Her new show, Maude Maggart: Good Girl/Bad Girl, is definitely her best to date. It's expertly crafted, with Maggart paying close attention to the meaning of the songs' lyrics. Moreover, there's a refreshing use of her sexy lower register to match the unusual sound of the top part of her voice, and her pitch issues are far less evident than in the past.
Like a young colt on its way to becoming a racehorse, Maggart displays a certain awkwardness in her gestures. Her performance style is not yet organic; it's practiced and self-conscious. She might better be served by not moving her hands and arms so much. But these are minor details compared to the observant, intelligent content of her show, which is bolstered by a wise and engaging song selection.
Maggart explores the changing ways in which popular music has defined what's naughty and nice, smartly book-ending her act with two songs about Little Red Riding Hood. The first one, "How Could Red Riding Hood" (1926), slyly wonders if Red did something behind closed doors that managed to keep the wolf at bay, while the finale is a poignant rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "I Know Things Now" (from Into the Woods).
In between is a captivating program of other songs about sex, love, and relationships, including such standards as "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "He Was Too Good to Me," "What's the Use of Wond'rin?" and "Do It Again."
Having established herself as a specialist in the songs and styles of the 1920s and 1930s, Maggart surprises us by scoring with a more modern tune: Joan Baez's "Love Song to a Stranger," performed in transfixed stillness and unadorned by over-stylized gestures. There is simply no pretending here as she sings in a low, sensual voice that bespeaks a more adult, fully realized Maude Maggart. Without question, the song is the highlight of the show -- and, in time, it could become one of her signature tunes.
The musical accompaniment by Lanny Meyers on piano and Yair Evnine on cello is elegant and effective. Tim Flannery does an especially good job lighting Maggart, who's resplendent in a red dress and red pumps. Little Red Riding Hood has definitely grown up.
[Editor's Note: Good Girl/Bad Girl will also be presented on Thursday, March 8 as part of the Traffic Jam series at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre.]