It sounds like a truism to say people become cabaret performers because they can sing. But Brooke Shields -- in the second-week of her two-week Feinstein's at Loews Regency engagement -- makes you wonder about how binding that assumption is. Well, yes, she can sing. Somewhat. Her middle register, though narrow, has oomph. When she ventures into her upper register, however, and particularly when she decides to belt there, it's a vocal cord of a different strain.
And since she opens with James Taylor's driving "Your Smiling Face" and follows it with the Carole King-Gerry Goffin "One Fine Day" -- both grating and often not on pitch -- you wonder why usually astute director Mark Waldrop or musical director Charlie Alterman didn't steer her away from those sort of vocal hurdles.
Yet, once Shields begins chatting to the paying customers -- who might already be asking themselves what they're paying for -- her presence begins to make sense. She tells the audience that, having begun her career as the eleven-month-old "Ivory Soap baby," she regards playing a boite as the last entertainment outpost she hasn't tried. Having turned down requests in the past, she finally realized she has always made a point of never saying no to a challenge.
So at last she said yes.
There's another obvious explanation for her succumbing to small-room scrutiny. She calls the show "In My Life" and sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney song as an encore. It's her life she wants to reveal in ways she hasn't before, not in her 1985 biography On Your Own, published when she was 20, or Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.
What she wants the world to understand -- the part of the world that frequents cabaret venues -- is that, despite how it may have looked while she was making movies at nine and modeling Calvin Klein jeans a decade later and seeming to be completely under her domineering mother Teri's thumb, she did have a happy childhood. She isn't the hard-bitten survivor her publicized past might suggest.
It's a pleasure to report that she gets her point(s) across easily, in part because -- still refreshingly beautiful at 45 in her form-fitting, sequined black dress -- she's so down-to-earth and ready to kid her image while mentioning, without a hint of boastfulness, her years at Princeton, where she majored in French, She talks breezily about the discrepancy between her seeming sophistication when still young and the virginity she tried to lose -- at one time hoping frequent date George Michael would oblige her. "I didn't know," she says several times, referring to Michael's well-known sexual leaning.
And eventually she gets around to the American Songbook material she has under her control. By now, she's done four musicals on Broadway -- Grease as Rizzo, Cabaret as Sally Bowles, Chicago as Roxy Hart and Wonderful Town as Ruth McKenney -- and not only scored each time but has retained much of the supple movements.
She handily reprises what she did then (with choreographer Isaac Calpito's assistance) while forthrightly intoning "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man," "Sandra Dee," "Swing," and "Me and My Baby." Incidentally, she ties the numbers into her story so they serve a dual purpose. For instance, it's in the non-loss-of-virginity segment that "Sandra Dee"' pops up.
There are stretches of her life she doesn't get around to. No mention of her three television series -- the last the rather miserable Lipstick Jungle. She skips over the marriage to first hubby, Andre Agassi, and doesn't mention current husband Chris Henchy by name. Though bringing up her children, she keeps their names to herself as well. (To celebrate motherhood, she sings the superb Marcy Heisler-Zina Goldrich "After All" with commendable conviction.) Furthermore, anyone wanting to get the lowdown on pal Michael Jackson will learn nothing. Indeed, the silence on these matters does begin to suggest that failed-lover George Michael is being picked on.
The one song Shields includes that's unquestionably out of place is the Fred Ebb-John Kander "Maybe This Time," which contains the lyric "not a loser any more like the last time and the time before." Nothing about Shields signals "loser." Quite the opposite. While she may have had her ups and downs, she can hardly can be labeled a loser! At Feinstein's, she's once again a big winner.