She’s an icon who has endured with her extraordinary talent for a half century, yet here she was on opening night, as fresh as ever, with a beguiling program that meshed past and present, as well as displaying her witty, congenial take on herself and the years through which she has lived and entertained. Judy Collins, performing at the Café Carlyle October 15-26 2013, seemed completely at home in the room, even more so than the last time around, and clearly enjoying the supper club environment.
At one point she thanked the Café technical staff for “making me look like Judy Collins,” a revealing remark exemplifying her ability to amusingly look at herself with a measure of objectivity. That was also reflected in the anecdotes she told about growing up and moving along through the decades. As is her style, she invited the audience to sing along with her at appropriate moments.
But, of course, everything comes down to delivering from her vast repertoire. Looking trim a black jacket and well-above the knees skirt, wearing black mesh stockings with a flashy design, her hair flowing and her guitar in hand, she opened with the delicate “Wild Mountain Thyme” by Francis McPeake. She followed with Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” Another highlight was the English Folk song “John Riley.” Naturally, before the evening was complete, she launched into her renowned “Both Sides Now” by Mitchell. Her audience would have been disappointed if she hadn’t.
Woven into her program were songs that she had written, including the pensive, “My Father.” Her accompanist for the evening was Russell Walden, but at one point she took over at the piano. (Collins began her career at 13 as a classical pianist before the period when she veered into the folk song world.)
Interestingly, in this show she demonstrated her ability to take on the work of Stephen Sondheim with poignant interpretations. She sang his “I Remember Sky,” “Pretty Women” and “Send in the Clowns,” making the latter over-performed song seem fresh. Venturing further into the theatrical world, she also sang “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from “Finian’s Rainbow,” with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg.
Collins noted that her friend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame was in the audience, and although her prepared song list for the evening had “Danny Boy” as her scheduled encore, she obliged instead with Yarrow’s request, singing her rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a fitting finale for her blend of folk and traditional American songbook.
Any time Collins appears, it is an important opportunity to keep up with the career of one of the country’s musical treasures and part of modern musical history, especially as Collins continues to be vibrant and appealing. At the Café Carlyle, the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue. Phone: 212-744-1600.