In his return to the Fireside Cafe, for four Wednesday appearances, Jack Donahue offers an eclectic program of songs that mostly tell sad tales and draw picturesque landscapes. The singer-actor who boasts boyish good looks and sings with a clear bright voice is well on his way in the cabaret community.
The singer wisely avoids the Broadway show tune pattern and the composer tributes that have dominated the tail of the century. While he seems far too young to address the aging wisdom of “When October Goes” by Barry Manilow and lyricist Johnny Mercer, he brings a surging intensity to the text.
While the program may lack a central focus, it’s interesting to note Donahue’s generous appreciation of some exceptionally fine distaff composers. Carol Hall’s sweet lullaby to a newborn, “Jenny Rebecca” — long a staple for cabaret’s high priestess, Mabel Mercer — and Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s “Only a Dream” were both embraced with loving care and sensitivity. Francesa Blumenthal, whose growing and impressive body of work has been greedily embraced by several Manhattan boite entertainers, was represented through a lilting tribute to another tune master, “A Gershwin Tune.”
On more nostalgic terrain, Donahue brought a lighter touch to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “A Cockeyed Optimist” and Burt Bacharach’s title song for “Alfie,” and he offered a picture postcard tour of “Old Cape Cod.”
Best was a jaunty turn on the Matt Dennis-Tom Adair portrait of a big-time loser, “Everything Happens to Me.” The singer gave the 1940 Sinatra-Dorsey showcase a relaxed and breezy reading.
Unfortunately, Donahue spends far too much time making insignificant small talk about Chapstick and lip gloss, trips to Vermont and Rome, and the influence of nuns in a Catholic school. He reads cologne ads and poems from the New Yorker, makes casual references to Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael that don’t even segue into their songs. The next-to-closing number found him lighting a candle for an atmospheric lead-in to “To Each His Dulcinea.” None of this was very amusing or interesting. What this fine young singer desperately needs is an act.