Liz Smith: Brooke Shields — Star, Survivor, Cabaret Chanteuse

And more from our Gossip Girl: Christina Aguilera — okay, critics, YOU sing the national anthem! … Bill O’Reilly and the Obama “hate” question

“IF YOU survive long enough, you’re going to be called a bitch,” said Bette Davis. Or Joan Crawford. Or somebody like that.

* * *

BROOKE SHEILDS has survived a very long time. She was a highly controversial child star, a young leading lady movie star. She also became a TV star in “Suddenly Susan,” revealing a charming talent for broad comedy.

Now, Brooke’s career as a movie star didn’t quite lead to where Brooke’s mom, Teri Shields, thought it would. Brooke did not become the “next Elizabeth Taylor” — and perhaps that was all to the good. (As with Candice Bergen, it took television to truly unleash Brooke.)

Our girl has also acquitted herself more than ably on Broadway in “Grease,” Wonderful Town,” “Chicago” and “Cabaret.” There were several romances, two husbands, several children, post-partum depression and a feud with Tom Cruise. Through all this, nobody has ever called Brooke Shields a bitch.

* * *

SO WITH this much survival experience I was surprised that I was so surprised when I learned Brooke would be making her cabaret debut at Feinstein’s at the Regency. Brooke Shields in cabaret — what will she do? She’d sing, of course, and tell a few stories. But somehow I didn’t quite get it. Until I saw Brooke — statuesque and dazzling — on a tiny stage, knocking the packed room back on its heels. Then, I got it.

I’ve seen a lot of cabaret in my time, but rarely have I seen so much infectious energy and freshness as exhibited by Brooke Shields. It is her freshness that is startling. For all her years in the business, there appears to be not a cynical bone in her body. Just as nothing came between Brooke and her Calvins, apparently nothing in life has come between Brooke and her good nature, her rather wacky sense of humor and eagerness to please an audience.

Brooke’s voice is not an exquisite instrument of many colors, but rather a bold, strong, sometimes raucous, sometimes tender Broadway-type instrument. It is colorful enough. She knows just how to sock out “One Fine Day” or “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” or “Sandra Dee” (from “Grease” —“look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” — remember?) And she’s awfully touching on “Your Smiling Face,” “Rien de Rien” “Takes My Breath Away,” and the immortal Lennon/McCartney ballad “In My Life.” That, in fact, is the title of her show (excellently directed by Mark Waldrop).

And yes, there are some biographical mentions — her childhood (she really had one, she insists convincingly), crushes (George Michael!), her mother (spoken of with love and respect), glances at marriage. “My husband refers to himself as ‘your current husband!’” she says with a big laugh. But there’s nothing too heavy going on. She is open, but discreet. That is a blessed relief in a world gone mad with immodest self-revelation.

* * *

IN THE end, for all her expertise as a musical performer, her ability to tell a story through song, it is Brooke’s essence, her presence that really sells this show. She appears to be having a genuinely joyful time onstage, just being herself.

Toward the end of night, after a powerful version of “Maybe This Time,” somebody in the audience called out “Brava, diva!” Brooke gasped, chortled and turned to the excellent boys in her band: “You see, you see?  I told you if I hung around long enough I’d become a diva!”

Not really. Not at all. Brooke Shields plays Feinstein’s until Saturday. This is real entertainment and mini-theater, performed by a real person. Go see it! And Brooke — come back soon.

* * *

SPEAKING OF singing, how tiresome is all the hullabaloo over Christina Aguilera mangling a couple of words of the national anthem at the Super Bowl?

For heaven’s sake, most people don’t know any of the words to it. (And although I like Joan Rivers, I thought her jumping into the fray and calling Christina “fat” was inappropriate. The girl looks like a girl, broad where a broad should be broad, but she sure ain’t fat.)

My objection to Miss Aguilera’s rendition is her particular style of singing — every note has to have six notes within it, and an array of vocal ruffles and flourishes which are impressive technically, but rather cold.

Personally, I would have preferred to hear Brooke Shields sing the national anthem.

* * *

PRIOR TO the Super Bowl, Fox News emperor Bill O’Reilly interviewed President Obama, mostly interrupting everything the president tried to answer. During the course of the interview, Bill asked the president “Why do so many people hate you?” The Left jumped all over this, saying O’Reilly would never have asked it of George W. Bush. Naturally, Bill produced a tape to counter that accusation.

Here’s what Bill said to W: “Why do some many people in the press hate you?”

Again, to Obama:  “Why do so many people hate you?”

So, it’s kind of the same question. But not quite. I’m sure you all see the difference.

16 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Why defend Christina Aguilera’s awful rendition? She is a professional singer who should have prepared.  Her version was simply a cover for her inability to sing it as written.  We lost Mary Cleere, but must soothe ourselves with Brooke Shields.  The end must be near.

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Paul, Mary Cleere Haran’ loss was heartbreaking.  However, I don’ read anywhere in the article above any mention of Brooke Sheilds taking her place.  I agree with Liz; she has studied and worked hard.  She has a style of her own and isn’t interested in being anyone else, just Brooke.

  2. avatar rick gould says:

    I wonder if O’Reilly ever wonders why so many people hate him?!
    As for Xtina. I don’t care for her kind of singing at all. But really. There are so many celebs genuinely effing up…cough, cough, Charlie Sheen… does the press and the public have to pile on a public figure over the most minor mistakes? It’s all just so mean-spirited…
    On a positive note, good for Miss Brooke. It’s nice to see a child star who didn’t go over the edge.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick…like Sarah Palin, O’Reilly sees himself as endless victim–he is never wrong, he is never mean, his motives cannot be questioned.  He is also–in his mind–the country’s most powerful person.  And he feels all “the folks”–as he condecendingly refers to his audience–should listen to him and if they do, they will have much happier, more patriotic lives.

      But I like the way after he does an interview he has himself body-analyzed, brings on all the Fox robots to praise him and go over the interview endlessly. It’s hilarious. And scary.  I feel for all those who have to bow and scrape to him.  Especially the women. And Juan Williams.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        Mr wOw–
        I always wonder if people like Bill O’Reilly, Palin and Glenn Beck have ever seen “A Face in the Crowd.” It’s basically about charlatans like them…
        Andy Griffith is unnerving as the maniacal media idol. When I saw it last summer I was blown away at how scathing and adult it was for a 1957 movie. Highly recommend it to people. Might ring a bell! Or two!

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Rick…if they have, they see it as an indictment of “show biz.”  They certainly don’t relate the nastiness  to their own megalomania.  I mean, who else is Bill O’Reilly but J.J. Hunsecker come to life.  And what are the rest who circle him adoringly at FOX–a lot of little Sidney Falcos.

          • avatar rick gould says:

            Ha! That movie is fired up in the near future to watch with some younger friends who were curious about Tony Curtis when he recently passed. “The Sweet Smell of Success” came out the same year, I believe. Neither were commercial hits in their time, not surprisingly…
            Today, “The Sweet Smell of Excess” would be more apt!

  3. avatar Jerry Dale says:

    Many years ago I worked for a talk show and was assigned to handle Brooke Shields’ appearance. At the last minute, I ran out of the studio and bought a single white rose and gave it to Brooke because she had been such a pleasure to work with.  To my great surprise, she walked out on stage with it and held it during the entire interview.  I sort of “fell in love” with her that day!
    As for Xtina…I agree with Rick on this one.  Your audience is 110 million (and that’s just in America) and it’s not just any old song.  For goodness sake, learn the lyrics!

  4. avatar CatA says:

    “My objection to Miss Aguilera’s rendition is her particular style of singing — every note has to have six notes within it, and an array of vocal ruffles and flourishes which are impressive technically, but rather cold.”

    Liz, you have captured my thoughts exactly. I find it just awful that these vocal-Wunderkind celebrities feel the need to turn an expression of patriotism into yet another stun-and-awe performance by and about them.  Agreed, the National Anthem is a difficult song to sing, and trained or practiced voices can reach those high notes with less struggle than most of us.  Even so, a plainly sung, yet heart-felt rendering makes the singer “one of us” — meaning just another person lucky enough to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  

  5. avatar Rho says:

    I heard yesterday that the Brooklyn Cyclones have invited her to sing the National Anthem at one of their games this summer.  Oy!

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Ms. Aguilera’s Star Spangled Banner actually provoked a brief moment of amusement in me. Yes, I can sing it, and hit every note with confidence. And I know every word, having first learned them at the ripe old age of five, when I sang it in its entirety for my astounded kindergarten teacher and my classmates. I was a hair off key during that first public performance, as my mother taught me the lyrics…but she can’t carry a tune in a suitcase. I had aspirations to be an opera singer in those early days of my life. A year later, I had it dead to rights.
    I love the song. I adore its origins (the tune comes from a raunchy tavern song about the gods of Olympus…the words of which would probably get me banned from WoW for life). When I sing it, I feel the power of what this country should be, not what far too many want to make of it. I keep it simple and strong and heartfelt. No mention of gods, only the endurance and struggle for freedom that made this country what it is.
    Ms. Aguilera is a professional singer who should be ashamed of herself for forgetting the words to the National Anthem. Maybe if she hadn’t been so busy adding flourishes, grace notes, and being a diva, she might have actually been concentrating on giving a quality, heartfelt performance. Too many others have accomplished this beautifully, with far less training and experience than she has under her belt. I’m no flag-waving super patriot (in fact, I tend far more toward the cynical), but she was a mess. She doesn’t need any apologists.

  7. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Nobody just sings anymore.  I blame Whitney Houston and (especially!) Mariah Carey.  And “American Idol.”

    Well, ok—kd lang knows how sing.  Too bad she’s kinda vanished from the face of the earth.  But I think she’s happier that way.

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Mr. Wow  I if you want to hear a wonderful sway version of the National Anthem, go to Youtube and listen to Marvin Gaye!  I usually prefer the the just sing it as you do but his version is so smooth and so his and so amazing.  Please post what you think!

  8. avatar HauntedLady says:

    Agreed re: Aguilera’s singing style. I really hate anyone using the national anthem for “song styling” or whatever it’s called. Just sing it with feeling. As for the lyrics, don’t kids learn The Star Spangled Banner in school any more? We learned the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem almost before anything else. And a professional should never forget the lyrics. That’s their job, for crying out loud. And why listen to Joan Rivers? She’s mean.
    And good for Brooke Shields. I’ve always heard that she’s a lovely person and I wish her nothing but happiness.

  9. avatar Maggie W says:

    Christina did just fine. Crooners like Michael Bolton have tripped over the words. Then there was crotch grabbing, spitting Roseanne Barr who couldn’t hit a note if her life depended on it. Of course, she didn’t try either. At a state track meet years ago, a university student sang the anthem and the crowd was in awe. You could hear a pin drop. A roar went up as he walked from the field. Perfect pitch and so pure. I’ve never heard anyone sing it better.
    I have always liked Brooke. In spite of being in the spot light from childhood, she has always seemed so grounded . She appears so at ease and honest in interviews. As she gets older, she becomes even more beautiful.
    Why does anyone go on O’Reilly or on Chris Matthews’ shows? Both interrupt constantly in an attempt to upstage their guests. Watching those two is as annoying as nails across a chalkboard.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Michael Bolton is in no way an improvement over Ms. Aguilera, being a diva in his own right. I don’t think he’s quite the example to make your point…he’s quite a bit more vested in heart-jerking, meandering, overblown renditions of classics than accuracy.