Tammy Grimes arrives on the Metropolitan Room stage trailing the past like a sumptuous velvet train. There's something ineffably appealing about her, even though the top of her register is a patch of uncertain road. What's ineffably appealing is the remainder of her voice, which still features that fragile tremolo that was uniquely hers when she first caught Noël Coward's ear almost 50 years ago.
When she sings now, she's conjuring her salad days with the knowing attitude toward a melody and a lyric she had then and still has. So if the higher notes are frayed like the edges of old Persian rugs, if she misses a lyric (which only happened once or twice on some challenging lyric-heavy ditties), if she sometimes deliver a song as if she's a jolly robot, she still has mesmerizing powers.
Actually — this is truly astonishing — when she reprises "I Ain't Down Yet" (Meredith Willson), she sings as if it's once again opening night of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Whatever enables this small boite miracle doesn't occur at any other point in her show — titled Miss Tammy Grimes, and we certainly have — but it doesn't matter, particularly for longtime fans who overlay the cracks in her abilities with vivid memories of her soubrette sauciness.
Shifting between a standing mike and a stool, Grimes doesn't rely on bygone days. She includes Jimmy Buffett's "He Went to Paris" and Tom Waits' "Martha," which she honors with a poignant reading. But she does salute what has gone before by murmuring signature songs like "Home Sweet Heaven" and "You'd Better Love Me" (both by Timothy Gray and Hugh Martin from High Spirits). As for the cliché about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, nobody ever mentions that if the old tricks were marvelous, there may be no need for new ones.
Presented by and at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St., NYC. April 4-19. Thu., 8 p.m. (212) 206-0440.