by Myra Chanin
A funny thing happened on my way to the Palace Theater on Mother’s Day 2017, a day when the giving of gifts and love are de rigeuer by national proclamation. I celebrated that particular day by loving myself and getting myself matinee TKTS to Sunset Boulevard, a musical I’d seen late in its original run after Betty Buckley had replaced Glenn Close. I wanted to see an older and wiser Glenn Close, the original star, play the used-ta-be-big Norma Desmond and I was also curious about the production, sets, etc.
Because most Moms were brunching with progeny, I’d scored pretty good orchestra seats. I sat down, opened my program and watched an ominous square of paper flutter out. The fickle finger of fate had @#$%!^ me. Glenn Close was God knows where. So who would be playing Norma? OMG! Her understudy, Nancy Anderson! Hallelujah. As a longtime fan of Ms. Anderson’s, I always considered her an amazing actress as well as a charming singer. The audience instantly agreed that she was dynamite! They – with me among them – stopped the show with applause after several of her numbers and cheered and gave her a must-have-been-five-curtain-call standing ovation when the show ended. Glenn Close couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Last night at Feinstein’s/54Below, Nancy Anderson returned to cabaret and received the same heartfelt standing ovation from an equally enthralled if somewhat smaller just as full house when she sang and spoke about the tunes on her debut CD, Ten Cents a Dance, a Top Ten choice at our house and in our auto. This diverse collection covers songs popular between 1920, the beginning of the jazz age, and 1940, when WWII ended the depression. It includes many tunes only jazz scholars might be familiar with and hits its peak with four romantically melodic but lyrically heartbreaking Rodgers and Hart compositions.
Nancy Anderson is lovely to look at with her pale complexion and her blonde flapper bobbed hair. She’s also trim, slim and lissome and overflows with talent, intelligence and joy. Her passion for music is a family affair. Nancy’s mother was the source of her love of Broadway show tunes. She became familiar with many of the songs on the CD through her father, a jazz buff who collected original recordings of the period which Nancy later inherited. Thanks to her own research into the genre she learned who originally sang these songs and who later made them popular. Names of musicians that pop up include Teddy Grace, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Rushing, The Dorsey Brothers, Tony Bennett, Peg La Centra, the vocalist for the Artie Shaw Orchestra, which “played the best music in the best possible way.”
Nancy Anderson has a remarkable voice, one that is able to recreate the vocal stylings of that bygone or any era because it’s so supple and she’s trained it to do whatever she needs. Her Snow White is simply to die for. “True Blue Lou,” a moody, bluesy minor key tune about a woman who loved a man no matter what he did, had a sexy edge but unappealing to feminists coda. Another highlight of the show was Nancy’s unveiling of her second instrument, a brand-new ukulele, whose strings hopefully hold a tune better than the one she’s played since college. She sang and played a lively peppy rendition of “Ain’t She Sweet” on it to everyone’s delight. To answer the question she asked, “She certainly is.”
I liked all the music, but it wasn’t until Nancy sang Lorenz Hart lyrics to three tunes by Richard Rodgers – “My Romance,’’ “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and “It Never Entered My Mind,” did I once again realize how great a poet Larry Hart was. He probably was the most sensitive and rejected man in New York at the time in which he lived. In the title song of the CD and the show, “Ten Cents a Dance,” his words totally describe feelings of poverty and pain of a woman trying to survive as a taxi dancer, which are amazingly similar to and drawn from his painful experiences as a gay man looking for love that dare not bare its name:
Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors can pay for their ticket and rent me!
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbors are sweethearts my good luck has sent me.
Backed by the sterling musical quartet that played on the CD — Ross Patterson on piano, Aaron Heick on reeds, Don Falzone on Bass and J.J. McGeehan on guitar, banjo and ukulele – Nancy rewarded us with another outstanding performance and hung out in the bar to chat and sign copies of her CD which contains a witty Cole Porter ditty that she didn’t sing in her show. “The Tale of An Oyster,” about a bivalve social climber, swallowed by the rich Mrs. Hoggenheimer to their eventual mutual dismay.
And the encore, which proved that what goes around comes around was the 11 o’clock Andrew Lloyd Webber smash hit from Sunset Boulevard – “With One Look” – which Nancy knocked totally out of the ball park.