Bebe Neuwirth
(© Mark Hanauer)
Bebe Neuwirth
(© Mark Hanauer)
A commanding actress with presence to spare, Bebe Neuwirth wisely conceived her first -- and ultimately compelling -- cabaret act , Bebe Neuwirth: Stories with Piano at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, with numbers that are heavily weighted toward theatrical songs that can almost be spoken, or at least sung in a manner that won't invite an unfavorable comparison to Barbara Cook or Karen Akers.

Neuwirth's famous skills as a dancer, however, are mostly unused. She moves a bit, mostly using her arms and her shoulders, but if you're thinking of coming to see her dance, forget it. Between the small stage space and the nature of the show she's created, dance would seem out of place.

The show -- in which she is accompanied by pianist Scott Cady -- gets off to a rocky start with two songs that require a more musical sound than the Tony Award-winning star possesses. She begins with "As Time Goes By," but she sings it too fast, and the tempo robs her of the chance to get underneath the lyric and act the song; her second number, "The Trolley Song," foolishly exhibits her vocal limitations.

But after that her act starts to mold itself around her skills more effectively. Neuwirth reconnects with the audience by singing a lesser-known Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash clever patter song called "How Much I Love You," and goes on to establish her dramatic skills with what might be the definitive version of Weill's "Bilboa Song." She will later sing the composer's bracing "Surabaya Johnny," but blunts her own success with it by switching near the end of the song from English to German, which is far less effective.

In an effort to make an impact, she oversells Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" by singing it so angrily from the top that she has nowhere to go with it. On the other hand, her rendition of Tom Waits' "A Foreign Affair" finds a sweeter sound in her higher register, and she does a thrilling version of his "Shiver Me Timbers."

When she collaborates with natural allies, Neuwirth tells her stories with flair and style.