It’s Valentine’s Day in June on 44th Street, with Jessica Molaskey returning to the Algonquin for a three-week stint. The exceptionally talented singer, backed by husband John Pizzarelli, takes patrons along on what seems like a personal holiday.
The act consists of good songs artfully arranged and perfectly sung. Each number is a gem — keen song selection is only the beginning of the Molaskey-Pizzarelli act — with Molaskey individually shaping and polishing them to maximum effect. Molaskey describes the evening as songs of people “stuck between” the beginning and the end of the affair; they perhaps could be called ballads for a gal who’ll be singing torch songs next Tuesday.
Act takes its title from the 1957 Patsy Cline hit “Walkin’ After Midnight,” one of the evening’s early high points. Singer is backed by Pizzarelli and his bass-playing brother Martin — “the original Jersey Boys,” she calls them — and Larry Fuller on piano.
Molaskey is little known to the wider public. Her only major Broadway role came in the short-lived Johnny Mercer revue “Dream,” in which she was one of two standouts. (The other was guitarist-crooner John Pizzarelli. The well-matched pair have been married ever since.) Molaskey has appeared in a string of progressive new musicals, introducing songs by Jason Robert Brown, Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa, Stephen Flaherty, Adam Guettel and Stephen Sondheim. The Molaskey-Pizzarelli combine refined their act in three CDs, “Pentimento,” “A Good Day” and “Make Believe.”
Standards — like an ingenious combination of Vincent Youmans’ “I Want to Be Happy” and “Sometimes I’m Happy” into a Molaskey/Pizzarelli duet of co-dependence — are joined by songs from today’s three-named theater composers. Molaskey includes the cabaret staple “Stars and the Moon,” which she introduced in 1995, in Brown’s “Songs for a New World.” Brown himself materialized on cue at the opening to accompany Molaskey, but she doesn’t sing the song: She feels it, she lives it in a soaring rendition.
Also included are Gordon’s “Souvenir” and LaChiusa’s “There Will Be a Miracle.” Who said those composers are difficult? Coming from Jessica and John (on a lone guitar), the songs have the simplicity of lullabies. But that is the way with Molaskey: Her simple-seeming, unadorned performances reveal the heart of both music and lyrics.
Molaskey’s hour flies by on wings of melody and rhythm. Set is capped with “Happy as the Day Is Long,” a forgotten but infectiously jaunty Arlen-Koehler charmer from the Cotton Club, with especially fine solos from the three instrumentalists.
As Molaskey rang out her encore, “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” couples could be seen holding hands and beaming all across the Oak Room. It’s that kind of valentine evening.