Review: ‘Maude Maggart’

Maude Maggart boasts girl-next-door prettiness with a saucy edge, and her sweet, clear soprano voice seduces the listener with buttery allure. Her Monday evenings at Danny's on restaurant row have become the talk of the town. No wonder.

Maude Maggart boasts girl-next-door prettiness with a saucy edge, and her sweet, clear soprano voice seduces the listener with buttery allure. Her Monday evenings at Danny’s on restaurant row have become the talk of the town. No wonder.

Maggart’s cabaret show “Shaking the Blues Away: A 1920s Cabaret” celebrates a vibrantly spirited decade when nightclubs were dominated by the flow of alcohol and cigarette smoke and ruled by gangsters. The era produced a legion of colorful performers who are respectfully profiled by Maggart in song and anecdotal reflection.

A protege of cabaret royalty (Michael Feinstein, Andrea Marcovicci), Maggart also was born to the biz: Her grandmother is a veteran of George White’s celebrated “Scandals” who dangled from a curtain as a tassel beauty at the age of 15. The legacy prompts an appealing recall of the Roaring ’20s with songs by Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart and Hoagy Carmichael.

Mitchell Parish’s hauntingly descriptive “purple dusk of twilight time,” from Carmichael’s “Stardust,” has seldom been framed with such heartbreak. It’s a poignantly wistful reading. The singer’s brief and informative narrative includes capsule portraits of Cole Porter meeting Mabel Mercer at a Paris cafe that serves as an intro to the composer’s “Looking at You.” Perched on the piano, she re-creates the career of the boozed-doomed chanteuse Helen Morgan, singing the reflective Kern-Hammerstein lament “Why Was I Born?”

The most telling portrait is the story of Ruth Etting. Her career was governed by a domineering thug, and her recorded legacy includes “Ten Cents a Dance,” “Shaking the Blues Away” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” Maggart brings it all back like those memorable Technicolor bio films of the ’40s that recounted the careers of singers and composers.

“J’ai deux amours” — sung in French — serves as a tribute to the legendary black expatriate Josephine Baker, while “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” prompts images of beautiful chorines descending a glittery staircase.

The beauty of the hour rests in the purity of performance. The arrangements are straightforward, simply framed and beautifully structured and played by pianist John Boswell.

Maude Maggart

Danny's Skylight, New York; capacity 70; $15

Production

Presented inhouse. Opened March 8, 2004. Reviewed May 17.

Cast

Piano and arrangements, John Boswell.
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