SHOW REVIEW

Singing in the Rainforest...

For this, the 12th annual benefit concert for their Rainforest Foundation, Sting and wife Trudie Styler not only asked performers to donate their services, they asked them to spend some time outside their normal comfort zones. Dubbed "Singing in the Rainforest," the show was devoted to songs from seven decades of Hollywood film, territory unfamiliar to all but a couple of the evening's participants.

The first set, culled largely from soundtrack material from the pre-rock era, was particularly sink or swim. Elton John took to the waters the most readily, wrapping 'Secret Love' in a rich baritone and a suitably rueful delivery. He also provided some welcome comic relief via a faithful, full-length version of 'The Woody Woodpecker Song'.

Billy Joel was markedly less effective in the role of crooner, as borne out by a rendition of 'I Got You Under My Skin' that aimed for Sinatra silkiness but only captured Piscopo parody. Sting, taking a more subdued tone, managed a 'Moon River' that would've passed muster on an Andy Williams Christmas special, while James Taylor danced deftly across the melody of 'The Way You Look Tonight'.

After an intermission, the wayback machine was set for a little less way back, a surrounding that suited Joel particularly well. He revved up the energy level by steering the 30-piece orchestra through a 'Live and Let Die' that successfully straddled the line between power and bombast, then took center stage for a rendition of 'Unchained Melody' on which he hit Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield's high notes with surprising flair.

Taylor showed some good humour by hoofing his way through some failed dance crazes while tackling 'The Twist'. John tore through 'Pinball Wizard' with his usual showmanship. Bette Midler, the only artist to be ceded two consecutive numbers, skirted scenery-chewing on 'The Rose', then succumbed to it during 'Wind Beneath My Wings'.

As is often the case in star-studded galas, the most intriguing perfs came from the agate-type names, in this case, India.Arie, who turned 'The Long and Winding Road' into a near hymn, and Jimmy Scott, whose breathless take on 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' showcased his unparalleled mastery of phrasing.

Finale, an all-hands-on-deck take on 'Johnny B. Goode', would've been just another awards-show jam, if not for the presence of Michael J. Fox, whose lead guitar playing and vocals manifested not only the vibe he captured in 'Light of Day', but his continued ability to seek light in the wake of his medical battles.

(c) Daily Variety by David Sprague

Elton, Billy Aid Rainforest - Sting, James Taylor play cinema classics at benefit...

A-list starpower was combined with a passel of familiar pop standards in "Singin' in the Rainforest, featuring Great Songs from the Movies," a glossy Carnegie Hall revue to benefit the Rainforest Foundation. The spectacle of familiar voices tackling an assortment of beloved standards was the main musical draw, with a few surprises along the way.

The show opened with Billy Joel, Elton John, Sting and James Taylor, decked out as dark-suited hipsters, trading verses on 'That's Amore', accompanied by orchestra and vocal chorus. The four then traded off on individual numbers, with Joel adopting a campy Sinatra stance to deliver 'I've Got You Under My Skin', Taylor manifesting playful self-effacement on 'Pennies from Heaven' and John donning a plastic beak and cavorting with a pair of nubile dancers on a spry 'Woody Woodpecker Song'. Sting - whose wife, Rainforest Foundation founder Trudie Styler, produced the event - took a relatively low-key approach on 'Moon River' and 'True Love'. For the latter, he was joined by India.Arie, whose solo rendition of 'The Long and Winding Road' was presumably justified by the song's inclusion in the Beatles documentary 'Let It Be' and the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton debacle 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.

Big screen heartthrob Antonio Banderas served as co-host with wife Melanie Griffith, and delivered an unexpected highlight when he took the mike for an appropriately swoony reading of 'Mona Lisa'. But it was Bette Midler who decisively ratcheted up the energy level, delivering abundant charisma and humour on commanding renditions of 'Lullaby of Broadway' and 'Singin' in the Rain'. Cult jazz balladeer Jimmy Scott ended the show's first half with a haunting 'Over the Rainbow'.

The show's second half concentrated largely on rock-era material, with much of the orchestra supplanted by an electric band, including Narada Michael Walden (who served as co-musical director with Hal Willner) on drums. Potty-mouthed puppet pooch Triumph the Insult Comic Dog traded barbs with Sting, before the two joined forces for a cross-species duet of The Jungle Book's 'I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)'. Sting and Joel donned acoustic guitars for a sing-along Beatles medley, and Joel delivered Paul McCartney's 'Live and Let Die' with appropriate bombast, while John dipped into the Elvis Presley songbook with a sincere 'Loving You'.

Jimmy Scott returned for a spellbinding 'Someone to Watch Over Me', which gave way to Taylor's good-natured stab at 'The Twist', which featured some surprisingly agile dance moves from Elton, Sting and Banderas. Things grew even stranger when Michael J. Fox donned an electric guitar to lead much of the all-star cast in a loose but good-natured 'Johnny B. Goode'.

Although much of the program's appeal was in the one-shot match-ups of singers and songs, the evening's most ecstatic ovations arrived when the artists performed tunes with which they're closely associated. John's flamboyant version of the Who's 'Pinball Wizard' - which he performed in the 1975 film adaptation of Tommy - and Midler's movie-spawned smashes 'The Rose' and 'Wind Beneath My Wings' were the night's show stoppers.

(c) Rolling Stone by Scott Schinder

Sting, Billy Joel, Bette Midler Singing in the Rain Forest...

So we had Sting, James Taylor, Bette Midler, India.Arie, the legendary Jimmy Scott, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith all on the stage at Carnegie Hall Wednesday night, seated at cafe tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, aside an orchestra led by such luminaries as Nile Rodgers, Hal Wilner, Narada Michael Walden and Jim Horn. And who stole the show?

Why, it was Billy Joel, of course. I kind of felt bad for Midler, who had to follow him, because Joel - as part of Trudie Styler's 19th annual Rainforest Foundation Show - managed to knock out such a spectacular and unexpected version of the Righteous Brothers' 'Unchained Melody' that even he looked surprised when it was over.

"I can't believe I hit that note," he really exclaimed when the show was over. Had he rehearsed it? "A little bit, but I didn't want to give it away."

In a night of standing ovations, his was the loudest and longest with the possible exception of one for Michael J. Fox, who led the band through a rockin' version of 'Johnny B. Goode', singing and playing guitar as if he had never had Parkinson's Disease. He is an unbelievable inspiration at this point. God bless Michael J. Fox!

(There was no need to worry about Bette, by the way. She rose to the occasion quite nicely.)

But it was that kind of night: I wish someone had taped it for an album, even with mistakes and raw vocals. The theme was songs from the movies, or "Singing in the Rainforest", get it?

The performers and their songs were, in no order, Sting ('Moon River'), Taylor ('The Way You Look Tonight', 'Pennies From Heaven', 'The Twist'), Elton John ('Love Letters', 'Secret Love', 'The Woody Woodpecker Song', 'Pinball Wizard') Antonio ('Mona Lisa', 'That's Amore'), Midler ('Lullabye of Broadway', 'Wind Beneath My Wings', 'The Rose'), India.Arie ('The Long and Winding Road'), Scott ('Over the Rainbow', 'Someone to Watch Over Me').

Sting hit a delicious note singing two more Beatles movie songs, 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help!', with Joel.

And yes, you had to see Elton wearing a plastic beak while he sang 'The Woody Woodpecker Song'. It was equal to the days when he used to dress up as the Statue of Liberty.

Banderas, who won a Tony for singing in 'Nine' on Broadway, was the revelation of the night on 'Mona Lisa'. He's now starting to prepare for his next Broadway show, 'Death Takes a Holiday', a musical by Maury Yeston based on the famous movie of the same name.

"I play Death," Antonio said, with a smile.

I have no idea why Griffith was on the stage, but it's not like she's hard to look at.

Styler, who invented this thing, has had four kids with Sting and is an actress, producer, activist and a force of nature, of course. Yesterday, as this big $2 million event was ending, Trudie was heading to Rome to play Caesar's wife in a new movie.

Hey, why not? On the plane, she probably wrote a book, or invented some new fabric. If only someone could channel Trudie into books, she'd be the new Martha Stewart! (I mean, in a good way!)

Bianca Jagger, Kenny Loggins, Patti Smythe and John McEnroe, Robert Smigel - who put on a hilarious Triumph the Insult Comic Dog routine - plus Donna Karan and Richard Baskin, Ellen Barkin and Ronald Perelman, Ron Delsener, Jerry Inzerillo, Kelly LeBrock, Mark McEwen, Denise Rich, Sheila Rodgers (from the Letterman show) and Elton John's delightful other half, David Furnish, were also there.

At the auction during the post-dinner at the Pierre Hotel, by the way, guitars once owned by and signed by Sting and Bruce Springsteen went for a mere $15,000. But lunch with Dr. Ruth Westheimer for two couples - a promised, or make that threatened, discussion of sex - was sold for $20,000.

"More than anyone else," Dr. Ruth reminded me at the movie premiere last night with a jab to the abdomen.

(c) Fox News by Roger Friedman

Rock stars raise standards...

Critics constantly berate baby boomers for being hopeless Peter Pans who won't grow up. But in their recent music, middle-aged stars have shown a lust to be even older.

Consider the standards albums released by everyone from Rod Stewart to Bette Midler to Cyndi Lauper, casting classic rockers on the tunes of their parents' generation.

This will-to-croon reached a harmonic convergence Wednesday night at the annual rainforest benefit when the top tier of boomer brand names took the Carnegie Hall stage for nearly three hours of standards.

Elton John, Billy Joel, Sting, James Taylor and Bette Midler headlined a show dubbed "Singing in the Rainforest," which once again raised money to save the wilds of Brazil.

Even listeners who think they can't stand one more standard would have been disarmed by the easy nature of the event - and by several performances that rose above a sweet gesture to nail the essence of the song.

The casual style of the night was established in the opening bit, when Joel, John, Sting and Taylor came out in Rat Pack black suits to mug through 'That's Amore'.

It had to go up from there - and it quickly did.

How smart for the openly gay Elton John to do 'Secret Love', announcing that his "secret love is no secret anymore."

And how perfect for Sting to milk his honeysuckle tones on 'Moon River'.

Taylor's elegant diction made him ideal for 'The Way You Look Tonight'.

And it was a relief for a real singer like Midler to deliver 'Singing in the Rain' rather than the dancer whose version most of us know: Gene Kelly.

Joel knew he couldn't sing such romantic songs straight, so he went for a Bill Murray satire of Sinatra in 'I Got You Under My Skin'. But later, he showed surprising range on the Righteous Brothers' 'Unchained Melody'.

Antonio Banderas offered a sweet 'Mona Lisa', and India.Arie did a bar mitzvah take on 'The Long and Winding Road'.

But even in its weakest moments, the night charmed by allowing stars to preserve not just nature but songs.

(c) The New York Daily News by Jim Farber

Set List

'That's Amore' (Sting/Elton John/Billy Joel/James Taylor/Antonio Banderas)
'Moon River' (Sting/Elton John/Billy Joel/James Taylor/Antonio Banderas)
'Under My Skin' (Billy Joel)
'Secret Love' (Elton John)
'The Way You Look Tonight' (James Taylor)
'True Love' (Sting/ India Arie)
'The Long and Winding Road' (India Arie)
'Love Letters' (Elton John)
'Mona Lisa' (Antonio Banderas)
'Pennies From Heaven' (James Taylor)
'The Woody Woodpecker Song' (Elton John)
'When You Wish Upon a Star' (Billy Joel)
'Singing In The Rain' (Bette Midler)
'Lullabye of Broadway' (Bette Midler)
'Somewhere over the Rainbow' (Jimmy Scott)
'King of the Swingers' (Triumph/Sting)
'Hard Day's Night Medley' (Sting/Antonio Banderas/Billy Joel)
'Help' (Sting/Antonio Banderas/Billy Joel)
'Loving You' (Elton John)
'Windmills of Your Mind' (Sting/Chris Botti)
'Someone To Watch Over Me' (Jimmy Scott)
'The Twist' (James Taylor)
'Live and Let Die' (Billy Joel)
'Pinball Wizard' (Elton John)
'Jim Horn Intro' (Billy Joel)
'Unchained Melody' (Billy Joel)
'The Rose' (Bette Midler)
'The Wind Beneath My Wings' (Bette Midler)
'Johnny B Goode' (Sting/Elton John/Billy Joel/Michael J. Fox/Antonio Banderas/Ron Perelman)
'That's Amore' (All)

SET LIST

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