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BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater

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The uniquely individual singer-songwriter continues to shine as one of the brightest lights in the industry.

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater

It has been said that the world worships the original, and though Nellie McKay certainly has the talent to back up her enviable success as a singer-songwriter, it cannot be denied that her place in the world of performing arts as an original is probably a big factor in the army of devoted fans she has accumulated over the years. Indeed, on Saturday night, as the sold-out house retired to the warm night air of 44th street, one male guest was overheard to tell the Birdland concierge, "I had NO idea what to expect! I SURE didn't expect THAT! I think HALF of the audience down there didn't expect THAT!" and as the grin spreading over his face threatened to pull his mask down past his nose, the new Nellie McKay fan left the building.

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater There are those who have a wish to perform, and they go to school, they study, they practice, they build up a foundation for their craft and their life as a performer, and who knows what will become of them? The life of an actor is a mercurial one. Then there are those who have something extra that makes an audience more than appreciate their talent - it makes the audience need them. It makes the audience come to them, like (as the saying goes) a moth to a flame. The great American character actor, Austin Pendleton, calls it 'genius' - not in that way that most people think of as genius; Pendleton says that genius is something that cannot be found in others, and he said it to this writer on the subject of the great Barbara Harris. That's Nellie McKay all over the place - Austin Pendleton's 'genius.'

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater Remarkably beautiful in a delicate but determined way, Nellie McKay strode up onto the stage of The Birdland Theater all by herself. There was no band, no accompanist, no other person to assist in the presentation of her new show, and that is because Nellie McKay is a one-woman band, a one-woman show, and a one-woman representation of what it is to be a cabaret artist. In very little conversation with the audience, Ms. McKay performed ninety minutes of material (without, once, stopping for a sip of water - unheard of), some original, created by her own hand, and some classic representations of the history of songwriting. Nevertheless, each and every musical number performed might well have been a new composition because in McKay's hands, everything sounded brand new. With arrangements of songs like "A Tisket A Tasket," "In a Sentimental Mood," and "The Best Things In Life Are Free," McKay provided musical thrills with her piano, ukulele, and harmonica playing, all the while applying new visuals and messages to these stories, once told in a different way. Hers was a setlist perfectly balanced in between the songs one could be excited about hearing because "I love this song!" and compositions created to share with the listener Ms. McKay's plethora of protests about the world and the ways it needs to change, always eloquently written, always powerfully pronounced. Weaving in and out of compositions designed for entertainment and others formed as opinion, McKay kept the flow of action constant, and constantly intriguing, and though her spoken dialogue rode a fine line between scripted and impromptu, her trajectory was never random. Nellie McKay knew what she wanted to say with her program, where to be serious, when to be frivolous, and how to keep from being one or the other for too long a period of time, to keep our minds from wandering, to keep our attention focused, and to keep us surprised when, out of the blue, she would chirp out a scathingly biting socio-political message at the end of a song, inspiring either giggles or gasps or a knowing combination of both. It was an elegantly executed evening of entertainment.

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater Possessing of a powerful vocal instrument, Ms. McKay tended toward a tender timbre, releasing the boldness when it would, best, serve her storytelling. Flowing like a gentle force of nature around the stage, she showed a mastery of the various instruments in use, showing that her prowess lent itself not only to the music but to the choice of which apparatus to pair with each composition, based on the levity of the story or the weight of the message, often picking that which would most contradict her artistic mission statement. Nellie McKay is a whimsical activist, a musical maverick, a political, preaching, princess remotely resembling Penelope Pitstop with a microphone and a ukulele that you wish were peachy pink. Never before will a first-timer have witnessed such delicate and dulcet dissent as the moment when Nellie McKay whispers, "I Can't Breathe" after layering her song "Murder In My Heart For The Judge" with crime-laced rhetoric. From moments like this to the exquisite piano playing of standards like "Pennies From Heaven" and "On The Sunny Side Of The Street," Nellie McKay is a glorious mass of dichotomy, but the one thing that never falters is the quiet tidal wave of talent that crashes down and around the tables of the nightclub, providing an evening of what is most essentially true cabaret, as created by a true original.

Nellie McKay's run of shows at Birdland has concluded but more great entertainment can be found at the Birdland website HERE.

Visit the Nellie McKay website HERE

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater

BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater BWW Review: NELLIE MCKAY Speaks Softly And Carries a Big Voice at Birdland Theater Photos by Stephen Mosher


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