Margaret Whiting remains the grand doyenne of the Manhattan cabaret scene, and after a career that’s spanned seven decades and has included a dozen gold albums, she remains one of the foremost spokeswomen for the great American stable of tunes and lyrics. At 77, her intonation may be a sometime thing, yet her voice, always a nicely disciplined and mellow instrument, remains rich with a husky edge burnished by time. There is a state of grace that comes with age, and when it comes to lyric content, she reveals a perceptive knowledge that echoes decades of awareness.
In her performances, Whiting has long perpetuated the memory of her father, composer Richard Whiting, as well as her mentor, lyricist Johnny Mercer. In her current stand the singer frames this particular legacy with a handful of notable tunes, particularly her father’s exquisite musical search for the perfect partner, “My Ideal,” and a generous sampling of Mercer’s lyrics. Mercer/Harold Arlen collaborations “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “One for My Baby” have long been Whiting specialties; with them the lady defines the art of barroom torch singing.
Always supportive of new talent in the cabaret community, Whiting shares the stage with Paul Bernhardt, a studio and jingle singer who has yet to develop a persuasive personality and stage presence.
His light-jazz influenced baritone offers gently swinging but undistinguished turns on Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and Floyd Huddelston’s “Satisfy Me One More Time” (a minor Sinatra swinger, mistitled on the set list as “Don’t Deny Me”). The tunes bounce, but they fail to bite. His reading of Stephen Sondheim’s “I Remember” is more earnest, but too often there was a decided static lack of emotional involvement with both the song and his audience.
The Whiting-Bernhardt duets are a little stiff and strained, and there’s little humor in their union and almost no smiles in sight. Particularly uncomfortable is the Frank Loesser duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in which the couple don’t even face each other and miss all of the song’s Oscar-winning playfulness. The pair may eventually loosen up during the two-week stand.