I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make an entrance quite like Christine Ebersole. With her simple black pantsuit and frosty up-do, the two-time Tony Award-winning singer/actress enters from stage right, arms outstretched, with a look of awe already painted on her face before she’s even received any recognition from the audience. It’s funny, honest and a little odd. Just like her.
For the one-night-only performance, Ebersole and her quartet (pianist, bassist, drummer and woodwind(ist?)) treated us to a snappy evening of songs from the American songbook. With no songlist provided, I was expecting a string of well-worn classics by Gershwin, Porter and Arlen. While there were few standards, including the title song from 42nd Street, and a rip-down-the-walls rendition of “Stormy Weather,” most of the material was relatively uncommon, or delightfully esoteric. (And was I dozing, or did she not sing a single Sondheim tune? Surprising — considering press materials noted she would.)
The woman has three performers trapped in that tall, lithe frame: a sunny soprano, a smokey jazz baby and a brassy, comedic belter. Throw in a touch of wryness for good measure. It’s fun when they all come out and play in one song — like in her encore tribute to the late Eartha Kitt (where she demonstrated a very commendable Kitt impersonation), “Mink, Schmink.” However, I think she’s really most at home delivering vintage comedic numbers, such as Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill’s “That’s Him.”
My only beef was the overly scripted patter between numbers. Scott Wittman has developed and directed a number of these shows for musical divas (Patti LuPone and Bette Midler, for example), and you leave them feeling like you haven’t really gotten to know these performers. The artifice of a tightly rehearsed performance keeps you at bay.
However, her sly, whip-smart personality manages to radiate past that fourth wall and spill out over the audience. And it doesn’t hurt that her voice is one of the most versatile, lovely things on the planet. Let’s hope she comes back to Chicago quite soon.