Review: Sedaka superb at Hawaii Theatre
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawaii rarely gets the chance to experience one of the early hit makers of the rock era performing the hits they wrote more than 50 years ago live in concert. Neil Sedaka did that last night for almost two hours at the Hawaii Theatre.
No computer-controlled stage lights or special effects were needed — a piano and a few basic stage lights sufficed — as Sedaka entertained the crowd with a comprehensive assortment of his biggest hits from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. He shared some of his newer compositions and a “neglected” song or two as well.
The show opened with snippets of Sedaka compositions recorded by other artists. The snippets, short as they were individually, ran for seven minutes and showed the broad appeal of his work as a song writer. Given Sedaka’s well-documented impact as a recording artist and song writer over several decades — his songs have been recorded by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Sheryl Crow, and from Connie Francis to Queen — there’s no question that his induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is an honor long overdue.
Sedaka’s one-man performance last night was a superb retrospective. He did almost all of his big hits from the ‘50s and early ‘60s; “The Diary,” “Oh! Carol,” “Stairway To Heaven” and “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” were among them. Most became spontaneous sing-alongs.
Of course, he also did both versions of “Breaking Up is Hard To Do” — the original ‘60s hit arrangement came early, the slower ‘70s hit arrangement later (Sedaka is the only artist to have had a top 10 hit with two entirely different arrangements of the same song; “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” hit #1 as an uptempo love song in 1962 and reached #8 as a ballad in 1976).
He took a brief break from performing and screened that ever-popular 1961-vintage Scopitone clip of “Calendar Girl” (an early type of music video) that shows him at 22 performing with 12 interchangeable blondes. The clip is a moment of high nostalgia, and Sedaka built on it by mimicking a bit of the choreography when he returned.
As always, he shared some of the stories behind the hits (his mother wanted him to be a concert pianist, not a pop songwriter or teen recording artist) and talked about his love of singing, harmonizing and song writing. From start to finish he seemed genuinely happy to be performing and appreciative of his fans’ continued interest in his music.
“It’s a great gift to be able to still sing my own work,” he said near the mid-point of the show. Several songs later he mentioned that “the songs come from many inspirations … and I’m grateful that I can share (them) with you tonight.”
Sedaka thanked “Uncle Tom” Moffatt for bringing him to Hawaii for the first time in 1959, and for making “I Must Be Dreaming” an only-in-Hawaii hit and one of his all-time most popular songs here (Most American stations played the designated “A” side, “Little Devil,” which hit #11 in 1961). The song was greeted with applause as soon as he started playing it.
He also thanked Elton John, a fan of his early work, for reviving his career as a recording artist in the ’70s. “Laughter In The Rain,” one of his biggest hits from mid-’70s was greeted with applause as well.
Beautiful arrangements of “Solitare,” “The Immigrant” and “The Hungry Years” balanced the program with hits from the darker and less innocent side of his repertoire.
Sedaka introduced “Love Will Keep Us Together” as a demonstration of how he writes a song — how he finds a tempo, works out a melody and scat-sings until he figures out the lyrics. Of course the crowd recognized the first few bars and was soon singing along with him.
Although Sedaka was the first to record it, “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a Grammy-winner for the Captain & Tennille, and oldies fans know that the duo improved the line “Sedaka is back” when they were recording their version in 1975. That was more than 35 years ago, and it is always great to be able to say “Sedaka is back” in Hawaii for a one-man show in December.
This one was one of his best.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Neil! All going well we’ll do it again this time next year.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for nearly 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.