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Bing Burns Whilst Bregman Swings -- and Misses

Buddy Bregman attempts to celebrate the life and work of his old friend Bing Crosby in a show at the Firebird. logo

Buddy Bregman (center) and cast
in Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings!
(Photo: James Roderick)
Last week, the FireBird Upstairs Supperclub opened a show inspired by the much admired recording Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings! The show was written, directed, and anchored by longtime arranger/producer Buddy Bregman and was conceived as a tribute to the legendary Bing Crosby. Planned for a four-week engagement, BSWBS closed after running a single week -- and that was one week too long. Ill-conceived, hideously written, and over-directed, it has the distinction of being the worst show we've ever seen in a major cabaret room. (And, no, we haven't forgotten Sally Kellerman's fiasco at Feinstein's at the Regency.)

The most unfortunate thing about this unmitigated failure is that it needn't have happened. At its heart was a grand idea; this is Bing Crosby's centennial year, and a well done tribute to him would have been a solidly commercial project. Buddy Bregman knew and worked with Bing, and the fact that he provided a genuine connection to the great man should have been another plus, but it turned into the show's greatest negative: The rambling, hour-and-a-half program became more about Bregman than about Bing. Some of it concerned Bregman's life and his influence on Bing and his family, but it was also about the famous swing album on which the two men collaborated. And, occasionally, it was a straight-on bio of Bing and his career. Simply put, the show had no focus.

For all of its flaws, and they were legion, the show might have worked if one tremendous mistake had not been made. In an effort to cover as many songs as possible, Bregman chose -- with rare exceptions -- to have his cast members offer only snippets of Bing's hits, and this was absolutely maddening. Just as a song got started, it would stop and some inane, forced dialogue would ensue in which a member of the cast would ask Buddy a question that sounded so scripted, you could almost see the singer or band member reading as he or she spoke. Had these folks simply sung the songs in full, we would have had the chance to enjoy them -- and some of the embarrassing dialogue would have had to be cut for time.

It's hard to judge the quality of the talent in a show like this. We know that Eric Michael Gillett is a gifted performer, but if this were the first act we had ever caught him in, we'd never have guessed it. So we're loath to comment on the three other singers in the show. The band, on the other hand, was rather charming. Pianist Rich Siegel (no relation), was engaging; bass player Ritt Henn performed the most successful number of the night, singing a love song to his bass; and drummer Adam James scored as a singer with surprising charisma. Still, a show is in deep trouble if the band is more entertaining than the rest of the cast.

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