Sarah Partridge
Sarah Partridge
Theme shows, usually dedicated to a particular composer or era, are a dime a dozen in cabaret; but the one that jazz singer Sarah Partidge is serving up this week at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, Sarah Partridge: Songs For My Father is of an entirely different stripe. Her hearfelt, entertaining, 65-minute set is comprised of tunes she learned from her late dad, Larry, as well as songs she wished she could have sung for him.

As the very tall Partridge points out in her concise and well-crafted if overly rehearsed patter, her father had a thing for "chick singers" like June Christy, Nancy Wilson, and Dakota Staton. Accordingly, many of her selections are songs that they made famous, performed in their signature arrangements, including credible versions of "You Ain't Had the Blues," "Where or When," and "Out of This World." Partridge's voice doesn't have a lot of range, but her distinct musicality and easy body language serve her well throughout the show.

Her song selection is more of a hit-or-miss affair. In the plus column, there's a beautifully sensitive rendering of the Kern-Hammerstein standard "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," which had special meaning for both of her parents, and a languidly lovely "Stars Fell on Alabama," sung in honor of the state she moved to from a Boston suburb at the tender age of 15. A Caribbean-flavored take on the classic "Stormy Monday Blues" works nicely, and she has great fun with the Joe Williams' jazz classic "Roll 'Em Pete."

On the down side, musical theater purists will be nonplussed to say the least by the jazz arrangement of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" that's heard here. Even worse is the fact that Partridge says "lovely" most of the time -- and you can just forget about her even attempting a Cockney accent.

Stevie Wonder's "You and I" has always struck me as too sentimental, and Partridge's neither here-nor-there version does nothing to salvage it. But, to her credit, her rendition of the Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson classic "My Buddy" is less maudlin than many I've heard.

If Partridge has one crowing achievement in the act, it's her rendition of Johnny Mandel and Dave Frishberg's "You Are There," which also is the title of her just-released CD. This is the kind of deceptively simple song that says so much -- in this case, about living with the memories of our departed loved ones -- and she sings it with just the right note of celebration and wistfulness. Her father would be very proud.