Christine Ebersole

February 7, 2010

Cafe Carlyle  –  February 3 – 20

“Have you ever seen such a beautiful bunch of roses?” Christine Ebersole’s mother asked her daughter. “How can a small bud unfurl into such a lovely flower?”

An effervescent blonde, amiable, kind of daffy, and totally compelling, Christine Ebersole unfurls her own bouquet of talents at the Cafe Carlyle. Her songs touch a range of subjects—”no holds barred”—and many of them go back to family life. Number one subject is home in Maplewood, New Jersey shared by her husband, three children, numerous pets, and her 92-year-old mother. Sort of like Father Knows Best except Mom is a dazzling, two-time Tony winner, accomplished television, film and cabaret performer.

By interweaving memories and passions with songs, she expresses her warmth and wit along with a well-trained musicality. Ebersole’s selections are emotional, funny, rhythmic, and appropriate. With George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” she expresses with wistful gentleness the love she felt when first holding her newborn baby. Affectionately, she paints a watercolor of her husband in “That’s Him” (Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill), relishing lines she knows will connect with the audience, for example, “He’s like a plumber when you need a plumber.”

She has a strong sense of time and a clear soprano voice that can rise to a potent belt. Fanning herself with a hankie in the show’s opening song, Ebersole claims it’s “Too Darn Hot” (Cole Porter), swinging on the beat, off the beat, and around the phrasing. Mischievously she quips, “This is Al Gore’s favorite.” With one of those grins that make you grin, she swings a joyful “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields). A vulnerable vintage vibrato voices the amiable plea of a 1930s love struck handyman in, “A Porter’s Love Song to a Chambermaid” by Andy Razaf and James P. Johnson. Her encore of Noël Coward’s “I’ll See You Again” is as pure and lovely as a Valentine’s promise.

But that’s not all. Christine Ebersole is a natural storyteller. With Scott Wittman’s astute direction, her anecdotes appear off-the-cuff and slightly quirky, but she aims their focus on the next song as meticulously as she controls her voice. Referring to her mother, Ebersole repeats a line Little Edie Beale said in Grey Gardens, “I hope she doesn’t die; she’s a lot of fun,” and follows it with a haunting “The Last Rose of Summer” (Thomas Moore, Sir John Stevenson).

Her face reflects the investment she puts into her songs — joy, sweetness, or, in the case of Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather,” grief and anguish. Usually, it’s some guy or dame who’s done you wrong and left you bereft and wailing that informs this classic torcher, but Ebersole’s passionate rendition is all about Chi Chi, the woebegone Chihuahua she rescued on a beach in Puerto Rico. After Chi Chi died many years later, and following a subsequent bizarre and bewildering experience in a Disneyworld souvenir shop, Ebersole was grief-stricken. Coming after the story’s laughs, anger, goofy turns, and deep sorrow, her explosive “Stormy Weather” seems even more intense—as well as sincere and touching.

Arrangements by musical director John Oddo add flavorful and tasteful support. Ebersole calls the quartet “Three Davids and an incredible John”: David Mann’s sax providing a smoky partner in the ballads, David Finck on bass and David Ratajczak on drums. John Oddo tenderly accompanies her rendition of Noël Coward’s “Matelot” and “Come the Wild, Wild Weather.”

After enjoyable cabaret shows with Billy Stritch and Michael Feinstein, what a treat to see Christine Ebersole up front and personal. This is a show to savor.


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