Review: Christine Andreas’ Nostalgic Turn in ‘Cafe Society’


From The New York Times
By Stephen Holden
February 29, 2016

The past usually looks prettier than the present, especially when it’s set to music. And in her new show, “Café Society,” at Feinstein’s at 54 Below, Christine Andreas looks back longingly to the days before television usurped the evening hours and fashionable New Yorkers flocked to nightclubs.

For diehard cabaret fans, that pre-rock era was a golden age, and at her opening night show on Friday, Ms. Andreas’s stories about fabled clubs and legendary performers made you wish you’d been there. Accompanying her was a trio led by Kenny Ascher on piano, with Dick Sarpola on bass and Warren Odze on drums.

Several of her stories revolved around the 1983 Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hart show “On Your Toes,” directed by the theater legend, George Abbott, for which Ms. Andreas won a Tony for best featured actress in a musical. The many figures she conjured from those years included the actress Dina Merrill, who appeared in that revival and who, Ms. Andreas recalled, “doubled as my fairy stage mother.”

Glamorous and frisky, Ms. Andreas presented herself as a bridge between then and now in a program that included an extended Gershwin medley. Her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” substituted “Bradley” for Gary Cooper, a clever touch. While singing Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” she spoofed the role of the avaricious baby doll and plopped into the lap of man in the audience.

Ms. Andreas, whose ravishing, semi-operatic voice, with its rapid vibrato and metallic edge, has made her a potent interpreter of Edith Piaf, infused her performance of the Piaf signature song, “Hymne A L’Amour,” a.k.a. “If You Love Me (Really Love Me),” with snapping emotional electricity. The song is a cry of the kind of grand, all-or-nothing passion that has all but disappeared from popular music.

But the most impressive performance was a dreamy rendition of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a recollection of a romantic moment in London “when there was magic abroad in the air” and “angels dining at Ritz.” For a moment, the picture she conjured seemed to hover in the air.