During her brief now-you-see-her-now-you-don't stay at Don't Tell Mama a few weeks back, Nancy Anderson sang the following songs as well as or better than I've ever heard them chanted: "It Never Entered My Mind" (Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers), "My Romance" (also Rodgers and Hart), "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" (Rodgers and Hart again), "All Through the Night" (Cole Porter), and "Anyone Can Whistle" (Stephen Sondheim). For a singer to do even one definitive rendition of a song is something worth remarking on; for someone to ring the bell five times is close to astonishing.
And to think Anderson did it at her cabaret bow. That's right, she's been so busy doing musical theatre that she was only recently talked into taking the boite plunge by her shrewd (British) musical director, Danny Whitby. (At the moment, Anderson's in "Wonderful Town" and hardly doing any chirping, if you can believe that major lapse in an otherwise commendable production.) While cavorting in a boxy suit that looked like something Jackie Kennedy might have worn to an afternoon charity fete, Anderson did give indications she's only starting out in intimate rooms. She could use some direction and—although she seemed completely at home on Mama's postage-stamp lounge riser—more carefully shaped patter.
That's caviling, however, because what she isn't in command of at the moment she will get under control should she decide to keep giving small rooms her signal kind of whirl. She's to be encouraged, because what she has under control now are the invaluables. Anderson, who's cute as a parade, has a strong and pure voice in which the most cunning and irresistible tremolo resides. And she has mastered the arts of phrasing and breath control. She's a superb actress, both dramatic and comic, who breaks you up one minute and breaks your heart the next. (Hence the on-the-money version of Rodgers and Hart, et cetera.) Gifted with Ginger Rogers' spunk, she gets away with gestures others might not—she sang many songs with her hands on her hips. She has great taste in songs and found a few, like the Fred Ebb-John Kander "I Don't Remember You" and Edward Kleban's "Under Separate Cover," that aren't heard often. A cabaret star is born.
Only a few days earlier at that same Don't Tell Mama piano, Joe Stilgoe, on a hurried trip from Blighty, proved he has the stuff to entertain crowds. He's the second piano-tinkling Englishman to head this way in the last months—Jamie Cullum is the other one—with more talent than you can shake a walking stick at.
Stilgoe has a handsome square face and ruddy complexion and a smile that suggests he recently pulled off an especially sly prank. And he's got adept hands for accompanying himself in a slightly jazzy manner on songs he didn't write and songs he did. He has the humor to include something as silly as "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" (Fred Heatherton) and follow it not much later with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Ralph Blane-Hugh Martin). (It was still early December.) His banter is much like the noodling he does on the keys: loose and appealing. A self-penned number called "I Shouldn't Be Allowed to Speak" gives a good idea of his sense of humor and amiability. It should be apparent by now, though, that he be encouraged to talk or do anything in a room he damn well pleases, since his instincts are right, his songs are engaging, and his talents (he also acts and recently appeared in an "Into the Woods" production) are not at all in question.
Holly Penfield, a San Francisco native, is also over from London with riding crop in hand. Since a couple of years ago I saw her do a nice job of camping through a not-so-hot London musical called "When Harry Met Barry," I'm inclined to withhold most of my judgment on her Don't Tell Mama Lounge Room incursion.
Gussied up in black Louise Brooks wig and dominatrix garb that Donatella Versace would eat her heart out over, Penfield, in what she dubs "Holly's Hot Spot," means to be one of those performers who not only works the crowd but works them over at the same time. She can't keep herself on the lighted side of the stage, but is compelled to storm into the audience, where she sits on gentlemen's laps and hauls people up for various kinds of humiliation disguised as high hilarity. (At the sparsely attended performance I caught, she strong-armed her press agent into colluding on one of her numbers.) Before she'd finished, she'd pushed a startled female ringsider down on a banquette and was threatening to eat the lady's organs.
If she'd come near me, which she didn't, she would have gotten a piece of my mind. Or maybe she would have gotten my admission that what she was doing might work in a full room. It was, however, making a resounding thud among the eight or 10 people present. And if she needs to cogitate long and hard on anything, it may be about how to adapt her act when she isn't encountering ideal conditions for it. I can report that Penfield has a good voice that she unleashes on get-to-the-point songs like "I'm a Vamp." She has a great figure and trails laudatory reviews. I'll hope to see her living up to them.
When a singer bills herself as "soprano," you can be pretty sure you're in for some sort of classical music-drudging. You can be even more sure when a show called "Tell Me the Truth About Love" carries the long-winded subtitle "Songs of Love and Other Madness by Bernstein, Bolcom, Britten and Poulenc & Weill." Yes, the Poulenc would be Francis and the Britten would be Benjamin.
What may surprise you is how someone classically trained is funny about herself and her material. Which soprano Evangelia Kingsley was throughout her Danny's Skylight Room show last month. I'm still thinking about the hilarious yet subtle drunk she threw during the William Bolcom-Arnold Weinstein "At the Last Lousy Moments of Love." Dark, fleshy, sexy, and proudly Greek, Kingsley examined amour from a number of ironic angles, but only after she chatted briefly about her buxom self, saying "there they are" early enough in the show to get that amenity out of the way. She's also refreshingly self-deprecatory. "It never occurred to me that people would want to hear more," she said, when an encore was demanded. She had one, though, because, maybe intuitively, she understood she's good enough for an audience to want to hear plenty more.