by Marilyn Lester
Judging by Annette Warren’s awe-inspiring performance at 54 Below, she is far from being done. A nonagenarian (she’ll be 95 in a few months), Warren’s energy, stamina and joie de vivre was something to behold. She is a legendary Hollywood singer, who, with a career spanning 70 years can claim that title without opposition. Warren voiced non-singing leading ladies, such as Lucille Ball, and most famously, Ava Gardner in Show Boat. Her opening number “I Love Being Here With You” (Peggy Lee/Dave Cavanaugh) demonstrated an immediate sincerity and ability to connect with her audience. In between songs there’s a natural, personal narrative about her life and times, including a marriage of 55 years to jazz pianist Paul Smith, who was, among other accomplishments, a long-time collaborator with the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.
Warren’s adorability factor is off the scale. She looks great and is physically fit. A waiting chair on stage remained unused. There’s wit and humor, such as her quips about “Love for Sale” (Cole Porter) and age appropriateness, which bring smiles and chuckles. From time to time she consults musical director and pianist, Grammy and two-time Emmy-award winner, John McDaniel. McDaniel is not only a Class-A musician, but was entirely tuned in to Warren with his ears and his heart, making sure all proceeded smoothly. About this time-to-time reliance, Warren is candidly accepting. The results of this collaboration included delightful performance of “These Foolish Things” (Eric Maschwitz/Jack Strachey), “Some of These Days” (Shelton Brooks) and “Warm All Over”(Frank Loesser). Inevitably, there is no escaping the effects of aging; vocally, Warren’s voice remains strong, if not as elastic as in her prime. Notes on the lower register are most successful, but she is on top of her technique and knows how to use her current vocal abilities. Warren’s delivery of “When Day Is Done” (Robert Katscher/Buddy DeSylva) and “Why Was I Born” (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein), among others, demonstrated undiminished interpretive skills.
Warren is not only a nonpareil singer, but a hugely accomplished pianist. Her few bars of Mozart, yielding to Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” were exquisite. It turns out she’s also a crackerjack teacher. Playing for former student and protégé, Aaron Blake, who’d just made his Metropolitan Opera debut in La Traviata, she was as gratified and as thrilled as the audience to hear a superb rendition of “O Sole Mio” (Giovanni Capurro/Eduardo di Capua). The culmination of a delightful evening of charm and song was the awaited and beautifully sung Show Boat duo of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill” (Kern/Hammerstein). The last time Warren performed in New York City, she reigned at the Blue Angel night club. With her encore of “If I Never Sing Another Song” (Udo Jergens/Donald Black) a collective thought emerged from an awe-struck audience: Miss Warren, keep singing, and please don’t stay away another 54 years.
Annette Warren: I Ain’t Done Yet, March 30, 2017 at 7 PM
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com