Lari White
Lari White
Standing in the middle of the Algonquin Hotel's famed Oak Room in a slinky red dress, there's little question how far Lari White has come -- physically and musically -- from her home base of Nashville, where she has gained fame as a Grammy Award-winning gospel and country singer. So even when she hits some pockets of turbulence in her ambitious, mostly enjoyable new cabaret show, Love Letters, we can at least take pleasure in the journey.

To be sure, Love Letters lives up to its title; not only is the Victor Young-Edward Heyman standard among White's varied vocal selections, but she pauses between songs to feelingly read the amorous epistles of everyone from John Adams to Dylan Thomas to George Bernard Shaw. It's a clever touch, and thankfully not overused. White also smartly begins the show with a musical letter: Bock and Harnick's "Dear Friend," paired with "Will He Like Me?," another winning tune from the pair's She Loves Me, before examining the ups and downs of romance in a whirlwind variety of musical styles.

Some stops on her itinerary are most welcome destinations. White deftly handles two Stephen Sondheim gems: the verbally delicious "Steps of the Palace" (from Into the Woods) and "Sorry-Grateful," his gimlet-eyed examination of marriage (from Company). She takes great joy in a jazzy "Down With Love," nicely minimizes the schmaltz of "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," and -- quite daringly -- makes something fresh out of Peggy Lee's signature tune "Is That All There Is?"

But Love Letters can be a bit of a bumpy ride. One can't help but smile as White gives her considerable all to a misconceived pairing of Rodgers & Hart's "I Wish I Were in Love Again," and Bacharach & David's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." But while this teaming of these two contradictory lyrics might work as a duet (paging John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey), an individual singer, no matter how accomplished, simply comes off as a person suffering from multiple personality disorder. And the less said about White's noble but unsuccessful attempt to navigate Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," the better. (Then again, I personally vote on a moratorium on this song!)

Lastly, there's a certain irony that, no matter how far White is away from home, the show's highlight is her rendition of Leslie Satcher's little-known country song "Box of Love Letters from Old Mexico," which is delivered with a vocal twang and a depth of understanding that pierces the heart. I wanted to go straight home and write someone a love letter of my own.