Judy Butterfield's Judy Sings Judy throws a spotlight on a not-so-rare cabaret issue: Even though the beautiful 17-year-old mentions early that she's a soprano and that her tribute object, Judy Garland, was a belter, comparisons are still inevitable — particularly when Garland's clarion, precocious renditions are so indelible. At least I couldn't help making those odious comparisons. And I have to say that during Butterfield's recent Oak Room at the Algonquin one-nighter, the comparisons infrequently came down in her favor.
Twice when she perched on the piano — which was played with Shelly Markham's usual suave care — she sang straightforwardly in her pure, lilting voice. Those are the only times she shooed away the Garland who was performing brilliantly in my head. The songs were "I'll Get By" (Roy Turk-Fred E. Ahlert) and "The Boy Next Door" (Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane). The combination of the light Butterfield voice and her gentle acting worked a magic apart from Garland's and was just as winning and winsome. Much of this can be attributed, I suspect, to Butterfield's mentor, Andrea Marcovicci, who's in some danger, however, of turning out too many disciples who look and sound like Marcovicci clones.
It seems to me that if an adolescent singer is going to tackle the early Garland songbook — Butterfield delivered only songs her idol sang by the age of 22 — she has to find a radically different way of interpreting the material. Declaring the songs simply and in head voice isn't the answer. It's also not a good idea to sing so many of them with arms straight at the sides and hands bent at the wrist, palms downward. The pose is perilously reminiscent of a little girl at her sixth birthday party. Butterfield isn't bad; she's already quite good and promises to be better. But she's no Garland.
Presented by and at the Oak Room at the Algonquin, 59 W. 44th St., NYC. Sun., April 8.