In the posh cabaret nook Feinstein’s at the Regency, where one usually finds himself nestled in the folds of composers such as Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and the Gershwins, there is an amusing spring detour. Blatantly boasting “No Standards,” Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole have teamed up with Nell Geisslinger for a homespun program of folksy novelties and down-home, finger-pluckin’ story songs.
The act is structured on a handful of chords and a little over a dozen songs penned by the pair. There’s precious little in the way of introductory commentary, and the satirical songs, which run the gamut from picturesque to ghoulish, get modest audience response. They are, however, a blithely spirited trio, personable and attractive, alternating between piano and guitar with a few strums from a mandolin and occasionally accented by some Celtic drumbeats.
The campfire songs that boast an uncommon similarity of texture, nuance and melodic content offer such nuggets as, “Do what the good book tells you,” “In another tense it all made sense” and, in sweeping picturesque beach ballad “Terra Nova,” “We hear the breakers on an unseen shore.”
The trio become city slickers with “Beyond the Footlights,” a true New York song with a decided theatrical flair. (Actor McKean appeared on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.”)
Geisslinger, the actress daughter of O’Toole, adds a perky, infectious presence on piano, guitar and percussion, in addition to some finger-in-cheek popping sounds in a barn-dance hoe-down take on the Johnny Mercer-Victor Schertzinger ballad “I Remember You.” Not since the recordings of rural torch singer Cinderella G. Stump (Jo Stafford) in the ’40s has there been such a playfully irreverent cornball parody of a standard.
They offer another amusing Mercer take on “Down’T Uncle Bill’s,” a flavorful honkytonk Hoagy Carmichael collaboration in celebration of home cookin’.
Evening concludes with the McKean-O’Toole Oscar-nominated song “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” from Christopher Guest’s “A Mighty Wind.” The song takes the repertoire to a settling comfort zone.