Laurie Beechman Theatre – September 19, October 17
Summer nights are balmy rather than steamy when Carole Demas delivers her reprise of Summer Nights, a program of American songs. This is easy listening in a most engaging way. The casual Demas has a wide smile and a welcoming, laid-back demeanor, but beneath that ease lies considerable professionalism. Evident also is that she truly enjoys songs that reflect her life and experiences, songs that mean something to her.
This sounds simple but it is not always obvious in cabaret shows. Many performers introduce themselves with, “I was born in…” and “this show will tell you why I like [or don’t like]…” or “I have loved so-and-so since I was three.” The impressive thing about Demas’s show is how subtly, under Charles Repole’s direction, it sketches a portrait. Impressions emerge gradually, like shadows that brighten and clarify as the evening goes on. As her patter eases into the next song, you get to know something about this all-American, Brooklyn-born singer and actress, something other than her appearance as the original Sandy in Grease. She recalls her childhood in a family of Dodgers fans (the Brooklyn—not L.A.—Dodgers). As she remembers 1955, the seminal baseball year for Dodgers fans, she leads into Dave Loggins and Randy Goodrum’s nostalgic description of an old lifetime baseball fan, “Somewhere Between Old and New York.” By the time she concludes this sentimental segment with Neil Diamond’s “If You Know What I Mean,” you do know, and care about, Carole Demas.
Most of the songs in this 90-minute show are from the 1960s and ’70s, the time when Demas was forging her career. She seems to be fond of music with a folk and country flavor, as well as show tunes. Loudon Wainwright III’s “Whatever Happened to Us?” is a song of heartbreak that I probably haven’t heard for 40 years. She is fond of grouping songs together. “Old Friends,” Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s poignant tale of two friends imagining how strange it will be to be 70 years old like the old men they see sitting in the park, finds its response in James Taylor’s “The Secret of Life,” with its telling line “…is enjoying the passage of time.”
With the unrest in the world and the U.N. opening in New York at this time, it seems particularly apropos to pair “What the World Needs Now” (Burt Bacharach and Hal David) with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” It offers a lesson for a turbulent time.
Demas originated the title role in The Baker’s Wife and she delivers “Meadowlark” from Stephen Schwartz’s score to the show with reflective simplicity. “Try to Remember” is her touching salute to two years as Luisa in The Fantasticks (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt), but what the audience is waiting for is a look back at Grease. Demas delivers, knocking out Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs’s “Summer Nights,” joined by Josh Franklin (from the national tour of Grease) and two backup gal pals, Ilene Kristen (One Life to Live) and Paula Janis. (Demas starred with Janis in television’s The Magic Garden, performing original songs.)
Backed by musical director Ian Herman and guitarist Sean Harkness, Demas radiates warmth bolstered by assurance, breath control and training. Still as youthful looking as the girl-on-the-stoop-next-door, she intriguingly ends her show with two sharply contrasting looks at life, Billy Joel’s done-it-all declaration “I’ve Loved These Days” and the innocence of Kander and Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing” from Flora the Red Menace.