“I always wanted to be a saloon singer,” reveals Mary Cleere Haran at the start of her smart new cabaret act in the Algonquin Oak Room, recalling Rita Hayworth’s glam turn in “Gilda.” Even though Anita Ellis dubbed Hayworth’s singing in the film, “Put the Blame on Mame” presented a defining cinema image of the nightclub singer. Haran vamps with sassy allure and a kind of long-gone sophisticated oomph.
Haran’s “My Shining Hour,” subtitled “Movie Songs and Love in the 1940s,” celebrates an ardently appealing body of work by such legendary tunesmiths and lyricists as Harold Arlen, Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer and Frank Loesser. Her songs are heightened by informative anecdotal background and a beguiling sense of humor. She boasts a reverent dedication to lyric content and sings with a bright, clear, pleasantly flexible voice. Handsomely gowned in a white satin sheath with bolero jacket, she offers intelligent readings of ballads that have comfortably endured for more than six decades.
A surprise showpiece is “Don’t Fence Me In,” Cole Porter’s only cowboy song, written for Roy Rogers to sing in “Hollywood Canteen.”Haran takes it at a moderately tempered tempo that makes it freshly appealing.
She also nails the manic comedy thrust of Paramount film star Betty Hutton with Loesser’s “Poppa Don’t Preach to Me” and pays homage to Judy Garland, who, the chanteuse notes, “just might have been a genius and made every song she sang profoundly important.” Describing the chugging-train sequence in 1946 MGM musical “The Harvey Girls,” Haran brings a picturesque image to Oscar-winning tune “On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe.”
Windup is a centennial salute to legendary crooner Bing Crosby that finds Haran “Swinging on a Star” and hitting the “Road to Morocco.” Crosby, who encouraged his notable lyricist pals to avoid the customary “I love you” sentiment, revealed the essence of romanticism with such hit-parade tunes as Arlen-Mercer’s “Out of This World,” and the Johnny Burke-Van Heusen tunes “But Beautiful” and “Moonlight Becomes You.” When Haran sings them, it’s not a mere nostalgic trip. The emotional punch of the evening is heightened by the analytical observations of the era, and her keenly evoked and ardently embracing interpretations.
Encore is the Arlen-Mercer tune “My Shining Hour,” which proved an apt name for the show.