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Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day

The singer's new show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency is marred by her sometimes careless vocalizing and odd song choices. logo
Nellie McKay
(© Caroline Knopf)
It's a funny thing about acquired tastes. Once acquired, they don't necessarily sustain. For example, I thought I'd acquired a taste for Nellie McKay and her off-handed jazz approach to singing, but while watching and listening to Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day, now at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, I slowly but increasingly began to realize I had acquired less tolerance for her careless performing skills and her trouble staying on pitch and reaching high notes than others in the packed opening-night house appeared to.

The show is also a decidedly non-traditional tribute to Day. After opening with Day's 1945 establishing "Sentimental Journey" -- and then including "Mean to Me" and "The Black Hills of Dakota," from Day's flicks -- she never explained how Day's work affects her as performer. And eventually, McKay -- who primarily sat at the piano in a lime-green jacket-dress -- not only eventually veered completely from any banter about Day, but abandoned the performer's songbook.

Instead, she evoked Ella Fitzgerald with that icon's signature song, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." Her light vocal touch was a definite asset on "Close Your Eyes" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" And while she did get around to chanting the show's title tune, "A Wonderful Guy," which Day eventually recorded, she did so without even noting that the actress turned down the role of Nellie Forbush in the film version of South Pacific.

Too often, she leaned towards ditties of her own devising. None of these had much allure as they reached for loopy humor they don't often achieve -- like a piece called "Bodega." And "Caribbean Time," was so garbled in her rendition that I understood none of the words.

On the plus side, there's McKay's piano playing, which is attractively spare and quirky and makes an auditor wonder if she's a fan of 1940's favorites Rose Murphy and Nellie Lutcher. She's also handy with a ukulele and the occasional ad-lib. And her band -- Glenn Drewes on trumpet, Belinda Whitney on violin, Jay Berliner on hot guitar, Kenny Davis on Bass, and Ben Bynum on drums -- helps enormously in smoothing over some of the show's rough spots.

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