Both celebrating and sending up the classic image of the French chanteuse, Liliane Montevecchi vamps, warbles and otherwise charms audiences in her one-woman show, “Back on the Boulevard.” A sweeter venue would be preferable Rainbow and Stars, are you listening? but the limited-engagement Off Broadway run (scheduled through Sept. 29) should pull solid business for the tiny Martin R. Kaufman Theater.
Montevecchi, best known to American audiences for her Tony-winning role in “Nine” and nominated turn in “Grand Hotel,” recently completed an SRO engagement in London, and her cabaret-style show arrives Stateside with a casual polish that makes its 90 minutes seem as short as the leggy singer’s dresses. Montevecchi, who says her first film was “not silent, but almost,” bears a physical resemblance to Chita Rivera and takes the same unabashed delight in showing off her dancer’s gams. Jumping up on a piano and crossing her legs provocatively, the former Folies Bergeres star says, “I’ll do that again,” and complies.
Indeed, much of Montevecchi’s appeal lies in her obvious delight at being onstage and chatting informally with her audience, while at the same time seeming to take none of it too seriously. When a violinist appears in a dramatic spotlight to accompany the singer, Montevecchi deadpans to the audience, “Well, why not?”
Whether singing in her native French or a heavily accented English, Montevecchi delivers any number of the expected numbers “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “I Love Paris,” “La Vie En Rose,” her “Folies Bergeres” number from “Nine” with both sincerity and a wink at the melodramatic flourish. Of course, none of that would matter if she didn’t have such an appealing voice, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s found a sympathetic musical directorpianist in Dick Gallagher (the composer for the campy “When Pigs Fly,” currently playing a block away).
Although the act is scripted, Montevecchi is relaxed enough to ad-lib with the audience throughout the show, and handles shouted requests and compliments with a breezy wit. Her anecdotes about Hollywood and Broadway are charmingly self-deprecating, making pronouncements like “I am a star!” (she was taken aback when Tommy Tune requested an audition for “Nine”) all the more winning, and thoroughly convincing.