Clint Holmes
Clint Holmes
"Cole Porter and Paul Simon walk into a bar..." may sound like a bad joke, but it's actually the clever premise for This Thing Called Love, Clint Holmes' wonderful new show at the Cafe Carlyle. Making a return appearance at the venue after scoring a triumph last fall with his Bobby Short tribute, the performer goes in a completely different direction with equally successful results.

As he did before, Holmes brings a welcome dose of Las Vegas-style showmanship to the room's rarified atmosphere. But he also displays a superb interpretative ability to mine a song's emotional depths. Juxtaposing the love songs of these two composers of wildly different backgrounds and styles, he finds the common ground in their mutual poeticism, ironic wit and gorgeous melodies.

The show, superbly directed by Larry Moss, begins friskily with an interweaving of Porter's "Let's Do It" with Simon's "Feelin' Groovy." The musical combinations that follow demonstrate a frequent cleverness, such as when Porter's "Get Out of Town" is immediately followed by Simon's rueful "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." A segment in which a married man is uncomfortably confronted by a former lover has Holmes singing Porter's "Just One of Those Things."

Aided by the superb arrangements of musical director/pianist Jeffrey Neiman, Holmes invests some of Porter's most familiar material with invigorating freshness. Such numbers as a percussive "I've Got You Under My Skin," a Latin-tinged "I Concentrate on You" and a full-throttle "So in Love" are galvanizing highlights of the show.

But even better are the Simon songs, often delivered in revelatory fashion. The normally gospel-flavored "Loves Me Like a Rock" is given a slinky jazz arrangement; "Slip Slidin' Away" gets a blues treatment; and the opening verse of "You Can Call Me Al" is performed in a spoken-word fashion that uncovers the deep pathos underlying the jaunty humor of such lyrics as "Why am I soft in the middle?/The rest of my life is so hard."