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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Bennett Tunes In to All-Star Audience at Hope Concert

October 18, 1995|DON HECKMAN

It was the event itself that took the spotlight at the Pantages Theatre on Monday night for the first Concert of Hope of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

And understandably so. With an audience that included President Clinton, former President Gerald Ford, former First Lady Betty Ford and a room full of Hollywood notables, with cameo emcee appearances by Tony Danza, John Larroquette and Kelsey Grammer, there was barely enough space for headliner Tony Bennett to perform a few tunes.

Much of the program, which will be broadcast Dec. 1 as part of a CBS-TV special, was devoted to a set of Bennett duets with Liza Minnelli, Patti LaBelle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Brandy and Roseanne.

But the most musical aspects of the evening took place during Bennett's brief solo stints--especially on poignant readings of "Who Can I Turn To" and "Lost in the Stars"--with a subtlety, thoughtfulness and easygoing rhythmic flow that have too rarely been present in his recent concert performances.

The duets sounded spontaneous and unrehearsed, which was both good and bad. Good in a mellow Bennett/Brandy version of "God Bless the Child" and a gently rocking "Honeysuckle Rose" with Carpenter. Less good in Bennett's struggle to survive a monotonal Roseanne rendering of "Dream Your Dream" from "Sweet Charity." But the duets will undoubtedly play great on the small screen.

Like the balance of the evening, their focus was clearly upon the production of entertaining images for television rather than the creation of appealing musical interpretations.

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