Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI At The Mark Taper Forum Review - Honoring Frank Loesser

Honoree Frank Loesser

“Happy To Make Your Acquaintance” - The 16th Annual Salon at the Mark Taper Forum recently  celebrated the life and music of Frank Loesser.
Each year Michael Feinstein leads an intimate salon at the Mark Taper Forum here in Los Angeles to honor great lyricists and composers of American musical theatre and popular song.  This year's honoree is the amazingly versatile tunesmith, Frank Loesser, whose imaginative songs reside in the consciousness of just about anyone who has ever come in contact with American musical theatre. Songs like "Luck Be A Lady", immortalized by Frank Sinatra, a life-long enemy of Loesser, or "I'll Know," recorded by Barbra Streisand on one of her early albums, harken back to the days when musical theatre and popular song were happily wed.

Host Michael Feinstein of the Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

My friend Paula called me early Monday afternoon and started reeling off the names of about twenty classic songs written by Loesser as a salespitch to get me to attend the evening's concert. Knowing that I am a concert pianist, she figured I'd enjoy a cozy concert in the newly remodeled Mark Taper Forum that celebrated these wonderful songs; songs that I have played since a teen, often accompanying the highs and lows of many singers who've shoved music in front of me at parties.

Robert Morse in Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

Feinstein opened with "I Hear Music," from Dancing On A Dime (1940), followed by "A Slow Boat To China," from the film Neptune's Daughter, (1949). Between songs, the singer gave us engaging, often hilarious patter filled with historic anecdotes and impressions of Loesser.  Feinstein's relaxed onstage persona created an organic stitch to the evening. And, as always, Michael's smooth, phrase-forward vocal delivery of song was supported by his exquisite piano arrangements. Virtuosity of this kind is rare and we are blessed to have him around to keep celebrating the great works of this truly American genre of song. Playing piano LIKE THAT, and singing LIKE THAT, is a result of great talent, many years of dedication and that unique quality of awareness of genre that are Michael's.

Nita Whitaker in Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

A procession of accomplished and acclaimed stage performers was to follow, mostly solo, but duets and group pieces were placed in the mix.  A three-piece piano trio supported the singers, comprised of Bryan Perri, piano, Kirk Smith, bass, and Albie Berk, drums.  The pacing of the show was its lark. And, like a true salon, there was no intermission. Each song was interpreted by a different, highly skilled artist, and therefore given its own birth of spirit. Theodore Bikel, Jason Graae, Michele Lee and Robert Morse were among several, including a fun cowboy-esque vocal quartet comprised of four good ole boys from the Valley that sang "Standing On The Corner" (Most Happy Fellow, 1956).  Every performance was a crowd-pleaser.  And all the performers gave ownership to their numbers, with a happy historical paragraph to Loesser preceding each rendition. My rave goes to Ken Page for his singularly clutching performance of "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat," written in 1950 for Guys & Dolls.

Ken Page Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

As the concert progressed, I was reminded of just how many songs Frank Loesser has placed in the anthology: My Time of Day (Guys & Dolls, 1950), Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year (from the film Christma’s Holiday, 1944), I've Never Been In Love Before (Guys & Dolls), etc.  Also, rare gems were selected, like The King's New Clothes (from the film Hans Christian Andersen, 1952) and Sand in My Shoes (from the film Kiss the Boys Goodbye, 1941). I would encourage anyone to explore the Frank Loesser catalogue either through cast albums of the musicals, or the many hundreds of recordings of these standards by great musicians. Google: Frank Loesser songs!

Roger Befeler, Kim Huber, George Ball, in Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

My only weedle is that Music Director, Bryan Perri, who steadfastly supported most of the evening from the center-stage grand piano, was not better recognized to the audience for the enormity of this kind of undertaking. But maybe that's just my unswerving loyalty to the piano player!
At concert's end Feinstein was presented with an honorary plaque for his contribution to the Salon since its inception, by Center Theatre Group's Artistic Director Michael Ritchie

Jason Graae in Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

“Happy to Make Your Acquaintance” is Center Theatre Group's 16th annual Salon at the Taper, which honors the great lyricists and composers of American musical theatre and popular song.  Created and led by Michael Feinstein, the Salon series is recognized as one of the premiere annual events in Los Angeles social circles.  The program honors Nick Vanoff, a Tony Award-winning producer and ardent supporter of CTG.  Previous Salons at the Taper have celebrated the work of Sammy Cahn, Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Yip Harburg, Sir Noël Coward, Kurt Weill and Cole Porter, among others.

Michele Lee in Center Theatre Group’s Salon XVI at the Taper

Founded in 1967, Center Theatre Group is Los Angeles’ leading not-for-profit theatre company and one of the nation’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations.  Under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Ritchie, CTG offers audiences the greatest range of theatrical entertainment available from one theatre company.  CTG presents productions year-round at the 739-seat Mark Taper Forum and the 1,600-2,000-seat Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center of Los Angeles, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. For information on upcoming productions and reservations, please call (213) 972-8056 or visit


Photos by Craig Schwartz



Wayne Bethanis

Wayne Bethanis hosts his own TV show, The Wayne Bethanis Show. He is a well-known concert pianist and entertainer and holds a Ph.D in  Musicology.

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