BWW Reviews: LUCIE ARNAZ Springs Into Love In Charming Cafe Carlyle Debut Show
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
During the historic six-year run of I Love Lucy on CBS-TV in the early 1950s, the most frequent story gimmick had Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo pleading, cajoling, conspiring, and finagling--she'd pretty much stop at nothing--to worm her way into show business or at least become part of her band leader/singer husband Ricky Ricardo's nightclub act (played by her real-life husband Desi Arnaz). Lucie Arnaz, the iconic comedy couple's offspring, hasn't had to resort to such tactics during a career in film, TV, musical theater, and cabaret that has spanned more than four decades. She accomplished all of that on talent and force of personality, and with a sprinkling of her father's musical genes and her mom's immense sense of humor.
But it took Lucie Arnaz her entire professional life to get booked for a solo nightclub/cabaret show at the Café Carlyle. It turned out to be worth the wait--for herself and her audiences--and her weeklong run at the stylish club (that began on April 13 and ends with shows tonight at 8:45 and 10:45) would no doubt have made her famous parents beam with pride. Lucy might have erupted into a joyful crying jag, while Desi would have kvelled in his signature rapid-fired Spanish because when it comes to her performance on a cabaret stage, Lucie Arnaz doesn't "got some 'splaining to do."
It's not that Arnaz has a voice that compels reviewers to wax poetic. While her vocals are clear and pleasant, she hits all the notes, and can even produce a nice belt every now and then, she's not in the league with the Ann Hampton Callaways of cabaret and in 60 seconds I could probably name 20 non-celebrity cabaret singers with better pipes than Arnaz. But as veteran singers would constantly remind me after I made the leap to do my debut cabaret show last year, in cabaret it's not always about the voice. It's about the stage presence, the story telling, and the singer's connection to the songs and to the audience. In her Café Carlyle show, Lucie Arnaz not only aced those areas in spades, she also brought a palpable warmth, passion, humor, and self-deprecation to her performance that was deliciously charming. And as confident and experienced as she may be on stage, Arnaz exudes just a touch of nervousness and self-doubt about her singing that gives off an irresistible down-to-earth quality that belies her celebrity. She loves to sing, works hard and wants to please and who wouldn't be a fan of those qualities?
Her new show, Spring is Here, wasn't a sigh of relief about a long, harsh New York winter finally passing through, but about how the year's second season is the harbinger of love in all its forms. Looking strikingly statuesque in a bright red thigh high cocktail dress and silver heels that showed off a great pair of legs, Arnaz sashayed onto the Carlyle stage to drummer Ray Marchica's babalu beat on "Love" that conjured up memories of her dad playing a conga drum at the Copa. This was the first of many outstanding arrangements from Musical Director/pianist Ron Abel, and along with Tom Hubbard on bass and Marchica, the trio provided their singer with outstanding support throughout the set. Arnaz followed with a jazzy and fun version of Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen's "The Tender Trap," and the audience was appropriately hooked, cooked and caught in Lucie's trap from that point on.
Arnaz struggles a bit on more intricate songs such as "When In Rome" (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) and "Fools Rush In" (Rube Bloom/Johnny Mercer), her voice not quite rich enough on the former, and not as smooth and languid as the arrangement dictates on the latter. She has a tendency to over-articulate, overact or over-emote on a lyric when she should just go with the vocal flow and let the words convey the feelings. There is also the unmistakable style and sound of Barbra Streisand in some of her phrasing, which can come across as mimicry. (Please click on Page 2 Below to continue.)
Arnaz and her show began to hit its stride eight songs in when she mounted the piano, crossed those great gams and sang "Spring Is Here," the opening line of "Fun to Be Fooled" (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg), which really took off when it went up-tempo. The next song, "Slow Dancing" (written by Abel with lyrics by Chuck Steffan), was a lovely and languid, cheek-to-cheek ballad. One of the show's coolest numbers came next with a salsa-esque Billy Stritch chart on Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me" linked to Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give." Another highlight was Arnaz's delivery of a minimalist Marvin Hamlisch ballad arrangement of Porter's "Just One of Those Things." Abel and the band produced a terrific upbeat version of David Friedman's "Listen To My Heart," and the songwriter beamed in the audience as Arnaz crooned, "If you want to know the love I'm feeling, listen to my heart." Nice.
For this reviewer, Arnaz's most stunning number of the show was her heartfelt take on Craig Carnelia's "Just a Housewife," from the short-lived 1978 Broadway musical, Working (based on the Studs Turkel book). After raising three children with her husband of 33 years, the actor Lawrence Luckinbill, and two others from Luckinbill's previous marriage, Arnaz clearly relates to a lyric that celebrates the stay-at-home mom. Arnaz's theatrical, yet emotional and genuine delivery, along with Abel's dramatic arrangement, engendered rousing approval from the Carlyle crowd. After nailing another fine Ron Abel/Chuck Steffan song, "Until Now," Arnaz delivered what is probably one of the most fitting and touching encores one can experience in a cabaret show. In 1958, the last year of I Love Lucy, Arnaz was eight years old and not only observing the death of her parents' television baby, but the end of their marriage. On the very last episode, a young Edie Adams sang the Bob Haymes/Alan Brandt ballad "That's All," at the time a musical metaphor in more ways than one. Based on this entertaining show, the song certainly won't be a metaphor for Lucie Arnaz' nightclub singing career. She is coolly collecting all the musical chocolates coming off the cabaret conveyor belt and neatly wrapping them up.
Lucie Arnaz performs Spring Is Here at the Café Carlyle, 35 E 76th St, Saturday April 19 at 8:45 and 10:45. For reservations, call: 212-744-1600.
Photos by Stephen Sorokoff