Last night the McCallum Theatre played host to a double bill of music and comedy that, at first glance, seemed like a very odd pairing --- a duo with nothing in common – Tony winner and multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominated stage and television actor Hal Linden and comedian David Brenner, who is best known as the comic who had the greatest number of appearances on Johnny Carson's tonight show. But, what an incredible evening it was! The Common denominator was sheer talent and it paid off in spades for the near sell-out crowd. Each entertainer delivered a finely crafted, hour-long performance and either act, alone, would have been well worth the price of admission.
The show opened with the elegant Hal Linden, accompanied by a stellar seven-piece band, who firmly established his theme for the evening with an opening medley of "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Remember." From the first sixteen bars he proved he is a master of his craft --- an actor who truly understands the interpretation of a lyric and that every lyric is really a monologue set to music. He was sincere and engaging, and the twinkle in his eye and his sheer passion for performing pushes way beyond the footlights and embraces everyone in the theatre. And they embrace him back.
He broke the ice by raising the question he believed everyone had on their minds – "What the hell is Barney Miller doing singing?" And then he answered it -- over and over again -- as he turned out one outstanding performance after another, songs that he once performed with the most celebrated big bands in the country (he picked up his clarinet for a big band tribute) and on the Broadway stage, including two songs from his theatrical debut opposite Judy Holliday in "Bells Are Ringing." Perhaps the finest moment in the show was his re-creation of his Tony Award winning performance in The Rothschilds, which began with Mr. Linden sitting at a make-up table and, as he set the scene, transforming himself into the 87 year old Mayer Rothschild for the stirring monologue leading into "In My Own Lifetime."
He received three standing ovations, duly honoring his 65 years in show business, and graced the audience with a welcome encore of "It's Never Too Late." From start to finish Mr. Linden epitomized the true meaning of "class act."
Act Two was the brilliantly funny David Brenner, the man that is credited with inventing what is known as "observational comedy," a style also made famous by Jerry Seinfeld and the like. He delivered a sixty-plus minute comedy roller coaster ride that had the entire audience rolling in their seats, if not the aisles. Mr. Brenner's acerbic wit hasn't lost a beat since the old Tonight Show days – he is as fresh and funny as ever and his timing is pristine. He poked fun at everything from our nation's obesity crisis to YouTube ("YouTube is eight years old. Can you believe that eight years ago nobody gave a sh*t that a cat could play a piano?") and just about everything in-between. Mr. Brenner truly had the crowd in the palm of his hand and if he had determined to do additional hour of material I feel confident that no one would have left their seat.
All in all, it was another coup for the McCallum Theatre in an exceptional theatrical season and an evening in the theatre not to be missed.