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Nellie McKay: Silent Spring - It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

This tribute to environmentalist Rachel Carson at Feinstein's at Loews Regency doesn't do justice to its subject matter.

By New York City
Nellie McKay
(© Rick Gonzalez)
Nellie McKay
(© Rick Gonzalez)
You can't accuse singer/songwriter Nellie McKay of commercial pandering in Silent Spring - It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature, her new show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency devoted to environmentalist Rachel Carson.

And while the show -- marking the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, Carson's historic book exposing of the dangers of pesticides -- is typical of this talented, iconoclastic performer's restless artistic nature, the piece doesn't really work.

Like I Want to Live! -- McKay's previous show about convicted murderess Barbara Graham -- this evening weaves standards and original songs into a loose biographical portrait of its subject, but the thin conceit never quite jells.

The show begins with the performer marching onto the stage clad in a cap and gown, depicting Carson at her college graduation, followed by occasional snatches of narration and dialogue, with the winsome performer exclaiming such in-character sentiments as "Oh boy, what am I going to do with all this information? I want to learn more!" or "I've been hearing more and more of these pesticides since the war."

Her band members are occasionally forced into the action, but they're generally far more effective playing their instruments than performing interpretive dance or making bird noises.

The familiar songs comment only tenuously on the narrative material, such as when she sings "Ten Cents a Dance" in relation to Carson's lobbying Congress. More effective are such old-fashioned sounding originals as "Old Love," "Gonna Be a Bureaucrat" and "Food," which seamlessly blend with the vintage numbers.

Accompanying herself on piano and ukulele, McKay remains a charming performer, her sweet voice lending poignancy to such songs as "Lazy Bones" and "What'll I Do." She can also be a lot of fun, as demonstrated by her amusing mock spasms in her encore of "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)." But this stylistic hybrid of a show doesn't do full justice either to the music or its worthy subject matter.


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