I dropped into the Metropolitan Room to get my periodic fix of enjoying chansons as sung by the delightful Yvonne Constant in her latest show “Paris in the Sixties and Seventies.” I detected something slightly new this time. Constant, always effervescent, displayed an even heightened joie de vivre marked by a fresh sense of self-assurance and an even greater helping of fun injected into her act. Perhaps it has to do with the increased new recognition and expanded audiences she has been getting following an upbeat, positive review she received from the noted critic Stephen Holden in the all-powerful New York Times.
“Thank goodness for those who read The New York Times,” she mused, to applause from an audience who knew what she was talking about. Indeed, the couple my wife and I were sitting next to was there because of having read that influential notice. The upshot is less of a need to prove oneself in the demanding struggle for recognition on the cabaret scene, even after years of experience, exposure and affirmation of skill. Constant has done it all—from Broadway to frequent appearances on late night television in the years of the master, Johnny Carson, to appearing at City Center in an Encores! production of Sondheim’s “Follies.” But cabaret is where she gets to shine as the perennial chanteuse, and this time around there was more abandon in her performance and the impression that she didn’t have to work as much at winning over an audience. Already primed, the audience was with her from the very start.
She quickly rewarded it with Serge Gainsbourg’s “Merde a l’Amour,” an amusingly coarse French way of expressing the feeling of “to hell with love.” It was a spirited put-down of amour and the audience loved it, as I did. She continued with Jacques Brel’s “Bruxelles,” which she called the only optimistic song Brel ever wrote. Constant appeared to be having more fun than usual as she dispensed background information about her material.
She repeated some history that she used in her previous show about the uprising in Paris in 1968 and the changes wrought, as well as the journey of “Comme d’Habitude” from a French hit into Frank Sinatra’s blockbuster “My Way.” There was a touching moment of tribute to the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who married American film director Jules Dassin, and to Dassin’s son Joe, who wrote the music to “Je Suis Grecque” (“I am Greek,”) and Constant sang it in what she envisioned as a Mercouri style. One of her tender, wistful numbers was “My Dad” (Mon Vieux),” which she sang with plenty of heart, and she sailed through an extensive repertoire of songs by an assortment of French composers, some well known to American audiences, others not.
Constant is fortunate to be working with the superb musical director and pianist Russ Kassoff. “He is only available Sundays and Mondays,” she said, “which means I can only do the show on Sundays and Mondays.” Otherwise, Kassoff is conductor for the Broadway show “Come Fly Away,” for which he leads a large, impressive orchestra. Constant kids Kassoff quite a bit, but he helps her out by joining in song on occasion, and it is clear they enjoy working together.
Constant gives rangy expression to her repertoire, and with the intimacy of the Metropolitan Room, the performance develops a party atmosphere. As well as appreciating her music, people can’t help but be impressed by her slim figure and great legs, which she shows off with a mini outfit, no small feat for a woman on the scene so long. She gets big laugh mileage out of repeating the words of a critic, who wrote something to the effect of, “I don’t know how old she is, but she doesn’t look it.” Reviewed June 7, 2010 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440.