Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Keely Smith - April 17, 2007

Keely Smith has come a long way from her role of world-weary, yet ever-tolerant girl singer partner to her husband, Louis Prima. Although their names will inevitably always be linked, Keely Smith certainly deserves to be seen as a legendary performer in her own right. And she proves it every night (until April 28th) at the Café Carlyle.

She is a 79 year old spitfire, proclaiming of herself "the top half is Cherokee, but the bottom half is Italian" and yes, we all know what she means. She is a sharp and flirty performer who talks to her audience as if they've always been old friends. When she throws in jokes about Louis, or imitates him as she reproduces one of their hits we chuckle: we're in on the jokes.

She started her set with a feisty Let the Good Times Roll finishing with an admonition to the audience "did you expect a QUIET show?" This was my fourth Keely Smith show and I knew that what we should expect was a Keely Show: a perfect mix of rollicking fun and break your heart crooning. And that is exactly what she delivered. Her follow-up was How Deep is the Ocean after which she praised an audience member for ordering a healthy meal "you're a good boy... fish. I'd kill for a meatball sandwich right now." Then she brought the tempo back up with a version of Jump, Jive and Wail that let her brass section (Jerry Vavino on tenor sax and Michael Morielli on trumpet) let loose and made me regret that the Carlyle does not have a dance floor.

Keely brought the mood to romantic and sweet once more with You Go to My Head done in a slow, bluesy arrangement (Dennis Michaels on piano is her arranger, and her son-in-law). She showed how true it is that "age means nothing" by holding a long, unwavering final note.

Can't Take My Eyes Off You was happy and fun with Keely improvising some lyric changes. Then she veered into another Louis-Keely hit Angelina-Zooma Zooma that made the room hop. Laughing at the end she remarked: "It means I've got a fish in my hands... I don't know why people like that song." When the band took too long to move to the next song, she teased "you're not going too fast tonight are you?" She sang a cheery How Sweet it is to Be Loved By You.

The Way You Look Tonight prompted her to say "I love this song, I hope you like it because I really like singing it" the look she gave us defied us to disagree. Then she sang it, and believe me, that look was unnecessary.

She sang Just a Gigolo and again the room was rocking, then she asked for requests which brought us I'll Never Smile Again - where she could just break your heart - and slid into an A capella version of Whippoorwill... you could hear a pin drop as the audience sat in rapt attention. The Man I Love and Embraceable You were followed by a cha-cha arrangement of her poignant signature song: I Wish You Love and possibly her biggest hit with Louis That Ol' Black Magic and a reworked What Kind of Fool Am I (is He).

At one point she remarked, "it took me 40 years to get control of the stage, and I'm keeping it!" I hope she keeps it for 40 more. Keely still sings with her trademark stone-face, but in between songs she is a helluva character full of anecdotes and teasing banter with the audience and her band alike. Be warned, Keely likes the boys: "the younger the better [...] 52 is too old for me"; and if you think sex ends at ... well, ever, listen to Keely Smith - and let the good times roll.

Keely Smith
Café Carlyle
35 East 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
Tickets: 212-744-1600

Through April 28
Tuesday - Thursday 8:45pm
Friday & Saturday - 8:45pm & 10:45pm


Gary said...

Keely is simply amazing! Wonderful review of a smashing show.

marxsny said...

hot damn, in a spin and lovin' that spin I'm in.