03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Real Tyne Daly Stands Up at Manhattan's Feinstein's at Loews Regency

Tyne Daly has been acting for 49 years. She relays the astonishing fact during her current and irresistible cabaret act at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The information goes a long way towards explaining why we think we know who she is. She's that warm-hearted but often ethically tough character she played as detective Mary Beth Lacey in the long-running Cagney and Lacey 1980s teleseries that really put her on the show-biz map. She's the working lady next door with plenty of common sense that she tries--often successfully--to mask with an abashed smile. By now, Daly has spun myriad variations on the decidedly unglamorous but appealing woman.

That must be who she really is.

We've got her number.

Oh, yeah? Then in an act called "The Second Time Around," who's that strong-voiced woman with great legs, wearing high-heeled red pumps and commanding the Feinstein's stage like a contemporary Sophie Tucker? Who's that woman getting sentimental but not overly sentimental on ballads like "There I've Said It Again," "Time After Time" and "My Time is Your Time"--three mid-20th-century standards done as a gentle medley? Who's that woman delivering the cool torch number "That's Him Over There" (by Lew Spence and Marilyn Keith, who was to become Marilyn Bergman) and then acting the pause between lovelorn lyrics so memorably she leaves a heart-breaking after-image.

Furthermore, who's the woman who follows the three tender items just mentioned with Bessie Smith's unflinchingly hard-nosed blues, "Send Me to the 'lectric Chair"? Who's that woman who goes little girl when reprising Wee Bonnie Baker's all-but-forgotten "And Then Some"--not failing to conjure Betty Boop at her finish? Who's the woman suddenly all chantoosie on Yvette Baruch's inspired French translation of "Stardust" and becoming so generous when finishing that she encourages musical director John McDaniel to play explore the entire melody so that--as the lyric suggests--it haunts our reverie?

Okay, we know the woman singing Frankie Loesser's "Adelaide's Lament" with so much humor we wish we could have seen her play the Guys and Dolls role. The Adelaide whom Daly offers is the closest to what her performing persona is usually taken to be, but the rest of her turn can be called a variety hour in the best sense of the term. In this return to the swanky East Side supper club, Daly is showing off facets of her abilities that she has perhaps never before been afforded the opportunity to flaunt--unless it was here. (She debuted in the room last spring with a program I missed.) Always a first-rate realism thespian, Daly may never have struck any casting director as right for the loopy title character in The Madwoman of Chaillot, but her medley of three songs from Jerry Herman's Jean Anouilh adaptation, Dear World, would likely land her the slot in any mooted revival. (Hello, Encores! series deciders.)

One thing the public may believe it knows is Daly's ability to laugh at herself. She does a good deal of that in the patter--much of which is devoted to pointing out, as her title hints, the pluses and minuses of time's passage. She refers light-heartedly and with her signature abashed smile to "this adventure of my dotage." After singing Rudy Vallee's "Betty Co-ed," she recalls she was turned down for her high-school cheerleading squad because, according to the rejecting cadre, "I was too loud." She says, "It took me years to realize they were saying I was fat." She gets laughs from the show-wise audience members by mentioning that over the years she's gone from "prop actor" to "hair actor."

(Her hair is grey and not styled in any careful manner that Mary Beth Lacey would have attempted.)

Daly--expertly and seamlessly directed by David Galligan--opens the act crooning Irving Berlin's "Hostess With the Mostes' on the Ball," which she dresses up with some new lyrics of her own. With the liberties she takes, she goes so far as to mention an endorsement for her boite charms by the New York Times's cabaret critic Stephen Holden. (It was a bold first-night move when Holden happened to be seated directly in front of her.) By the time she's finished, she's lived up go that winningly egotistical lead-off declaration.

The larger--though subtle--message she sends is that the often impugned cabaret milieu is a place to encounter performers as they can be encountered nowhere else.