by: Paulanne Simmons
Close to the end of Christine Ebersole’s return engagement of Big Noise from Winnetka at 54 Below, she remarks that some consider her to be controversial. She then wonders exactly how one can be a controversial cabaret singer. But in fact, there is a decidedly anti-authority slant to this show.
There’s the story of how, as a “spirited child,” two days after her ninth birthday, Ebersole made a (quickly aborted) plan to escape her piano lessons by swimming across Lake Michigan to the safety of a family with a greater sense of justice. And another account of her father’s indignant reaction to the possibility that his son might be drafted and serve in the Vietnam War.
But if you’re thinking her show might turn into a self-righteous polemic against the government, the law and people who eat meat, think again. Ebersole has too much humor and far too much talent for that. Instead she takes the audience on a journey filled with wry commentary and great songs, from jazz classics to Broadway hits.
“Big Noise From Winnetka,” “Darktown Strutters Ball” and “That’s How Rhythm Was Born” return us to the dixieland and rhythm & blues beginnings of jazz. While Ebersole’s versions of “Songbird,” “Landslide” and “Woodstock” bring the 60s and 70s up to date.
“Elijah Rock,” an old-fashioned spiritual, has a special significance for Ebersole. One of her three adopted children is named Elijah, and the 21-year-old joined his mom onstage for a duet notable mostly for its personal touch.
Those for whom the name Christine Ebersole means Broadway were not disappointed. Ebersole’s spirited, rhythmic versions of “Will You?” and “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” fit seamlessly into the evening’s repertoire.
Ebersole has a big voice, and she’s backed by a big sound. From the piano, Bette Sussman directs a 4-piece band and vocalist Tabitha Fair.
So is Ebersole a rebellious hippie, an old-time jazz enthusiast or a Broadway diva? Happily, she is a little of each.
Big Noise from Winnetka runs through Jan. 31 at 54 Below, 254 West 54 St. (646) 476-3551 or 54below.com.