Which would you prefer? A flow of creative scat singing? A heartfelt evocation of sad memories? A red hot mama? Amusing introductions that reflect personality? You’ll get it all, and more, from the delightful star Christine Ebersole as she currently lights up the Café Carlyle (Jan. 11-29, 2011) in a return engagement. The many sides of her talent are abundantly displayed with her savvy choice of material and her effervescence.
Ebersole has proved herself as an actress, evidenced by her touching performance in the musical “Grey Gardens.” She carries her acting ability with her as she interprets an assortment of selections. She also is strikingly attractive as she commands the stage with wit and voice. Also important is the sense of fun she brings to a performance.
Ebersole greets us with some delightful scat riffs on Bob Haggart’s “Big Noise from Winnetka,” and a bit more of scat when gives a vigorous interpretation of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen from “The Wizard of Oz.” Songs that give her the opportunity to turn up her musical energy serve her well, as when Ebersole sings “On the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe” (HarryWarren and Johnny Mercer) and “If I Were a Bell” (Frank Loesser).
She shows other sides of her with the way she sings romantically, as with “You Forgot Your Gloves” (Edward Eliscu and Ned Lehac), wistfully with “Blame it on My Youth” and blues-oriented with “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern), the latter an especially beautiful rendition. Prefaced by a story of her mother having sung a hymn to her as a child, she tries to recapture that time by singing the same “How Can I Keep from Singing?” (Robert Lawry and Anna Warner).
Her “Grey Gardens” stage triumph is the inspiration for her deeply moving “Another Winter in a Summer Town," coupled with “Drift Away.” On the other hand, she spiritedly belts out “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cheries" (Lew Brown and Ray Henderson).
Eberole does a great vocal imitation of Sophie Tucker, preceded by an explanation. When she was at a Kennedy Center event, she explains, she took to musing about Hillary Clinton and what she would be like as a cabaret singer. What she came up with and now shares with her audiences is Tucker’s “You Can’t Deep Freeze a Red Hot Mama.”
Ebersole gets solid backing from John Oddo, her musical director and pianist, Charles Pillow on reeds, David Finck, bass, and Jim Saporito, drums.
The star kids the cliché of going off stage near the close of a show and then returning for an encore instead of just continuing. On the night I attended she returned after hearty applause. She remarked playfully that she was going to come back anyway, but that it was nice to hear the applause. Ebersole puts on such an immensely appealing performance that in my book she can come back again and again. At the Café Carlyle in the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street (at Madison Avenue). Phone: 212-744-1600.