If you were developing a new, liberal-leaning television comedy with the goal of capturing today’s zeitgeist, you’d probably include plots that hinged on hot button topics like non-gendered restrooms and workplace sexual harassment; you might try to get a movie star in your cast to help attract viewers; you’d include meme-worthy elements, bound to go viral; and you’d work lots of pop music into the show to lend it a hip, youthful air.
Done. Done. Done. And done. 20 years ago.
The show was Ally McBeal, created by David E. Kelley, who roared back onto the television scene this year as the screenwriter of Big Little Lies. The movie star was Robert Downey, Jr. (pre-Iron Man, but post-Oscar nom for Best Actor in Chaplin), who played Ally’s most memorable boyfriend. The meme before-its-time was a dancing baby (Now almost old enough to drink!). And the music came courtesy of Vonda Shepard, who’ll perform old favorites and new songs this weekend at Feinstein’s at the Nikko.
Shepard was both the show’s music producer—selecting tunes by artists from Macy Gray to Josh Groban with lyrics that perfectly underscored the series’ plots—and a regular onscreen presence, playing oldies and originals as the pianist at Ally’s onscreen watering hole.
Today, commercial synergies between music and television are calculated and strategized as a matter of course, but back in the pre-Glee 1990s, Shepard’s rise to prominence via television after years of struggling as an independent artist came as something of a surprise.
Her two soundtrack albums from Ally McBeal —including her original theme song “Searchin’ My Soul” and covers of hits from “Hooked on a Feeling” to “I Only Want to Be with You.”
Fueled by her McBeal success, Shepard has continued to record new music and play to adoring fans in the U.S. and abroad (Ally McBeal was a huge hit in many European countries, winning Shepard an international following.)
Her latest album, Rookie, was released in 2015 and was produced by her husband, Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Crowded House).
At Feinstein’s, expect Shepard to dabble in the double-layered nostalgia of the songs she sang on TV (Re-reeminisce about what you reminisced about in the ‘90s!) and to share a selection her own soulful, tender compositions—worthy nostalgia for future generations.