I was on the porch reading the Sunday paper last week when the most soothing and mellifluous voice wafted in from the tv room. The song was West Side Story's 'Somewhere'.
My eyes must be deceiving me. A precious little blond girl was solo at the mic. Behind her was a vid of Barbra Streisand and the two were doing a duet. This little prodigy, 11 year old Jackie Evanko, was more than holding her own versus one of the great stylists in musical history.
The production was yet another PBS fund raiser by 'The Hit Man', composer David Foster. Only in the past few years has Foster's name achieved superstar profile. His tunes and musicianship have been major influences in the careers of Celine, Andrea Bocelli, Barbra, etc....and now certainly this 4 ½ foot 5th grader wunderkind.
Her octave range, her unyielding control of notes, her ability to sing in different languages, her maturity and consummate professionalism were attributes you might expect, well, from Barbra. (Streisand was a singer in gay bars in her teens and first appeared on Broadway in “I Can Get It For You Wholesale” in '62 at age 20, at that point a seasoned veteran).
This impassioned experience with Jackie led me to consider those most memorable musical tv moments; the vast majority of which have come care of WHYY. Aisle Say readers may recall I have been harsh with this not for profit station, equating their skulking out of Delaware to the dead-of-night move by Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay to Indianapolis in 1963.
“Les Mis” 25 years ago ranks #1. Next is Andrea Bocelli in Tuscany singing 'Time To Say Goodbye' with Sarah Brightman. Third is Jackie and fourth would be Foster's first “Hit Man” with numerous stars including Josh Groban.
Patrick Stoner was one of the hosts for all four. His wife, Joyce Hill Stoner, is an art conservator at Winterthur and the family lives in Hockessin.
I called him for some recollections of these watershed events. Immediately Patrick gave me a caveat. “I have nothing to do with booking any of this. I am an on air host, that is it!” He commented that the station buys the rights and has a time period to air the program.
With that out of way – and with a large smile on my face – I reminded him of his spontaneous reactions of awe during the first 'Les' Mis (OMG....25 years ago!) “That is what you call WOW! A WOW”, I recall.
“We were expecting a bit of rainfall from our viewers. Within hours it became Level 5 hurricane. It was the biggest fund raiser in history, $1.2million.”
During the first 'Hit Man' special, Foster was on set. Stoner made it a point not to meet the composer beforehand. He opted to take a risk and began bantering during commercial breaks. Foster first turned his head and gave a steely glare. The gauntlet was on the ground and the two enlivened the show with give and take goofs. Example: one of the other hosts made mention that Foster had been given The Order of Canada. Patrick cracked, “was that an order to LEAVE Canada!”
Stoner's day job as we know is film reviewer and interviewer to the stars. He makes little or no money with the fund raisers. But, as a pre-ministerial student for a few years, “ I've always felt a longing to do something bigger than myself. I didn't have the required chops to make religion a career.”
The tv segments appear on Saturday nights on 65 PBS stations. He has interviewed most of the major stars. Tom Hanks, for example, will no longer give commercial interviews but he will sit down with Patrick. Johnny Depp has guaranteed that with every movie he's in, Patrick will be included. “I ask actors about their craft, not how was it like to work with whats her face.”
I suppose Patrick took no cues from SNL's Chris Farley when he interviewed Paul McCartney. Farley: “Do you remember when you were with The Beatles?”
Farley: “That was awesome!”