When Linda Lavin takes the cabaret stage what you get is the result of an entire show business career, encompassing revues, musicals, television and plays, including her latest triumph in “Other Desert Cities.” She possesses self-assured technique, uses her acting skills to deepen the expressiveness of lyrics, moves with precision and flashes a personality that connects with the crowd. Such was clearly the case when I caught her highly entertaining one-night appearance at Birdland on Monday, February 21, 2011, which also marked the occasion of her first CD. What took her so long?
What’s more, she performed with a scintillating musical group, consisting of her musical director Billy Stritch at the piano, legendary Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Steve Doyle on bass, Aaron Weinstein on violin and none other than her husband, Steve Bakunas on drums. When she sang “Do I Love You?” facing Bakunas, the effect was warm and touching.
Lavin looked trim in black sequined pants and a black tuxedo jacket, the jacket later replaced by a long, flowing, sequined black top. She got off to a jaunty start with “Give a Little Whistle,” followed by “It Might As Well Be Spring.” Lavin demonstrated variety in tone and tempo, with such diverse umbers as “There’s a Small Hotel,” “I’m In Love Again,” and “Youv’e Got Possibilities,” which she sang in the Broadway musical “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman.”
She applied a bossa nova style to “Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars,” sang “I Like the Likes of You,” and paid an affectionate tribute to the late Margaret Whiting, who she said had influenced her, by singing “Time After Time.” She poured further feeling into “You Must Believe in Spring,” a good choice given the wintry weather New York has been enduring.
Admittedly, I have a soft sot for Lavin. I interviewed her early in her career when she was doing revues, and it has been a pleasure over the years to watch her turn into a powerful dramatic actress. Now it is newly enjoyable to see her venturing into contemporary cabaret and recording. Reviewed at Birdland, 315 West 44 Street, 212-581-3080 or www.BirdlandJazz.com