There’s a lot of self-kidding coming from song writer Paul Williams in his affable debut at the Café Carlyle (April 23-May 4, 2013), which is titled “”The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me.” The “me” comes through from the start, as he makes fun of the tradition of performers saying how wonderful it is to be at the vaunted Carlyle, then playfully does the same thing, expressing amazement being on the stage “baptized by Bobby Short.” He announces that everything he sings has been written by him or in collaboration.
Composers don’t usually have the voices to go with their creations. Williams sings pleasantly enough to get across the meaning of his lyrics (he apparently has written more lyrics than music), many of them tied to particular moments of his life, which has had its ups and downs, including a long bout with alcoholism and drugs from which he emerged many years ago.
He jokes about himself as a youngster, “looking like a kid with a hangover,” and being only 4’6” tall by high school. Referring to the music and lyrics he wrote for the film “Bugsy Malone,” about children cast as little gangsters, he quips, “I got to keep the clothes.” He talks about his youthful desire to be an actor, which he has achieved in various venues, but adding how did he know then that he would find his career in song writing and that it would one day lead to his becoming president of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).
Williams amusingly pairs his song “Evergreen” (music by Barbra Streisand) and ‘The Love Boat Theme” (music by Charles Fox), which he also sings and mocks with a tale of how it was hastily written in a collaboration that seemed a lark at the time, but the theme going on to last along with the TV program. He also jokes about getting stoned with actor Robert Mitchum, with a song being given birth in Mitchum’s hotel room.
Tracing the tendency of his mother to walk around talking to herself, he sings the number he wrote as a result of that observation, “Rainy Days and Mondays” (music by Roger Nichols). Williams also performs “We’ve Only Just Begun” (also with Nichols), “Rainbow Connection" (written with Kenneth Ascher) and “Some Day I’ll Learn to Be Me,” written with Tracey Jackson, who was in the audience on opening night. He also does “the only song I ever wrote with John Williams"-- “You’re So Nice to be Around.”
The performer is backed by his musical director Chris Caswell at the piano, and John Lee Sanders on keyboard, sax and guitar, with both being given chances to impressively solo.
The entire show has an easygoing atmosphere with Williams as much enthusiastic raconteur as singer. Between performing what he has written, he educates us on his long career trail that has resulted in a host of experiences with the many awards to go with them. You have to like the guy. At the Café Carlyle, The Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue. www.thecarlyle.com. Reviewed April 24, 2013.