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MIDDLE OF THE ROAD : Guillaume's Hodgepodge Show Lacks Focus

November 02, 1987|ZAN STEWART

Robert Guillaume, the star of TV's "Benson," possesses a powerful voice, capable of deep lows and strong sky-high falsettos, that effectively blends Al Hibbler's ringing vibrato and Johnny Mathis' light timbre. But being able to sing and putting on a riveting performance are two quite different things, as Guillaume showed Friday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim.

A solid show needs focus and that's just what Guillaume's lacked as he meandered casually through a hodgepodge of pop-based tunes which had little resemblance to each other, either in character or style. And the occasional comic bits he offered between tunes were unsettling transitions that his ship-without-a-rudder show could have done without.

Backed by a 9-piece band, Guillaume began with a zippy "The Song Is You" and segued into a syrupy "Lovely Way to Spend an Evening." Both were heavy on the glitz, light on the substance. Then came the rock-pop ballad "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" and a Vegas-ish number, "Tonight It's My Party," both rather ho-hum songs. On another slow tune, "The Light of Truth," his sound seemed affected.

On the closing "I Want to Know What Love Is," he was believable. Guillaume was at his best, though, on the bluesy "Frankie and Johnny," where he worked with resonance and feeling.

Nancy Wilson, who opened the evening, once did things simply, and did them well. Gifted at adding blues and jazz feeling into a repertoire of standards and pop tunes, she relied on her pleasant alto and her intuitive sense of a song's meaning, not pointless histrionics and gimmicks, to give her interpretations their appeal.

But somewhere between then and now, Wilson lost her way. Here, she didn't so much sing as put her songs across, with such antics as out-of-place falsettos, growls, tugs-of-war with the rhythm and body contortions that detracted from the performance. But her fans are loyal and the more Wilson whooped it up, the more they applauded, eventually giving her three standing ovations. So much for the rewards of good taste.

This excessiveness roughed up two of her signature pieces. "Guess Who I Saw Today?" a telling, heart-wrenching song about a wife witnessing a husband's indiscretion, was almost a joke by the time Wilson finished her overly animated lyric reading and inopportunely growled phrases. And in "I Was Telling Him About You," she chose to shout the tag line over and over, which disrupted the tenderness she had previously established.

Speedy versions of "Dearly Beloved" and "Out of This World" found Wilson grabbing and snatching at lines, creating an uneven flow. "If Dreams Come True" was one tune that was done without theatrics, and it sounded just fine. Wilson was supported handily by Llew Mathews on piano, John B. Williams on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums.

Pieces of a Dream was scheduled to perform but was canceled by the promoter, Dawn Productions, according to a Celebrity Theater spokesman.

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