The last time I heard German-born Adrienne Haan perform in New York her theme was “Berlin mon amour” and she proved to be the quintessential European cabaret artist who could perform anywhere in the world and bring a new sensibility to the famed works of such artists as Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel. There was only a nod to American songs with a closing medley. Now Haan has returned with a show called “Till The End of Time” (May 13 and May 21, 2011), in which she sings “Classic Songs of the Great American Songbook.” Can she make that leap? You bet.
Wearing a bright red gown, the tall, impressively attractive Haan ranged through familiar number after number with total self-assurance and projected a saucy, sassy air suggesting that she was having a great time and therefore the audience should too. The feeling was indeed infectious. Fortunately, she has the well-trained voice to go with the package. Haan had the backing of a solid, four-piece international band, led by musical director Richard Danley, and the combined result was a musically electric evening.
So where did this affinity for the American Song Book come from? Haan’s anecdotes made that clear. She has had quite a bit of grounding in this country. As a child in Germany, she already took a liking to American songs, and as a youth she was an exchange student living with a family in Texas. (Members of that family were on hand for her opening show.) Haan has also studied acting in New York. When she was in Texas, she remembers, the experience of hearing Margaret Whiting sing “All the Things You Are” made a deep impression on her and she says she owes a debt to Whiting for the inspiration.
Expressing some of what she has felt as a newcomer, she sang “I Am a Stranger Here Myself” from “One Touch of Venus,” with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. She noted that Mary Martin sang it on Broadway. It is doubtful that Martin would have given the song quite the sexy body language that Haan appealingly applied in her spirited rendition.
Haan’s program is surely ambitious. Her selections included such standards as “Blue Skies,” “Come Fly With Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” “These Foolish Things,” and while walking through the room flirtatiously, singing a bouncing, “Mama, You Treat Your Daughter Mean.” Additions included “Till the End of Time” and “It’s Wonderful,” among others.
Haan also has a great sense fun. After doing a sensitive, quite lovely “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from “Kismet,” she announced that she was going to show us what the song was like in German. “Oh, no!” shouted a man in the audience. The translated result was hilarious.
Haan spends a lot of time highlighting her musicians and repeatedly churns applause for them. She creates a party atmosphere, augmented by her gestures, exuberant expressions and the places she takes her voice in her song interpretations. I must admit, however, that I’m never one for community singing. While I typically and stubbornly sat out the urging, Haan succeeded in bringing the audience to its feet at one point to enthusiastically accompany her with finger-snapping. The crowd really got into it. She has that effect and obviously knows how to read her audience.
Apart from the strength of her singing, there is an ever present sense of humor that brightens the show, which I find a plus, even when it was playfully directed toward me at one point. In my last review I questioned her singing “Over the Rainbow” when the number was forever associated with Judy Garland’s powerful rendition. At this new performance, Haan took witty revenge and announced that she was dedicating her next song to me. You’re right--it was “Over the Rainbow.” I love a woman with humor. As a matter of fact, she does a good job with that number too. Reviewed at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-695-6909.