Breezing through her 14-number set at Rainbow & Stars, Cybill Shepherd tries terrifically hard to please. “Remember,” she tells the fans, flashing a wide, blinding grin that almost never leaves her face, “the more you drink, the better I sound.” In truth, she needs no such help; Shepherd’s voice is strong and true, and though somewhat bland, a tremulous Southern languor occasionally manages to struggle through the unyielding chirpiness.
Where Shepherd needs help is in virtually every other aspect of her performance. Her program is eclectic, not to say formless; the arrangements are at best generic, and her patter shifts between contrived and tacky when it isn’t both. Even the gesticulations have the mannered look of a novice imitating what a chanteuse ought to look like, and we could do without the incessant hair tossing.
Working her way through the crowd singing a travesty of Verdi before segueing into Marcia Ball’s “Red Hot,” she slips off her blouse and spends the rest of the evening in a white tank top and slacks with dark suspenders; how someone who’s spent most of her life in front of a camera can let herself be so unflatteringly costumed is one of those cosmic unfathomables the evening lends too much opportunity to contemplate.
So Shepherd needs a coach, a music director and a designer who knows how to dress beautiful women (William Ivey Long, where are you?). Still, if the attitude advertises dilettante, the voice belongs to someone who clearly has been singing all her life.
She’s good to the Gershwins: A jazzy “But Not for Me” is marred only by that frozen smile;”‘S Wonderful” isn’t, but it’s close. Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Moon,” one of two encores, is fine. The high point comes with an honestly felt “Find Another Fool” (also by Ball), followed by Noel Coward’s wonderful “Louisa,” whose movie queen tribulations here take on an autobiographical zing.
You have to want to spend an evening with Shepherd rather than the songsmiths whose wares she’s hawking to enjoy this presentation. But she’s shortchanged herself so much that it hardly seems worth her effort or yours. The result is kind of sad.