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Personality-Driven Cabaret, Mixing Wonder and Realism

Date: 2009-05-14
source: New York Times
author: Stephen Holden

When she was an incorrigible 4-year-old, Tyne Daly recalls in her ebullient cabaret act ?Songs,? she was taken to see Jean Arthur in a Broadway adaptation of ?Peter Pan? and afterward went backstage where she was shown all the trickery. Even after the mechanics behind the magic were revealed, she confesses, her insistence on believing in it was so strong that later she jumped out of her bed while attempting to fly and broke her arm.

That story, which she told midway in Tuesday?s opening-night show at Feinstein?s at Loews Regency, prefaced a cheerful, wide-eyed rendition of ?Captain Hook?s Waltz? from the musical of ?Peter Pan,? which originally starred Mary Martin, that segued into Brecht and Weill?s ?Pirate Jenny.? Suddenly we were in sophisticated territory.

As Ms. Daly sings and tells stories, she dispenses good humor and wisdom with a self-effacing generosity that may bring to mind your favorite baby sitter from childhood. When in a playful mode, she makes the whole world seem brand-new and wondrous.

But running through this show is a seam of hard-headed adult realism exemplified by ?Life?s a Funny Proposition After All,? a bouncy George M. Cohan song that stares fixedly into the void, and by ?Killing Time,? an obscure Jule Styne-Carolyn Leigh ballad whose depressed, idle narrator drifts morosely through her later life, ?dulling senses, lulling fears, chilling drinks, spilling tears, killing time.?

The show, directed by David Galligan, with sensitive musical arrangements for a quintet by John McDaniel, is a model of a custom-made cabaret act created around a personality rather than a voice. Seasoned performers contemplating making the leap into cabaret would do well to study it. The personalized approach begins with the opening number, a rendition of ?Some People? from ?Gypsy,? outfitted with new autobiographical lyrics. A slowed-up arrangement of Buddy Holly?s ?Oh Boy? is a small revelation.The show reaches a dramatic peak with a medley of ?Job Application? and ?Fifty Percent,? from ?Ballroom,? which Ms. Daly builds from a chatty description of filling out a form into a ferocious affirmation of devotion to a married lover. As she embraces the present, that childhood baby sitter reveals the heart and soul of a grown-up confidante.

Tyne Daly performs through Saturday at Feinstein?s at Loews Regency, ,