An old friend has opened a new room. Julie Wilson, the grand doyenne of Gotham cabaret, greeted a capacity aud at the new Chelsea cabaret, the Hideaway Room at Helen’s (formerly Judy’s). Celebrating 65 years as an entertainer, and wearing a trademark white gardenia in her hair, Wilson still cuts a glamorous image.
The voice is husky and burnished by time — she will be 80 this fall — yet she remains a Broadway belter of the old school, who glitters and glows with stunning theatrical flair. She has cultivated the Rex Harrison style of talk-singing some of her songs, but she still possesses that rare gift of drawing her listener into the depths of a lyric.
Wilson appeared with Peter Allen in the short-lived 1988 gangster tuner “Legs Diamond.” She reprised the musical’s redeeming moment, “The Music Went Out of My Life,” which Allen penned especially for her. In a grateful bow to his memory, Wilson offered a rousing take on “Everything Old Is New Again.”
Recalling the era of the torch singer, Wilson’s medley of “My Old Flame,” “That Old Feeling” and “I Thought About You” expressed a wistful image of the past, prompting Wilson’s quip, “These songs may sound a little dated, but then again, so am I.”
Like the regal cabaret empress Mabel Mercer, Wilson revealed the stories within the songs. The Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht “Surabaya Johnny” certainly fit the pattern, and she plumbed its depth and darkness with compelling dramatic strength.
There was also a dry sense of humor, well defined by Cole Porter’s “The Tale of an Oyster,” concerning a poor little oyster that longs for a taste of high society. A longtime Wilson specialty is Stephen Sondheim’s “Can That Boy Fox Trot.” Although it was cropped from “Follies” during the show’s Boston tryout, it has become a classic cabaret showpiece with its naughty double entendre. Wilson gave it a delectable, saucy bite.
Closer was Sondheim’s defiant stand of durability, “I’m Still Here.” Wilson made it clear that she decidedly is.