It was a happy day when, after a long absence due to family issues, Christine Andreas returned to musical theater in The Scarlet Pimpernel. This brilliantly talented singing actress had thrilled Broadway as the star of revivals of the classic musicals My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, and On Your Toes in the '70s and '80s, so it was great to have her back, singing just as well as ever and looking even more beautiful than in her youth, if possible. Although Andreas hasn't returned to Broadway since Pimpernel, she has been very active on the cabaret circuit in New York and elsewhere.

Christine Andreas: The Carlyle Set, from Fynsworth Alley/After 9, is a marvelous collection of show tunes and standards with a couple of wild cards thrown in to spice things up. Though the album was recorded at Manhattan Beach Studios, it commemorates Andreas's recent shows at the Café Carlyle and, except for the lack of applause, it has a wonderful "live" quality to it. The only slight disappointment is that Andreas is accompanied here only by a four-man combo: musical director/arranger Lee Musiker on piano and synthesizer, Dick Scarpola on bass, Ray Marchica on drums and percussion, and "Blue Lou" Marini on reeds. Excellent as these musicians are, the singer's lush, throbbing, powerful voice is the kind that really cries out for full orchestral accompaniment.

On the other hand, Andreas's performances are so strong in terms of sheer vocalism and interpretation that, after a few minutes of listening, you'll barely miss the strings and brass. The opening cut, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" (Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman), is gloriously passionate. It leads into an evocative rendition of "Autumn in New York" (Vernon Duke), which forms a sort of mini-geographic sequence with the next number: Mary Chapin Carpenter's "What If We Went to Italy" (featuring obbligato strains of Musetta's Waltz from La Bohème and snatches of an authentic Italian song, the title of which escapes me).

The album is highlighted by souvenirs of two of Andreas's Broadway roles: "It's Got to be Love" from Rodgers and Hart's On Your Toes and "Show Me" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Another highlight is the title song from She Loves Me, a show in which Andreas would have been great in her prime. (Come to think of it, she could probably still do it, given that she looks and sounds so fantastic.) One of the most intriguing selections on the album is "At the Ballet" from A Chorus Line (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Ed Kleban). To be honest, it doesn't really work in purely dramatic terms for one person to sing all three roles in this brilliant character song; it's melodramatic overkill to think that one woman could have had all of these traumas in her childhood. But the number certainly does allow Andreas to show off her vocal and dramatic range.

Rounding out the CD are persuasive readings of "In a Sentimental Mood" (Ellington), "Alfie" (Bacharach-David), and "How Insensitive"/"I'm a Fool to Want You" (Gimbel-Jobim-de Marcus Vinicius). Unknown to me, but quietly moving, is Dave Frishberg's "Listen Here." In his liner notes for the album, Rex Reed emphatically places Christine Andreas on his list of all-time favorite "girl singers," and few if any listeners will be compelled to argue with him.

********************

[For more information or to purchase this CD, go to the website www.fynsworthalley.com]