I once wrote that Lucie Arnaz was a chip off the old blockhead. I was talking about genes, of course, but at Birdland—where she’s been knocking them wall-eyed and packing them in tight as ACE bandages—the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is very much her own star. With power, passion, a dynamic vibrato for emphasis on the swing tunes and a lemon twist for tartness on the torch songs, she’s pretty much a one-woman phenomenon. The looks? Eat your hearts out, ladies. I’ve seen her eat, so I know she doesn’t live on Bibb lettuce, but I guess she walks 18 miles a day because she’s got the same sylphlike body and the same swanlike neck she had on her mom’s old comedy shows. She’s also got legs for days. In this act, she’s at her peak.
She doesn’t waste your time. With a band led by her guitarist son, Joe Luckinbill, she mixes up prom-night nostalgia like “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “Moonglow” with newer songs by Harry Connick Jr. and her musical director, Ron Abel. (Mr. Abel performs a great 11 p.m. showstopper from his score for the forthcoming Broadway musical Bricktop, about the legendary black chanteuse and nightclub owner with red hair whose Paris watering hole in the ’20s was home to expatriates like Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter and Josephine Baker.) It’s a family affair, with musical solos by son Joe and daughter Katharine, but she even makes nepotism look charming. Getting around to her parents, she talks candidly about their tempestuous marriage, quoting Lucy (“I always wanted a Latin lover who would love only one woman and sing many beautiful songs. … Unfortunately your father loved many beautiful women and sang only one song”). She doesn’t sing “Babalu,” but she does turn “El Cumbanchero” into a swinging Cuban jam session. In addition to singing superbly, she conveys the beliefs and ideas behind the lyrics in the best fusion of acting and music currently visible on a cabaret stage. After turning New York on its ear at Birdland, why doesn’t one of the big glam rooms get smart? Lucie Arnaz has earned a monthlong engagement of her own—and more.