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Pianist Robin Spielberg discusses a Barbra Streisand flip side and Broadway songs

For Valentine’s Day, Robin Spielberg discusses both sides of a Broadway single from Barbra Streisand and her new piano album “Give My Regards to Broadway,” filled with love songs.
New album with 20 piano instrumentals from 17 shows

New album with 20 piano instrumentals from 17 shows

GOLDMINE: Before we get to Give My Regards to Broadway and “Somewhere,” let’s begin with the flip side of Barbra Streisand’s 1985 version of “Somewhere” which was “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd where both songs were on The Broadway Album and both have lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, who we paid tribute to in our In Memoriam series last year.

ROBIN SPIELBERG: I remember Barbra Streisand singing, “Nothing’s going to harm you, not while I’m around,” which is just so gorgeous.

GM: It sure is. My daughter Brianna has a t-shirt with that song title on it from when she saw Sweeney Todd in Greenwich Village in 2018 and said that it sounds like a sweet lullaby but is utterly dark and terrifying in the context of the play.

RS: Sure, terrifying like some fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, which are supposed to be sweet to read before bedtime but there is something scary inside.

GM: Let’s move on to “Somewhere,” which is such a beautiful song from West Side Story which has recently been revived on film.

RS: I was thrilled about that which was an impetus to record two pieces from West Side Story on my album. At the time, the Broadway show was being revived in New York and the movie was in production. This was a chance to reach more generations with this music. The pandemic squashed the movie theater success, but with streaming it should reach a lot of people who maybe have never seen the first movie or the show before. It is standard repertoire. It is a love story, Romeo and Juliet style, and I think it really resonates now with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, “Somewhere there’s a place for us” on so many levels. I live in a pretty rural area. My husband Larry and I were among the six people in the movie theater, so we felt pretty safe during this pandemic, very socially distanced, with such a small gathering. It was nice seeing it on a big screen. In the new Steven Spielberg version, “Somewhere” is assigned to a different character which makes it so different, in a place of belonging, wondering where do we belong? It was beautiful. I have received a lot of compliments on my version as well.

Robin S flip side

Barbra Streisand

Flip side: Not While I’m Around (From “Sweeney Todd”)

A side: Somewhere (From “West Side Story”)

Billboard Top 100 debut: December 14, 1985

Peak position: No. 43

Columbia 38-05680

GM: It is so beautiful, and like you said, you also included “Maria” from the musical, which is such a gentle song. I remember watching and hearing Tony Butala deliver this song at a Lettermen concert in the late 1980s with mother-in-law. It was stunning.

RS: It is a stunning song about young love and hearing the name of someone you love, which can be one of the most beautiful words, lighting up your life.

GM: You follow that song with one from a family favorite, Jesus Christ Superstar. You make “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” sound so full with your left hand, right hand and pedals.

RS: Thank you. I appreciate that. There are times where it is appropriate to make something sound full like that. With “Somewhere” and “Maria” I kept paring down the arrangement. I originally had a lot of flourishes and arpeggios and big sounds. The structure and chord changes are so beautiful that you really don’t have to add a whole lot to those, so I ended up with more subtle arrangements. I made “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” a lot fuller. It was a big hit on the radio from Helen Reddy. It is a great song and one I remember as being a very popular audition song for many of my friends who were auditioning in musical theater. I heard that backstage and in rehearsal rooms quite a bit in the 1970s, so it just stayed in my brain.

GM: I grew up on Fiddler on the Roof as dinner music. I think every Jewish family in the 1960s must have been playing that Broadway soundtrack album.

RS: Absolutely! I remember when my father came home with the album from the record store. He worked in New York City, and he would stop in the record store in Times Square and pick up a Broadway musical album. We would listen to it until we knew every single word. Then, maybe then, we would be able to go and see the show. I have never seen a Broadway show where I didn’t already know every word and every note of every song. That is how we went to see everything. I know a lot of women who would sing “Matchmaker” for their auditions. On my Broadway album I recorded “Far from the Home I Love” because there is such longing. There are so many people now, maybe because of the virus or due to other circumstances, are away from home and away from loved ones.

GM: At the same time that I began listening to your Broadway album I was also listening to your American Chanukah CD, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. “Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof is on there, which is such a good inclusion, so now I know two songs from that play by you. My daughter Brianna calls your version simple and beautiful.

RS: Thank you. It is very prayerful.

GM: When my cousin Bill was ten years old, I saw him in Cleveland as part of a children’s choir which began in the 1960s called The Singing Angels. He had a solo and I was so proud to watch him under the spotlight singing “Where is Love,” which I had not heard before as Oliver! was new. Your inclusion of this song took me way back. What a nice surprise.

RS: What a song of innocence to be sung by a ten-year-old, “Where is love? Does it come from the sky above?” A young boy hasn’t experienced love and is searching to find it and get it. It is such a universal theme. With Give My Regards to Broadway, I chose really classic Broadway songs. I was very mindful that the pandemic knocked down Broadway and so many of my friends were out of work. There are so many heartbreaking stories of people who finally, after years and years, got their first Broadway show, were in rehearsal, and bam, they got the rug pulled out from them, so their shot was gone or at least will be significantly delayed. This is my tribute to Broadway to hang in there. I wanted to choose melodies and shows that meant a lot to me in my formative years and have really been responsible for the foundation of my career. I played in piano rooms and lobbies outside of Broadway for years before having a touring career.

GM: It covers a great variety of shows including You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

RS: What was really fun about including a song from that musical is that I was in that show in high school as Peppermint Patty. A few years after high school, a revival of the show went to Broadway. A group of us went to see it because we were all in it in high school. Little did I know that later in life I would meet Ilana Levine, living at NYU, who played Lucy in that Broadway revival production, and we became friends. Kristin Chenoweth also played Sally in that production. When I recorded “Happiness” from the musical, I sent it to Ilana and told her that I thought of her, and she was one of the first people to champion the album on her podcast All Things Broadway. The song is very sweet about how you can find happiness, especially in these times. There are silver linings everywhere. In the lyrics of the song, happiness is ice cream, or a crayon, or learning how to tell time, just simple things and simple accomplishments. We need to treasure each little triumph.

GM: My wife Donna knows that song, and was quoting those lyrics, too. When I was first listening to your version, and keep in mind it was during the holiday music season, it reminded me of The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” which is an odd, dark song, compared to the Charlie Brown sentiment.

RS: The last line of the song is “Happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.” I think that is sweet. I can be happy right now playing the piano, just doing what I love. Happiness is not a goal it is a way of being.

GM: Another song that Donna knows so well, which she taught me and Brianna, is “Ten Minutes Ago” from Cinderella which she grew up on, watching that Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on television starring Leslie Ann Warren. When she heard your version coming out of my office, it brought a big smile to her face.

RS: I grew up with it on TV, too, and this is before VCRs, so if you missed it, you missed it. If you missed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas that year, it was over until next year. I think “Ten Minutes Ago” is so beautiful. I love the score. There were many pieces from the musical that I recorded which didn’t get on the record like “In My Own Little Corner.” I thought “Ten Minutes Ago” was very uplifting, in 3/4 time, a waltz tempo, lighter in theme from some of the heavier content that I recorded, so it was nice to have it in the mix.

GM: You say that you recorded songs from classic Broadway shows, so I knew slightly more than half of the songs. One that you taught me here, which is so beautiful melodically is the finale, “My Best Girl.”

RS: That is a little-known gem, so I don’t blame you for not knowing this one. You are not alone. People tell me, “I’ve never heard of that song.” It is from Mame and it is not the most famous song from the musical. The title track is the most famous one and people also like “We Need a Little Christmas,” which is very fun and upbeat. This one is very personal to me because my mom used to sing it to me. In the show, a little boy and his Auntie Mame sing it to each other. It is about their devotion and how they will always be there for one another. It is about when you have a tough day and it will always be hard, you’ll have each other. That was a way to give a nod to my mom. She is still with us. She is 85 and taught me all of these songs and fostered my love for the great American musicals. She knows all of this music and passed it on to me.

GM: This year is the 25th anniversary of your album In the Arms of the Wind. I remember I was looking for a melody to go with lyrics for a March of Dimes fundraising song and your opening number “Dancing in the Quiet Rain” was so melodic, that it made it easy for me to write lyrics to. I am so grateful. It was so neat for you and I to have a copyright together.

RS: That worked really well and is so nice when those things work out.

Robin Spielberg photo courtesy of robinspielberg.com

Robin Spielberg photo courtesy of robinspielberg.com

GM: On the cassette single of that fundraising song, which became titled “Breakthrough Mountain,” I listed the performers as Danielle Gerard - vocals and Robin Spielberg – Steinway piano and you are still a Steinway pianist. How long have you been a Steinway artist?

RS: I was added to their roster in 1996, so just a bit before In the Arms of the Wind. I currently have a beautiful Victorian Steinway from 1896 and I am only the second owner, which is pretty remarkable. It was refurbished with me in mind. That is the one I am playing on at home and doing my livestreams on. I have done over 160 livestreams since the pandemic started in April 2020.

GM: One of my favorites shows from your livestreams is your “Hello Hello” show with all the songs with “Hello” in the title, including your beautiful version of this year’s Rock and Roll of Fame nominee Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

RS: Thank you. I do the piano bar on Friday nights with cover songs based on a theme, like you mentioned, with Larry emceeing it, and then on Saturday nights there is no talking, just a 45 minute set of live piano music, both through Facebook or YouTube. People who subscribe to my YouTube channel can hear them at any time. It keeps me fresh when not touring. The online concerts will continue when I don’t have live in person shows scheduled.

GM: You have a concert coming up in Cohoes, New York which we will promote on the radio in Albany, where you will be opening for my favorite composer of the 1960s, Jimmy Webb.

RS: We have become good friends. I have been opening for him and doing double bills with Jimmy for six years now. When I was about nine or ten years old, I brought his composition “Didn’t We” to my piano teacher. I wanted to learn the song and arrange it. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful song of all-time. She taught it to me, and now here we are fifty years later, and I am sharing the stage with Jimmy! Life is full of beautiful twists of fate.

GM: I also learned “Didn’t We” when I was ten, as the flip side of “MacArthur Park.” What a treat is has been talking with you again today and sharing your music like we did in the 1990s.

RS: This has been a fun reunion. Thank you and Goldmine so much.

Robin Spielberg and Jimmy Webb photos courtesy of kossontalent.com

Robin Spielberg and Jimmy Webb photos courtesy of kossontalent.com

Related Links:

barbrastreisand.com

robinspielberg.com

facebook.com/RobinSpielbergMusic

youtube.com/c/robinspielberg

kossontalent.com

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