Christine Ebersole’s abundant comedic talents are on full display in her new act at Cafe Carlyle. The two-time Tony winner promises an evening of “no holds barred cabaret,” featuring songs that should “never be sung in polite society.” This is something of a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration, to be sure, but it gives the singer the opportunity to hop through a dozen diverse songs — and score with just about every one of them.
Draped in a black-and-purple Loretta Young gown and affecting the air of Lucy Riccardo after the crash of a harebrained scheme, Ebersole welcomes us into her world as a somewhat ditzy actress/housewife, coping with Hollywood vapidity and life as the mother of three teenagers in a run-down house in Maplewood, NJ. (She doesn’t have an exercise room; she simply vacuums up and down the stairs.) Scott Wittman has directed and helped assemble the act, built on bits of patter followed by songs that hopefully tie the pieces together.
Some of these links are extremely tenuous; a story about Pitney-Bowes, a dead Chihuahua, and an embroidered Mickey Mouse cap puzzlingly lead to “Stormy Weather.” No matter; Ebersole does a particularly fine job with that Arlen-Koehler classic — one of the only serious slots on the program.
Ebersole and Wittman, with expert musical director John Oddo, have mined the piano bench for a clutch of amusing but seldom-heard comedy songs. Rodgers and Hart’s “Give It Back to the Indians” sets the tone, followed by such obscurities as Sam Coslow’s “I’m in Love with the Honorable Mr. So and So” and the Andy Razaf/Jimmy Johnson “Porter’s Love Song to a Chambermaid.” These numbers, needless to say, are catnip for Ebersole’s comic talents, as is “Mink Schmink,” a fitting salute to the Carlyle’s late headliner Eartha Kitt.
Oddo is ably supported by his fine combo of David Mann (with some nice solos on sax and piccolo), bassist David Finck (a standout on “Stormy Weather”) and drummer David Ratajczak.
Change of pace comes with a touching rendition of the 19th century “The Last Rose of Summer,” shoehorned in with some jokes about the infirmities of Ebersole’s 92-year-old mother. Singer does an especially lovely job on Kern and Hammerstein’s “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” She ends the set fittingly with Noel Coward’s “I’ll See You Again.”