War and Remembrance
Forty-one years after he introduced the song Off-Broadway, Jerry Orbach sings "Try to Remember" in a benefit for the N.Y.C. Police Foundation.
The most exciting thing about those live performance events featuring scads of guest stars is that you can never predict when you might experience a truly transcendent moment. One such moment happened last night during a performance of Jamie de Roy & friends at the West Bank Café's Laurie Beechman Theater, and I'm very grateful that I was there to experience it.
A true doyenne of cabaret and musical theater, Jamie de Roy is known for putting together fabulous events that showcase wonderful artists. Last night's show, a benefit for the New York City Police Foundation "Heros Fund," was no exception. It started off promisingly as a performer unknown to me, Kitty Sullivan, sang two songs whilst accompanying herself on the harp; her second selection was a gorgeously wistful rendition of "Danny Boy," even more moving than usual in the emotional wake of the World Trade Center tragedy. The evening proceeded with memorable musical contributions from Jeff Harnar (singing from the Sammy Cahn songbook) and Marni Nixon (offering numbers from Cabaret and The Mystery of Edwin Drood), not to mention hilarious comedy routines from Larry Amoros and Adrianne Tolsch. I thought the program had reached its zenith when Penny Fuller recreated her "One Halloween" number from Applause, to the audience's sheer delight.
And then Jerry Orbach took the stage to fill in for N.Y.C. police officer Daniel Rodriguez, who had been scheduled to perform at the Beechman but was called away to sing the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium. "Jerry was initially booked to come and say something about the police," says de Roy. "I wasn't sure exactly how we were going to utilize him, but I thought it was important to have him there because he's the star of Law & Order and it would be great to have his presence at a police foundation benefit. Then I called him a few days ago just to give him the update that we had lost Daniel Rodriguez to the Yankees' game--he had this winning streak going and they really wanted him there. I didn't want to push Jerry to sing or anything, because I didn't want to lose him altogether. So, anyway, he walked in before the show last night and said: 'I was thinking I could do 'Try to Remember,' but it would only work as the opening number or the closing.' I said, 'Sure!!!' " Orbach sang the number with no rehearsal; Alex Rybeck served as his accompanist.
To say that the performance was breathtaking would be a gross understatement. Orbach created the role of El Gallo in The Fantasticks in 1960, went on to become a star in Broadway musicals and several films, and has been a beloved TV fixture through nine seasons of Law & Order. As far as I know, he doesn't often sing in public these days. To hear him return even momentarily to a part he played 40 years ago and offer a heartfelt, vocally lovely rendition of "Try to Remember" was something special--all the more so because the lyrics of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt song would almost seem to have been written with the indescribably sorrowful events of September 11 in mind:
"Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow...when you were a tender and callow fellow...when no one wept except the willow...when dreams were kept beside your pillow...Deep in December it's nice to remember, although you know the snow will follow...Try to remember and, if you remember, then follow."