Ronnie Spector–I could listen to her sing the phone book. It would have been nice if she could have sung her hits from her days with the Ronettes last night at the City Winery. But more than 40 years after she escaped the clutches of Phil Spector, her abusive, controlling producer husband, he still has in it for her. Phil, Ronnie read at the start of the show, will not clear her hits to sing in a theatrical setting. She can sing them in a concert, but not when it comes to dramatic rights. So Ronnie, who’s about to turn 69, performed her autobiographical work in progress show without “Baby I Love You” or “Be My Baby.”
Spector, after lifetime of violence, genius, and insanity, is serving 19 years to life for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Ronnie showed a picture of him from prison without his wig and quipped: “I should have shot him, but I didn’t know where he kept the guns.” The audience got a good laugh.
And you know what? If you’re reading this in prison, Phil: it didn’t matter. The show is a hit without Spector’s songs. We can live without them. The audience — which was sold out–just wants to hear Ronnie sing. And talk. About her crazy life in the 1960s with Phil, who locked her up in his mansion. wouldn’t let her leave or speak to other stars and musicians. He kept her off the final Beatles tour, sending the Ronettes out with a replacement. He wouldn’t let her greet the Beatles when they came to New York, even though it was Ronnie who introduced Phil to them.
The stories of abuse go on and on. When she finally left–before Tina Turner or Katie Holmes made their escapes–Ronnie jogged off Spector’s property barefoot, with nothing from her house. It was like a prison break.
She read at the beginning of the show: “My ex husband is a bitter man” to explain why she couldn’t sing her hits. But she did sing “Walking in the Rain” and Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Worry Baby” to perfection. Also “The Best Part of Breaking Up” and “Do I Love You?” Her unique voice has not lost an iota of power or texture. And her trademark refrain–“uh oh oh”– the predecessor of Michael Jackson’s whoops and Sting’s “e-oh-e-oh.” Ronnie sings Johnny Thunders’s “You Can’t Wrap Your Arms Around a Memory” but maybe you can. She’s so ingratiating that it feels as if she is wrapping you up with reassurance.
So she was able to sing “Frosty the Snowman” from her famous Christmas album, and Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” the single that brought her back courtesy of Little Steven and the E Street Band. She needs to add “Take Me Home Tonight” and “You Mean So Much to Me Baby,” duets respectively with Eddie Money and Southside Johnny.
And while it takes a toll on Ronnie to bare her soul and tell her story, she’s a good actress. Because her singing seems effortless–like Gladys Knight o or Sam Moore or Aretha Franklin. It just spills out of her. Let’s hope the show keeps getting tweaked until she’s off Broadway with a hit. She’d be a bright light on the Great White Way.
photo c2012 Showbiz411