Jeff Macauley

October 26, 2012 | By

“It Was Me: The Lyrics of Norman Gimbel”

Don’t Tell Mama  –  August 29, September 5, October 7, 21, 28, November 26, December 16, 22

Jeff Macauley has come up with a winning show, an overdue cabaret tribute to Norman Gimbel. Gimbel—a lyricist perhaps best known for his pop collaborations with Charles Fox during the ’70s (including Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” the Oscar-nominated “Ready to Take a Chance Again” from Foul Play, and the massive, chart-topping Grammy-winning Song of the Year for Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”)—did so much more. He wrote English lyrics for such big hits of the ’50s and ’60s as Jobim’s “Meditation” and “The Girl from Ipanema”; “I Will Wait for You” and “Watch What Happens” (Michel Legrand) from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; “Sway” (Pablo Beltrán Ruiz); the Oscar-winning “It Goes Like it Goes” (David Shire) from Norma Rae; and themes to several popular television shows, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Wonder Woman, and The Paper Chase (Emmy-nominated). In all, his songs appear in over 90 films and he even had two Broadway shows early in his career (Whoop-Up and The Conquering Hero).

I mention all of this because as Macauley coolly breezed through a small portion of the varied catalogue, the audience murmured and aahed several times upon joyfully discovering that, indeed, another song they knew had lyrics by Gimbel. As Macauley puts it in his understated way, “He was a busy guy.”

Dressed in a retro tux and horn-rimmed glasses, and with a pleasingly crooning voice, Macauley displays a bit of the Rat Pack in himself. He has a sly comic touch that he uses in most of the songs, and in all of his patter, which includes amusing anecdotes about Gimbel’s womanizing ways, and giving us the absurd plotline to the film Where’s Poppa? and speculating how difficult it must have been for Gimbel to come up with lyrics to the title song.

Macauley is relaxed and game for this undertaking. If anything, his vocal delivery has a little too much precision for the sensual nature of jazz or bossa nova pieces, such as the aforementioned “Meditation” and “Sway,” and “Summer Samba (So Nice)” (Marcos Valle). Interestingly, however, he opens up and finds new and unexpected phrasing with pop numbers like “Killing Me Softly” and “It Goes Like It Goes.” His best number is “The Boy from Ipanema.” The song has been done thousands of times by cabaret artists over the years, but Macauley’s longing gaze at the passing boy and the eye-rolling reactions are a comic delight that gives the old chestnut new life yet again.

Macauley gives the Peggy March hit “I Will Follow Him” (Franck Pourcel and Paul Mauriat) an earnest reading, and the beauty of the Legrand songs mentioned above seems especially suited to Macauley’s soothing voice. The campiest fun comes with a medley of “Girl” and “Wonder Woman” (both Charles Fox); the first was immortalized by Davy Jones, when he sang it for Marcia on The Brady Bunch, the second was from the Lynda Carter series, a favorite among gay boys who came of age in the late ’70s.

At one point, Macauley brands Gimbel “the Zelig of lyricists” because of his adaptability, and the show demonstrates that truth. Thus, musical director and arranger Tex Arnold must be given plaudits for navigating his way around these musical genres so effortlessly. Jon Burr accompanies on upright bass.

One could ask Macauley to tap into some deeper emotions once in a while, rather than the knowing wink he gives the songs, but the strength of the show lies in its cumulative effect: he’s a damned good entertainer and storyteller, and he’s presenting a wide-ranging palette of songs from, it turns out, one of our greatest and often underappreciated lyricists. What’s not to like?


Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for, and freelances for other publications.

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