Vikki Carr at Feinstein's at The Regency
We have often said that there is no such thing as being "too big for the room." Put performers like Mandy Patinkin, Betty Buckley, or Judi Connelli in an intimate cabaret space and they expand it to the size of their performance. A singer can, however, be overproduced for a room. Vikki Carr, who rose to fame in 1967 with the memorably overwrought pop hit "It Must Be Him," is now playing at Feinstein's at The Regency, but she isn't filling the room with her talent--she's flattening it. The show appears to have been musically arranged for a massive orchestra that might play in a 1,500-seat theater, not a 140-seat cabaret club.
The singer only has a three-piece band backing her up, but don't let that fool you. Two of her musicians play keyboard in an almost totally synthesized show, attempting to create the effect of a full orchestra. The result isn't so much an impressive wall of sound as it is a sonic disturbance, made worse by the decision to crank it up so that the act might be heard as far north as Albany and as far south as Charleston. We're talkin' loud! When Carr goes for a big finish--which she does with stunning regularity--it sounds as if she's singing inside a tin drum.
Carr has a booming belter's voice that sounds just as rich as it did back in the 1960s. Happily, she still sings "It Must Be Him" with the full-out passion that made a generation both laugh at and love the song. Those who only remember Carr for that emotional tour de force should be reminded that her career began to evolve as early as 1972, when she embraced her Latin heritage and released her first Spanish language album. Spanish songs figure prominently in her current act, but she also performs her classic pop hits "With Pen in Hand" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."
If her voice soars, her patter dives. Carr talks about her life and career in between songs with very little panache. The only moments of true beauty in the show come whenever she starts a ballad accompanied only by a piano. The sound is beautiful, the interpretation is sincere, and we glimpse what Vikki Carr might be able to do in a less aggressive cabaret act.
Perry Payne at the FireBird Café
An up-and-coming musical comedy star, Perry Payne made the inexplicable decision to turn herself into a chanteuse for her current show at the FireBird Café. With very little comedy material in the act, Payne relies on dramatic skills that don't compare to her natural gift for humor. Comedians often are among the most emotionally committed singers, but only when they allow their passion to run high; Payne seems more concerned with projecting an image than creating a feeling.
She begins her show with Stephen Sondheim's "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" (from Sweeney Todd) as her first stab at cabaret sophistication, but the song doesn't work as an opening number. Payne regroups somewhat immediately thereafter, combining Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot" with Peggy Lee's "Fever"--the pairing of these songs may be rather obvious, but she still gets some heat out of them. Then the heat dissipates until she gets to her version of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." Here, Payne suddenly reveals her true talent in a number that's big, broad, and lively. She follows that with a winsomely funny little story as a set-up to "Blue Flame," a Dick Gallagher tune that displays the lush romanticism of David Raksin's "Laura." She handles the song adequately, then moves on to her second and last comedy number, "I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate." Once again, Payne acts the humor down to the last detail. When she turns to ballads like "Two for the Road" by Mancini and Bricusse, however, she is at sea.
We have seen Perry Payne perform several times in the past, and we know that she's one of the most talented young performers in cabaret. This show is a misfire--but we'll be there for the next one.