Kellerman Is Calling! … Comstock Headlines

I once wrote that Sally

Kellerman walks like an anchovy. At Feinstein’s at the Regency, where she has

taken a leave of absence from the screen long enough to try out her first New

York nightclub act in 30 years, her curves, her sideways waddle and her sensual

body language are still intact. She has a lusty, suggestive way with both

lyrics and words, and from the way she oozes into her skintight pants, I’d

guess her California lifestyle prohibits the ingestion of any diet richer than

a plate of broccoli sprouts. Whatever she’s doing, it defies the passing of

time. (She’ll be 64 in June, and she hasn’t changed a bit since her giddy role

as “Hot Lips” in Robert Altman’s MASH

made the whole world drool back in 1970.) The lady is still, to put it bluntly,

a goddamn knockout. Oh, yes: The show is pretty terrific, too.

She calls it “More Than

You Know,” and that’s exactly what she means. Before she’s through, you may

even know more than you wanted to know. Undulating her way into the spotlight

with a belting version of Leiber and Stoller’s feminist anthem “I’m A Woman,”

she sets the stage with an abundance of energy, personality and charm that is

unflagging throughout. “I can be a tramp, a scamp, a sloe-eyed vamp … or just

plain old me,” she sings in the same mellow boy’s-choir baritone that punches

up her movie roles. But there’s nothing plain or old about this tomato. And

like the multiple personas in Sybil ,

it soon becomes obvious there’s more than one Sally Kellerman.

The show, which plays

through Feb. 8, is both a carefully tailored showcase for her unique talents

and a song cycle that celebrates the multitudinous facets of women, and with

her honed acting skills, she plays them all. Between songs like “Nobody Else

But Me” and “Younger Men Are Beginning to Catch My Eye,” she talks in a flaky,

Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness style (so casual you’d never suspect it was

scripted) about her days at Hollywood High; getting picked up by a young Marlon

Brando when she was waiting tables on the Sunset Strip; her first record

contract at 18; losing her virginity at 21; being a single mother in the

1970’s; her affairs; her therapy; her one true, long-lasting marriage to Mr.

Right at 39; the chaos of parenthood with three adopted children; and her

famous singing commercials and unmistakable voice-overs for Woolite, Volvo and

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. If she leaves out anything that is killing you

with curiosity, just ask her. She talks incessantly to the audience, and when

nobody answers she just goes right on talking to herself.

The cumulative effect of

so much chumminess and candor lands the audience right in her curvaceous lap

and makes converts of the most jaded cynics. Although she’s waving a flag for

the distaff side, one of her funniest quips involves men. Women, she says, can

ask for directions, cry at the drop of a hat, muscle up in the workforce and

then take it out on their guys at the end of a bad day. Men, on the other hand,

always have to act like men, and then they end up with prostate problems. With

her flip humor, vulnerability, understanding, tenderness and wisdom about life

and people, she’s like a sexy nurse. Every depression clinic should have one.

But this is not just a

hip Hollywood comedy act. Under the superb musical direction of Michael Orland,

she illustrates her narrative with songs to fit the anecdotes, singing with so

much self-assurance and such a passion for music that she can switch

effortlessly in style and tempo from the raucous pop-rock of the Pointer

Sisters to the navy-blue jazz phrasing of Billie Holiday with the snap of a

finger. The centerpiece of her eclectic act is a long and comprehensive tribute

to lady songwriters whose disparate styles have influenced music through the

decades. Beginning with Helen Reddy, Annie Lennox and Bonnie Raitt, she moves

backward through time in a medley that fearlessly encompasses Laura Nyro and

Tammy Wynette, then Marilyn Bergman, Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Peggy Lee,

all the way back to the turn of the century and Katherine Lee Bates’ beloved

“America the Beautiful.” This exhausting fireworks display ends with the Civil

War, Julia Ward Howe and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Doing what she loves and

loving what she’s doing, Sally Kellerman is a blast of West Coast vitamin C in

a dreary Manhattan flu season. You get your money’s worth-and at Regency

prices, that’s really saying something.

Comstock Headlines

After a healthy run in

the Off Broadway musical revue Our Sinatra , singer-pianist Eric Comstock has turned over his piano

bench to his equally talented colleague, Ronny Whyte, and is now making his

first solo appearance as a headliner at the Algonquin’s fabled Oak Room

(through Feb. 17). He’s grown so much as a performer and musician since the

days when he tickled the ivories in the piano-bar lounges of cabarets while

everyone waited for the main room to open that he can no longer be labeled one

of New York’s most promising newcomers. He is now the real thing.

He has a lifelong

dedication to the art of the American popular songbook, a joyous and witty

exuberance, and a scrubbed demeanor that makes him look like he’s wearing his

dad’s borrowed tux for a night on the town. But don’t be fooled. He’s a serious

and accomplished musician and a mellow baritone who demonstrates a craving for

standards by Kern, Hammerstein, Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart that belies his

years. He’s also developed into something of a rakish raconteur. At the

Algonquin, he tells some amusing stories about Cole Porter, who once attended a

party for Monty Woolley with the bearded lady from the Ringling Bros. and

Barnum & Bailey Circus on his arm and introduced her to everyone as Monty’s

sister. Then, on Mr. Porter’s familiar “Let’s Do It,” he’s added some new

lyrics about Dan Rather, Kevin Spacey, Sam Donaldson, Linda Chavez and John

Ashcroft that are both politically incorrect and completely endearing.

A number of the songs

featured in his new solo act are selections from his tuneful CD All Hart , but in addition to evergreens

like “My Heart Stood Still” and “Mountain Greenery” he’s come up with a

beautiful, undiscovered Lorenz Hart lyric, previously heard only in a

short-lived London show called Lido Lady

with an appropriately cynical title, “What’s the Use?,” that could serve as the

philosophy behind Larry Hart’s short, unhappy life. Some new piece of mischief,

“An Andrew Lloyd Webber Song,” is a cruel and accurate attack on schmaltz, with

some of the funniest lyrics I’ve heard on a cabaret stage this season. From

Duke Ellington to Oscar Brown Jr., the songwriters Mr. Comstock favors are

first-rate, and he honors them all with verve, polish, sound intonation and a

playful way of tweaking lyrics.

His lovely reading of

“This Moment,” a song by John Wallowitch that Dixie Carter used to sing, loses

some of the boyish pep and reflects the stages that build a man, and my

personal highlight of his act is the poignant way he turns “Never Gonna Dance,”

the classic movie tune Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields wrote for Fred Astaire,

into a three-act play. This is the kind of evening in which blasé New Yorkers

used to revel. Now it is all too rare. Eric Comstock is keeping a cherished

tradition-sophisticated songs in a soigné

setting-alive and ready for a new generation. The justified recognition and

deserved applause he’s finally getting are long overdue.

I Got You, Babycakes

More tips: Pete ‘N’ Keely , which snuck in during

the Christmas break, is a late-holiday stocking stuffer at the John Houseman

Theater on West 42nd Street that has Broadway insiders cheering. Cleverly

directed by Mark Waldrop, the Wunderkind

behind the riotous When Pigs Fly , and

satirically written by James ( A Christmas

Survival Guide ) Hindman, the show is about an ab-fab singing team (more

Steve and Eydie than Sonny and Cher), divorced but reunited for one of those

overstuffed TV variety specials in 1968 that used to be hosted by Ed Sullivan

and sponsored by Studebakers and cheese dip.

Adorable Sally Mayes and

camera-ready Rock Hudson clone George Dvorsky are the zoned-out,

over-stimulated stars who are in on the joke and milk the gags for

all they’re worth. Bob Mackie has designed a dazzling array of costumes for

them that reflect the flared bell bottoms and sequins of late-60’s fashions

with humor and panache. As Pete and Keely try to hide their mutual hatred and

bare their caps in frozen smiles, the show takes the audience on a nostalgic

tour of their career that includes a hilarious recap of their one flop Broadway

show, a spoof of Antony and Cleopatra

called Tony and Cleo , and a

flag-waving national tour comprising a medley of 50 songs, one for every

state in the union.

The plot evaporates

faster than the fizz in a glass of Dr. Pepper, but Ms. Mayes and Mr. Dvorsky

will make you surrender unconditionally when they do what they do best, which

is sing, sing and sing some more. She knocks your snow boots off with a hot

arrangement of “Black Coffee,” he stops the show with a hip-swirling “Fever,”

and a big, tongue-in-cheek production of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

looks like one of those Fourth of July extravaganzas at Disneyland and has to

be seen to be believed. A magnet for celebrities (Mary Tyler Moore, Bette

Midler and Reba McEntire were there on the same night), Pete ‘N’ Keely is Broadway in a bottle-the brightest, happiest and

most entertaining little show in town.

Kellerman Is Calling! … Comstock Headlines