The venue 54 Below, New York’s beautiful new cabaret room in the renovated basement of the once-notorious Studio 54 disco, is playing host this week (through Feb. 2) to golden girl Christine Andreas. The ambience still retains the decadence of the space’s former tenant, but Ms. Andreas spreads nothing but sunshine. “Bemused,” the delightful, musically eclectic new act she has written for herself, is carefully designed to illustrate the varied definitions of that all-encompassing word. This gives the charming, multi-talented song stylist myriad moods to explore and a challenging repertoire of songs to explore them in. There’s something for everybody.
Webster’s uses for the word “bemused” include “immersed,” “surprised” and “thunderstruck”—but Ms. Andreas’s favorite definition of “bemused,” she says, is the kind of spark that only occurs when the right singer meets the right song (or songwriter). A few perfect examples range from Judy Garland and Harold Arlen (“Get Happy!”—which she turns into a one-woman revival meeting), to all those tailored-to-fit collaborations between Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Van Heusen, who shared a passion for booze, broads and take-home tunes like “All My Tomorrows,” “Come Fly With Me” and “The Tender Trap.” This is a canon that provides a pretty good cross-section of shifting musical tempos and lyrical attitudes, which Ms. Andreas polishes with acting chops that match her vocal skills. Her vibrant soprano, well remembered from her Broadway stardom in My Fair Lady, Jekyll and Hyde and, most recently, the revival of La Cage aux Folles, has not diminished, and her swinging lower register is jazzier than ever. With Dick Sarpola on bass and veteran accompanist Don Rebic on piano, she spells perfection in every song.
And what songs! From pensive (recalling Ethel Waters on another Arlen song, “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe”) to insouciant (recreating the crooning Brazilian style of Astrud Gilberto singing her way to stardom in the bossa nova world of Antonio Carlos Jobim) to the pop niche carved by Dionne Warwick on those catchy Hal David-Burt Bachrach tunes like “Alfie,” she irons the wrinkles out of even the most banal lyric and adds her own starch. One surprise: a tribute to the great Lorenz Hart, who was gay but nevertheless penned some of his best lyrics for his favorite unrequited love, actress Vivienne Segal—“To Keep My Love Alive,” about a serial killer who dreams up ingenious ways to bump off a succession of husbands, and the classic “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” which she sang to a Broadway newcomer named Gene Kelly in the original production of Pal Joey. I could do without another retread of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” but her firebrand soprano reaches heights of emotion that can only be described as “undiluted passion.” It’s not just the sweetness of her sound, but the versatility, range and musical savvy beneath the purity of that sound. She doesn’t just make the kind of pretty notes you expect from polished sopranos—she adjusts the timbre and modulates the strength or softness to fill the needs of every song at hand. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is as easy on the eyes as she is on the ears.
She can sing sugar. She can sing torrid. With this carefully structured, well-rounded, painstakingly researched show, you get your money’s worth.