Neva Small's mouth turns up naturally into a smile. So, in this hour-long cabaret act directed by Pamela Hall, it's appropriate that her first song should be Rodgers and Hammerstein's "A Cockeyed Optimist." Tossing back her trademark golden ringlets, Small exudes an eagerness to please; her program of chosen songs, however, does this only some of the time.
As the show's title implies, Small is a seasoned performer whose lived-in voice has an expressive theatrical range. The format is the now-too-predictable show business bio, and as we are led through her musical-comedy life, it becomes apparent that it is those songs in which the actor and the singer merge that best suit her confident presentation.
Small has had a busy theatrical career, complete with successes and missed opportunities. She was Chava in the film of Fiddler on the Roof, and so we get an obligatory and extensive Fiddler medley. Given similar treatment is the West Coast production of Hoagy and Bix, with some of Mr. Carmichael's best-known tunes medleyed if not melded together. Much more successful are some lesser-known efforts: Bob Merrill's "A Girl With Too Much Heart" (cut from Henry, Sweet Henry) and Michael Feinstein's "Half of April, Most of May," featuring a charming Merrill lyric. But probably the best example of the singer-actor is a simple number about a job application (lyric by Marilyn and Alan Bergman and music by Billy Goldenberg), a song that was dropped from the musical Ballroom.
Small has worked with some of the most creative talents in the business, but her patter here on such names is much too thrifty. Some anecdotal evidence, especially some humor, would greatly help the evening along. When Small does reach for humor, in a title song (by Jay Kerr) sung with a hand puppet, the effect, alas, is strained. Sentiment, on the other hand, as in James Slater's "In My Daughter's Eyes," is in ready abundance.
Strong musical support is given by musical director Steven Silverstein on piano and Mark Wade on bass.
Presented by Edmund Gaynes, Pamela Hall, Louis S. Salamone
at the Actor's Temple Theatre, 339 W. 47th St., NYC.
Aug. 23-Sept. 30. Thu., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.
(212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www. telecharge.com.