Randy Newman with Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Randy Newman, whose borscht belt take on the Faust legend is currently on view at the Goodman Theatre, has been churning out hummable tunes for other people since the early 60s, when his own first single was produced by none other than Pat Boone. But he's saved his most idiosyncratic material for his own use: crooning in that gravelly voice of his while tickling the ivories with a casualness that recalls Noel Coward, Newman waxes sardonically about life's paradoxes and winks knowingly at its foibles. His broad knowledge of musical idioms and knack for entertaining mimicry - and the fact that he had two uncles in the biz - made him a natural for composing movie music, a field he turned to in 1981 (thus striking his own Faustian bargain). The scores for Ragtime and The Natural (1984), two of his better efforts and both Oscar nominees, show Newman's mastery at conjuring up swoozy nostalgia through ersatz period music. When he's less inspired, as he was for Parenthood (1989) and The Paper (1994), Newman's music tends to sound like a kind of Muzak compilation of tunes vaguely similar to his greatest hits. And at his most indifferent, Newman is capable of the lampoonish crudity perpetrated by 1986's Three Amigos! (the script of which he cowrote). At this concert with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - in a collaboration that furthers the trend of classical ensembles appealing to a wider audience by going to the movies - Newman will both conduct and perform in a medley from his scores to movies such as Toy Story, Awakenings, and Avalon, done up in Technicolor by first-rate instrumentalists. From the piano Newman is expected to reprise some of his signature songs, including "I Love LA." Monday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. Newman will also perform by himself Saturday, 1 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan; 312-573-0564.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Randy Newman by Pamela Springsteen.