Sometime in the blurry ’80s, I saw Aretha Franklin in concert at Lincoln Center!
Think that’s incongruous?
Well, Aretha’s opening act was Marvin Hamlisch!
Actually, this booking wasn’t all that bizarre, since Hamlisch had cowritten a number one R&B tune for Aretha (“Break It To Me Gently”) and also the Queen of Soul loved his “The Way We Were” and even covered it gorgeously (see video below).
But the man was admittedly a little whitebread for this gig, and he totally knew it.
In fact, he was extremely endearing in the way he sensed that the crowd was mainly there to see Aretha and he was a sort of glorified intrusion along the way.
Yes, we loved his work on The Sting, A Chorus Line, and just about everything else, but we wanted us some “Respect” and fast.
So Hamlisch riffed on that.
He joked about it.
He kept referring to it.
And I remember him even tinkling the keyboards and singing something like “We want Aretha” over and over again, asking the audience to sing along.
It was a wonderfully self-deprecating way to address the elephant in the room, to deflect any potential tension, and also to keep us mightily entertained.
He may not have always been nice to lyricist Ed Kleban during the creation of A Chorus Line–and I have to admit that’s always irked me–but on this night, Marvin was one singular sensation.