lucie's friend Tommy Tune who was Carol's escort) of Lucie's in attendance (I'd have to look it up but I think I got it from Lucie's FB page). .

 

This shot was taken at the "Invitation Only" after party (unless you're a certain "Number One Fan") :blink:

I AM....but no one invited me to the party. 

 

Who knows what "The Carol Channing Show" (included as a bonus in the great "Mothers In Law" DVD set) might have morphed into had it become a series?  The pilot lacked cohesiveness.  Carol "Hunnicut" has to be the best dressed homeless person on record.  Carol didn't get a chance to work out the kinks in her delivery, which worked perfectly for the stage, however double-takes and winks/smiles directed at the studio audience didn't work for TV.  

Kudos to the live orchestra for cranking out a few bars of the sprightly Jerry Herman theme of "The CC Show" as Lucie walked on stage. 

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I AM....but no one invited me to the party. 

 

Who knows what "The Carol Channing Show" (included as a bonus in the great "Mothers In Law" DVD set) might have morphed into had it become a series?  The pilot lacked cohesiveness.  Carol "Hunnicut" has to be the best dressed homeless person on record.  Carol didn't get a chance to work out the kinks in her delivery, which worked perfectly for the stage, however double-takes and winks/smiles directed at the studio audience didn't work for TV.  

Kudos to the live orchestra for cranking out a few bars of the sprightly Jerry Herman theme of "The CC Show" as Lucie walked on stage. 

Agreed! The evening's orchestra was amazing and made me wish Lucie had sung a number as well aside from just her intros and reminiscing...not that I'm complaining! :blink:

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I AM....but no one invited me to the party. 

 

Who knows what "The Carol Channing Show" (included as a bonus in the great "Mothers In Law" DVD set) might have morphed into had it become a series?  The pilot lacked cohesiveness.  Carol "Hunnicut" has to be the best dressed homeless person on record.  Carol didn't get a chance to work out the kinks in her delivery, which worked perfectly for the stage, however double-takes and winks/smiles directed at the studio audience didn't work for TV.  

Kudos to the live orchestra for cranking out a few bars of the sprightly Jerry Herman theme of "The CC Show" as Lucie walked on stage. 

 

Neil; want this cross-reference (dates) for chronology; need dates of MIL DVD release, is you have it, or reasonable proximity; already have the CCShow I have already.  Thanks if you can reply.  Loving you, JK :fabrary:

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Neil; want this cross-reference (dates) for chronology; need dates of MIL DVD release, is you have it, or reasonable proximity; already have the CCShow I have already.  Thanks if you can reply.  Loving you, JK :fabrary:

Don't know release date.  Amazon may show it in their MIL listing.

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Amazon says MIL release date was "July 27, 2010"......WHERE  does the time go?  My guess was 2 years ago...

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Amazon says MIL release date was "July 27, 2010"......WHERE  does the time go?  My guess was 2 years ago...

 

TX, Neil; appreciate it very much. Loving  you, JK :fabrary:

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