The Manhattan Transfer and Jennifer Coolidge
Sometimes I like to pick a saucy title to get your attention. This entry is not about the adult entertainment industry…well, it is, but not what you’re thinking. I recently had the pleasure of attending two shows and while the performers are no spring chickens, their performances rival those of any teen sensations.
I first heard The Manhattan Transfer when I was about 5 years old. That would be 1975. I grew up in a modest and quiet home and our “stereo” had a radio and 8-track player. My mom and dad would purchase the occasional 8-track tape to enjoy and they were intermingled with my brother’s comedy tapes. I was informed I wasn’t supposed to listen to George Carlin, the Blue’s Brothers or the Saturday Night Live recordings…so I listened to the music of my parents. To be honest, I think they only had two – The Manhattan Transfer and Phoebe Snow. Both of those tapes quickly became my inner soundtrack and helped form the music taste I still hold today. When I was 14 or 15, my first concert was with my parents and we went to see The Manhattan Transfer at Starlight Musicals – an open-air amphitheater on the campus of Butler University. The amphitheater is gone, but the Transfer is still going strong.
My most recent encounter with the Transfer was this past February at Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University (thank God for Butler). I’d had a couple of beers before the concert started, so I was ready to go. The first sign it would be a tough night was when the woman in front of my shot a DIRTY look because I was talking…did I mention the concert had not even started? So, I knew I had to monitor my enthusiasm. Once the Transfer took the stage, my heart sank as I looked around me and saw barely any movement and excitement from the audience. I was under the impression that if you were older, maybe in your 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, you could still have fun. Not these folks…they give AARP a bad name. The Transfer was amazing and I got out a few hoots, but I watched myself as I didn’t want too many evil eyes.
The concert featured some of my favorites, including Birdland and Route 66. The quad allowed a solo performance from each which enabled the crowd to witness their individual talents. Janis Siegal is my favorite, so I tended to watch her singing and facial expressions most of the time. These performers have been singing together for four decades and they still appear to like each other…their bond must be like a family at this point.
I have seen the Transfer numerous times. As I age, each performance becomes more special to me. I am filled with emotions as I relate their music and performance style to my childhood and family. When I perform, I just know these four vocalists have been my coaches and I display some of the same mannerisms (please note, I’m not nearly talented enough to be in their league).
I didn’t like their crowd. When leaving, I had a fantasy of them appearing on Glee, so that millions of teens who like show choir would see the originals. In other words, there would not be a Glee without them.
Fast forward a week and I had the unique pleasure of seeing Jennifer Coolidge perform at a local comedy club. Let me repeat, Jennifer Coolidge at a comedy club. When I told folks I had tickets, they either knew her or didn’t. If they didn’t, I would say “Stifler’s mom from American Pie.” That generated some acknowledgement. I know Ms. Coolidge from Best in Show, a Christopher Guest film and one of my all-time favorites. After folks recognized whom I was talking about, they would say “Crackers? Really?” Cracker’s is the local club in Indianapolis.
So, we went to the show and happened to be seated right at the stage at this little bar – it separates the performers from the audience. It almost felt like a striper bar (if you’ve ever been to one). There was an emcee comic who had a flop sweat that rivaled Albert Brooks’ in Broadcast News. He was actually pretty funny, but he did use the cocktail napkin I offered him. The second comic (sorry, can’t remember his name) was also very good. I was shocked that both of these comics referenced “midgets” – not the most politically correct term.
After the openers, Ms. Coolidge took to the stage. I actually thought she looked fabulous, in a drag-queen sort of way. Her hair is long and blond (extensions) and she had very intense shoes with killer heals. Her dress was short and black. She’s not a petit flower, but her presence was notable. The context of her act was that she needed to get out of LA since it’s so warped when the Kardashians and Paris Hilton get all of the attention. She opened with “I don’t know why I picked Indianapolis as a place to perform…I didn’t know what I expected….I thought I might see a couple of horses in the audience.” She went on to acknowledge that the crowd was so young…and they were. Where were these folks when I needed them at the Transfer?
Coolidge was extremely funny. She based most of the performance around her career and the parts she didn’t get. At the end of the day, she delivered a commentary about aging as a female actress and the difficulty of securing parts when newcomers are around. If she weren’t so funny while being jaded, I may have cried.
Don’t get me wrong, I do try hard to recognize new talent, but I have a soft spot in my heart for those with true talent, they may just not be so young. The word “classic” is around for some reason, so I encourage folks to have diverse tastes. Researching the past is something we call can do when moving forward. There’s really nothing truly new, just the interpretation (except for Facebook, that’s original for the most part). If you can’t think of a new idea, look to the past and see what worked, then put your spin on it.