Lyricist Sheldon Harnick is one of the greats of musical theater, and if he is going to be justly celebrated, the delightful, immensely talented Kate Baldwin is up to the task, as she demonstrated at Feinstein’s (March 8-12, 2011) with Harnick as her guest. She has entitled her show “She Loves Him,” and that adoration was beautifully expressed on opening night with her sparkling performance. There were supreme moments, none more magical than when Harnick took to the mike and sang “If I were a Rich Man,” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” the venerated stage classic for which he wrote the lyrics to Jerry Bocks’ score. You don’t find many occasions like that in a supper club.
Baldwin has a thrilling soprano voice, but what’s more she is the personification of a stage leading lady. She looks beautiful and she can certainly act, as shown when she starred in “Finian’s Rainbow.” She also is adept at telling the little stories behind songs, her personality ever shining through. Although expecting a baby boy within weeks, she dominated the stage with plenty of energy, occasionally alluding playfully to her pregnant state. Her music contingent includes Scott Cady at the piano and as musical director, Andrew Sterman on woodwinds and John Beale on bass.
Harnick’s work is a treasure trove, including songs from the shows “Firoello!” and “The Rothschilds,” as well as an assortment of numbers written in various other circumstances. Baldwin opened with “He Loves Me” from the gem “She Loves Me.” Then she had fun with Harnick’s early satirical number “The Boston Beguine,” poking fun at life in Boston with some very deft lyrics to music beguine style. Going again to “She Loves Me,” Baldwin turned on romantic anxiety with “Will He Like Me?”
Another of Harnick’s clever set of lyrics was recalled by Baldwin in “The Ballad of the Shape of Things.” She did justice on her own to “Fiddler,” with a medley from the show. But the level of nostalgia picked up when she introduced Harnick and they teamed on “To Life!” Baldwin didn’t miss the opportunity to comment amusingly on finding common ground between her Irish heritage and his Jewish heritage.
Harnick told a story of how a song written for “Fiddler” failed to click in the Detroit tryout and was cut from the show. He obviously retains a soft spot for it, and tenderly reprised “Dear Sweet Sewing Machine.” Sometimes numbers can be well written but don’t advance a show effectively. He didn’t argue against it having been dropped.
Baldwin turned on the pizzazz singing “Gorgeous” from “The Apple Tree,” and there was an excellent rendition of “In My Own Lifetime” from “The Rothschilds” In a sentimental highlight, Baldwin introduced “I Couldn’t Be With Anyone But You”(music by Joe Raposo) as a song in which Harnick expresses love for and closeness with his wife, Margorie, who was in the audience, and Baldwin ventured that it also spoke to her feelings about her husband. (The enthusiastic opening night crowd included Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein and Steve Ross.)
Concluding the scintillating, special occasion was “Sunrise, Sunset” (from “Fiddler”), a song of rare beauty with deeply expressive lyrics that, while dealing with watching children grow up and the trajectory of a marriage, in a sense capture the glory of Harnick’s career. But the sun hasn’t set yet. He is ever working on more material. At Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency, Park Avenue at 61st Street. Phone: 212-339-4095.