Bonnie Langford
(© Carol Rosegg)
Bonnie Langford
(© Carol Rosegg)
When Britain's Bonnie Langford was 10, she played Baby June opposite Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, which means that eight times a week she listened to Mama Rose's dictatorial "Smile, Baby!" Thirty-six years later, Lang is still beaming like a Times Square sign during Bonnie Langford Spends Christmas in New York, the cabaret act she's presenting as part of the 59E59 Theaters' Brits Off Broadway series.

Concerned that local audiences may not know who she is, Langford overuses that smile; she also runs off her many credits -- which include roles in Gone With the Wind, Bugsy Malone, Cats, Sweet Charity, and Chicago -- in a version of the hoary songwriter's "And then I wrote" routine. Neither is really necessary, since her talents speak for herself.

Without question, she's got a strong, beautifully honed voice, and her acting chops are all in place. Add in a body as thin and supple as an al dente vermicelli strand -- which means she can still do the splits she did so adorably in 1974 and can lift a leg so it's pointing every bit as skyward as her finger -- and you see she's got the whole package.

Not surprisingly, Langford -- accompanied by New York's own Michael Lavine -- reprises some of the songs she's delivered to thunderous response over the years; for instance, when she does her Cats number with Gillian Lynne's original choreography only slightly modified, she's at the top of her game. The same goes for her Bronx-inflected manifestation of poor-soul Charity with some dialogue and an "If They Could See Me Now" and "I'm a Brass Band" medley.

She also tells some eye-popping Cats-backstage tales, including the low-down on the pre-opening Grizabella, Dame Judi Dench, and visiting diva Barbra Streisand. Several times, she has nice words about Lansbury, whose on-stage and off-stage grace she claims to keep in mind as a model.

Recalling how she was once asked to audition for the Metropolitan Opera, she unleashes a comic soprano in the Michael Flanders-Donald Swann song, "A Word on My Ear," about a big-voiced woman who's unfortunately tone-deaf. However, her most seductive moments are two much-loved ballads, "Neverland," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Maybe even more appealing is "Growing Up Fast Isn't Easy," which Charles Strouse and Don Black wrote for Great Britain's The Worst Witch television series, and which Langford sang when she was a child star. She undoubtedly identified with the song way back then and continues to do so, to our delight.