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Kathleen Turner Finds Her Voice

The stage and screen star makes her Café Carlyle debut.

Kathleen Turner makes her Café Carlyle debut in Finding My Voice.
(© David Andrako)

Kathleen Turner has one of the most distinctive voices in show business. It's a husky, smoky, sexy growl that you recognize as soon as you hear it. To remind us of that, a montage of some of her best lines plays at the top of her new show at the Café Carlyle, Finding My Voice. There are entries from Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? So when she sings the lyric "It seems that we have met before" in her opening number, Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When," we know exactly where and when. Then she sings Arlen and Koehler's "Let's Fall in Love," which we proceed to do.

Turner doesn't have what is conventionally thought of as a beautiful voice, and practical actor that she is, she knows it: "When I moved to New York in 1977, every lead in a Broadway show was a soprano," she says in what sounds closer to a baritone. But after four decades in the business, who needs convention? Turner lends heaps of character to well-known songs while sharing stories from an unconventional life.

Her father was a diplomat, and she moved a lot as a kid, a habit she's never really outgrown as an adult. Her rich and resonant interpretation of Dave Frishberg's "Sweet Kentucky Ham" evokes a lonely life on the road, playing theaters across America. It pairs well with her joyful version of Arlen and Mercer's "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home."

Kathleen Turner (center) sings with the accompaniment of pianist Mark Janas and guitarist Sean Harkness.
(© David Andrako)

She fondly recalls her favorite home in the West Village, where she would sing Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" to her young daughter, replacing the "you" with "we." She delivers a defiant rendition of Sondheim's "Live Alone and Like It," quickly followed by William Finn's "Sailing," which proves to be a highlight of the evening. "Sex is good, but I'd rather be sailing," she speak-sings to uproarious laughter in the dining room.

Sprechstimme is a natural fallback for Turner, who tends to let her notes fall off the staff rather than carrying them through to completion. She's never quite off-key, even though some of her top notes teeter precariously. Luckily, music director and pianist Mark Janas has helped her select songs that both work in her range and have lyrics with which she can have a lot of fun. What Turner lacks in musical virtuosity, she more than makes up for with a treasure trove of showbiz war stories.

We hear about her disastrous turn as a Martha Graham dancer, her courtship of Edward Albee, and her on-set clashes with Francis Ford Coppola. Turner strategically seasons these stories with her salty language, resulting in a delivery that is as funny as the best stand-up comedy.

Kathleen Turner sings in Finding My Voice at Café Carlyle.
(© David Andrako)

She's particularly good at weaving her tales in with her song selections, which Janas embellishes with little riffs and interludes: A jaunty version of "A Foggy Day" becomes a song about the friendship she developed with Dame Maggie Smith when they were performing in adjacent theaters on the West End. "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" are about her political activism. Who knew that "Send in the Clowns" was actually about rheumatoid arthritis? After hearing Turner's heartbreaking rendition, you will.

Finding My Voice is a delight of a cabaret show precisely because Turner has such a strong sense of her own voice and its transfixing magic. You can't help but listen and get lost in her stories and song.