Monday, March 3, 2008

EW: A "Good Medicine" Recap

A report from the Good Medicine benefit with the cast of Grey's Anatomy:

I don't really watch Grey's Anatomy all that much, and I've never seen a single minute of Private Practice. But after spending a night watching their respective casts belt out some Steven Sondheim, Billie Holiday, Paul Simon and Woody Guthrie on stage at UCLA's Royce Hall, I'm kinda shocked creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes hasn't cranked out at least one musical episode for each of her shows. I know I'd be the first to tune in, at least.

The crooning was for a benefit aiding the Grey's and Private Practice crew members who've felt the financial pinch during the writers' strike. (The night's title, naturally, was "Good Medicine.") And it was clearly a passion project; I was told the casts and their backing musicians had rehearsed over two days before the Feb. 29 show, and goodness did the hard work pay off in a fizzy and fun evening.

After the jump, I'll walk through the highlights from the show, including which actor showed off some surprising chops on the harmonica and which two stars didn't make it onto the stage.

First of all, Sara Ramirez (pictured) — a Tony winner for Spamalot — can transform even the most obscure songs into powerhouse Broadway show-stoppers. (Anyone heard of "Meadowlark" or "Grateful," Ramirez's opening and closing numbers? 'Cause even my friend who scored our tickets, a regular music encyclopedia, didn't so much know from them.) Ramirez was so powerful, I actually kinda felt bad for the rest of the performers; T.R. Knight started his number by warning the audience that "it's been about 13 years since I've done something like this — and I'm following Sara Ramirez." (Looking crazy-sharp in a tux, Knight still somehow managed to marry George O'Malley and Stephen Sondheim with his high-strung medley of "Losing My Mind" and "You Could Drive a Person Crazy.") Even virtuoso four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald couldn't really top Ramirez, though the Private Practice star did give her Grey's Anatomy colleague a run for her money in the arcane song choice department — McDonald didn't even sing the two songs listed in the program.

Everyone else, though, steered clear of the show tunes. Chandra Wilson did a jazzy groove on "God Bless the Child." Though he does a solid James Brown impersonation, James Pickens Jr. can't sing, so instead his wife, Gina Taylor-Pickens, brought some simmering sexual spark to "Dr. Feelgood." (The Aretha version, not the Mötley Crüe version. Just to be clear.) I don't remember much about Loretta Devine's "I Believe In You and Me," because I spent too much time mesmerized by her dress, an animal-print creation that had about 11 different things happening with it at once.

The Private Practice crew, McDonald aside, went more rock-and-roll. Paul Adelstein fulfilled his middle-aged white guy fantasy by strapping on an electric guitar and strumming out an easy-going version of "Slip Slidin' Away," and later taking to the piano to back cast-mates Tim Daly, Chris Lowell and Amy Brenneman on "California Stars." The real California star of that cast, though, is Lowell, who sang lead vocals in a jaunty pork-pie hat, broke out some serious harmonica skills, and left my friend rather twitterpated. Okay, me too.

In between these numbers, the less musically inclined actors — your Ellen Pompeos, your Eric Danes, your Justin Chamberses, your Katherine Heigls — introduced the performers, read paeans to their crews, and performed readings of fan mail and, more hilariously, fan fiction. (My favorite: Sandra Oh's Dr. Cristina Yang calmly diagnosing a patient as... a werewolf.) Only Patrick Dempsey (off in Japan promoting Enchanted) and Kate Walsh (off in Australia promoting Private Practice) didn't show in person — they both taped video hellos instead.

The evening's emotional high point came courtesy folk-rocker Patty Griffin, who was listed in the program only as a "Special Mystery Musical Guest." Rhimes introduced her by explaining the Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute Griffin was about to sing, "Up To The Mountain," also played on the last aired episode of Grey's from this season. (It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite songs.) And, indeed, Griffin didn't disappoint. Her pure and plaintive voice had such quiet power, in fact, that it got me thinking. It is surely a great and generous thing to help out co-workers undermined by a strike, especially when the contract that came out of the work-stoppage affects that crew in no way whatsoever. I just hope that all these talented people might do this sort of concert again, but this time their talents would help causes with a slightly wider scope than the people who make them look good on TV.

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