05/16/2012 02:46 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2012

First Nighter: Sheera Ben-David 'Rains' Supreme at Feinstein's

Sheera Ben-David, whom the astute Feinstein's at Loews Regency deciders know enough to book and then book again, doesn't yet appear to have built the large following she deserves. It may be because she -- referring to herself with amusing candor as a "plus-size model" -- tends to prefer giving cabaret audiences a darker vision of existence than boite fans enjoy hearing when they only care to be entertained with tunes they recognize.

Never mind. What Ben-David is doing, consciously or unconsciously, is hewing more closely to the small-room conventions that '20s Germans (Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, among the best known) called "kabarett." A dramatic mezzo, she's drawn to less well-known songs that plumb the darker emotional depths. Which means she's irrevocably pulled to primarily contemporary songwriters who might be called kabarett-influenced.

An indication of where her smart, resilient and generous heart lies is her using Randy Newman's doleful "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" as a prelude to one inclusion and then later to sing it in its affecting entirety. Well, look, she calls the set "After the Rain" and doesn't seem interested in implying the erstwhile downpour has once again purified the planet.

Ben-David is such a connoisseur of material framed along these unflinching lines that she sings Peter Mills's great -- but hardly an intimate-room staple -- "It's Amazing the Things That Float." Actually, she purveys it with a positive vibe, after she's explained that she only recently came out the other side of a flood in her Upper East Side apartment. (The Mills number is from The Flood, which deals with a natural disaster in a small Mid-Western town.)

Ben-David -- guided perceptively by Eric Michael Gillett and supported by her musical-director brother Adam -- does get around to songs with which patrons are likely more familiar. She examines the forever touching "Some Other Time," which Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote about on-leave soldiers returning to World War II combat, and Stephen Sondheim's biting "Another Hundred People." Ben-David bites into both of them. While standing in the room, friendly-like, rather than on the stage, she does "Secret Love," the 1953 Oscar-winning ballad by Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain and introduced by Doris Day. First, she renders it in a Day version and immediately segues into a rousing suggestion of how it was delivered by the jazzier Carmen MacRae.

Other numbers she cleverly gets around to -- pay attention, pop and rock chart-watching fans -- are the handiwork of Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman, Boz Scaggs, John David Souther, Jason Robert Brown (she polishes two of his insistent anthems), Michel Legrand with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Christine Lavin and Carly Simon.

A further sign of her cleverness is that, knowing she's generally portraying the rain-dashed world as not constantly reassuring, she keeps the patter on the light, self-deprecating side -- and, make no mistake, she's an innately funny lady.

In other words, music lovers lacking an acquaintance with Sheera Ben-David are missing out. And who wants that?