With one husband, three children, a menagerie of pets — not to mention the upcoming Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit — on her plate, one would imagine Christine Ebersole might be hard-pressed to find time to create a new cabaret act. But not only has the multitasking, multitalented star done such a thing for a two-week stint at the Cafe Carlyle, but she’s put together one that smartly shows off the many facets of her musical, comic, and dramatic gifts.
True, her wealth of responsibilities might have been the reason for the occasional opening-night slip-up. (Or was it the presence of such luminaries as Elaine Stritch and Angela Lansbury in the audience?) But a couple of missed lyrics –which the Tony Award winner handled with great grace and humor — hardly mattered amidst such generally delightful proceedings.
While Ebersole has shown her aptitude and fondness for pop music in the past, this new act — well directed by Scott Wittman — is comprised entirely of songs from the first half of the 20th Century. Well-known standards, such as a jazzy “Fascinating Rhythm,” a truly heartfelt “Bill,” a bluesy “42nd Street,” and a nicely bittersweet “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” alternated with more obscure tunes from the Great American Songbook, such as “I’ve Got Five Dollars,” “Miss Johnson Phoned Again Today,” “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love,” and “Why Don’t We Try Staying Home?” each performed with style and elan. (Those who wanted to hear something from the Broadway show Grey Gardens had to make do with Ebersole slipping into Little Edie’s voice once or twice.)
Her often delicious patter ranged from the distinctly personal — including a fond recollection of her father and his fondness for Shakespeare, Dante, and Robert Frost — to the slightly political, which was only appropriate for a show that debuted on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Indeed, the show’s surprising high point was a gorgeously plaintive rendition of Stephen Foster’s 19th-century paean “Hard Times Come Again No More,” in which Ebersole’s soulful vocalizing was backed only by the superb piano work of musical director John Oddo.
In another sadly appropriate touch, Ebersole used the encore section of the show to pay tribute to the late Eartha Kitt, a longtime Carlyle mainstay. She deftly performed one of Kitt’s signature songs, “Monotonous,” in a quasi-impression of her unmistakable voice, and then followed it up by the reciting of Kitt’s advice to young performers, before concluding with a touching — and very apropos — “My Shining Hour.”