I don’t have a living room right now, but even if I do someday, I am sure it won’t have the gorgeous murals, plush banquettes, or the amazing sound system of the Café Carlyle. But maybe Judy Collins does, which would go a long way in explaining how An Evening with Judy Collins, the legendary pop-folk singer’s second longterm engagement here, feels like (I imagine) a night hanging out at her house.
During her surprisingly freewheeling opening night set, Collins consistently engaged with the audience — encouraging numerous singalongs — and often interrupted a thought to sing a snippet of a long-remembered tune, croon a favorite lullaby, or demonstrate what a five-round madrigal would be. The slightly scattered patter, which included some favorite jokes and stories from her last show, was equally eclectic, sometimes touching on memories of the 1960s, remembrances of her father and late son, and even her secret fantasies about Harry Belafonte.
Lest you think the show is a haphazard affair, rest assured that Collins was supremely focused during her songs (even if she occasionally bobbled a lyric or two) and the silvery soprano that made her famous over four decades ago remains remarkably intact. The show’s first half, with Collins on guitar and Rusell Walden on piano, focused on cover tunes, opening with delicious renditions of two of her biggest hits, “Both Sides Now,” and “Someday Soon,” followed by Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle,” a trio of fully-realized takes on the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “When I’m 64,” and an especially lovely version of Rodgers & Hart’s “Where or When.” Later on, she also served up an infectious (and seemingly impromptu) “Chelsea Morning.”
As comfortable as Collins is standing front and center, she’s practically transformed once she sits behind the piano. Behind the 88s, she offered a truly beautiful take on Leonard Cohen’s mystical “Suzanne,” preceded by a marvelous story about meeting the Canadian poet-songwriter. Another highlight was a heartfelt version of “Since You’ve Asked,” the romantic tune that was the first Collins ever wrote — and which she notes has become a favorite of people getting married ever since.
Be prepared: Collins might skip the song you most want to hear. She chose not to do her epic tune “The Blizzard,” or her most famous song, “Send in the Clowns,” but both numbers could easily show up on a different night. But one thing you can (probably) count on is that Collins will end the show with the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which is as fitting a finale as one can possibly wish for.