By Andrew Poretz . . .

The music and life of the legendary singer-songwriter Miss Peggy Lee, as the star liked to be called, was celebrated in grand style in Stacy Sullivan’s I Like Men – Celebrating 102 Years of Peggy Lee at Weill Recital Hall.  Ms. Sullivan, the award-winning cabaret and jazz vocalist, produced and performed in this swell tribute and curated an evening of stories and songs associated with Peggy Lee, with the help of a dozen male singers, including a campy Peggy Lee impersonator.  Each took a single song, while Ms. Sullivan sang roughly a third of the program.  They were backed by the top-notch jazz trio of Jon Weber, Steve Doyle and Troy Fannin, utilizing the “Nat King Cole Trio” format of piano, bass and archtop guitar.  The Covid-delayed Centennial celebration was well worth the wait. 

Ms. Sullivan took the stage for the first act dressed in a dark blue gown. (In the second act, she in appeared in a stunning, white tailored suit altered that day by her amazing, beautiful mother, Elizabeth Sullivan, the nonagenarian Sullivan Family matriarch.)  After a few bars, a capella, of “I Love Being Here with You” (Bill Schluger/Peggy Lee), she brought up the first singer, dapper Broadway star Derrick Davis.  Mr. Davis brought his rich, mellifluous baritone to “I Don’t Know Enough About You” (Dave Barbour/Peggy Lee), with a theatrical flair.  He was followed by Todd Murray, a frequent collaborator with Ms. Sullivan, for “There’ll Be Another Spring.”  Although Mr. Murray has played Frank Sinatra to Ms. Sullivan’s Peggy Lee in a show, he more evokes the deep baritone of Dick Haymes. 

The impossibly young, sonically perfect Nicolas King can swing and scat with the best of them, making “Things Are Swingin’” (Jack Marshall/Peggy Lee), the title song of Ms. Lee’s 1959 album, a perfect fit.  Ms. Sullivan supplied the evening’s first ballad, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II), which she described as Ms. Lee’s “favorite song that she did not write.”  In a sweet moment, she introduced Peggy Lee’s granddaughter (Holly Foster Wells, who resembles a young Peggy Lee) and grandchildren from the stage.

Longtime cabaret star Steven Davis sang a lovely “The Folks Back Home” (Paul Horner) before snazzy Mark Nadler, an entertainer seemingly transported from Vaudeville, took over at the piano, performing a wild “New York City Blues” (Quincy Jones/Peggy Lee), at one point nearly flying off the piano bench.  Mr. Nadler, as usual, raised the energy level (if not the entire Carnegie Hall roof) to an “11.”  Stacy closed out the first half with one of Peggy Lee’s biggest hits, “Fever” (Little Willie John), with Steve Doyle recreating the iconic, thumping bass line.  Ms. Lee never got credit for her additional lyrics, but this arrangement, much like Etta James’ take on “At Last,” became the definitive approach to the song, as taken by everyone from Elvis to Madonna.

Post-intermission, campy Peggy Lee impersonator Chuck Sweeney came out in costume, complete with platinum wig and dazzling sunglasses, for a comedic monolog as “Miss Peggy Lee.”  She performed the show’s title song, “I Like Men (Jack Marshall/Peggy Lee), followed by a duet with Ms. Sullivan on a bluesy “I’m A Woman” (Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller), with some funny parody lyrics.  Stacy continued on without “Peggy,” with “He’s a Tramp” (Sonny Burke/Peggy Lee) which Ms. Lee co-wrote for the animated Disney feature Lady and the Tramp, and “Johnny Guitar” (Victor Young/Peggy Lee), a song it is believed was written for her first husband, jazz guitarist Dave Barbour. 

Eric Yves Garcia, a young (if prematurely gray hair), handsome and debonair pianist, storyteller and singer, was quite excellent in both story and song on “Where Can I Go Without You” (Victor Young/Peggy Lee).  The articulate Mr. Garcia, who naturally speaks in the cadence of “John Peterman” from Seinfeld, could recite the Manhattan phone book and make it sound like literature.  Equally young jazz singer and soprano sax whiz Danny Bacher followed, with a few jokes.  This very funny musician, snazzily dressed in one of his trademark “show biz” dinner jackets, performed a swinging “It’s A Good Day” (Dave Barbour/Peggy Lee). 

British crooner Gary Williams told a tale of Peggy Lee as a teen carousel barker, before singing the obscure, poignant Dave Grusin tune, “The Nickel Ride,” for which Ms. Lee later wrote lyrics.  The waltz, with a spoken interlude, would make a fitting counterpoint to the show’s finale (“Is That All There Is”).

Broadway star Darius de Haas was easily the coolest cat among some very cool cats.  His rendition of “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’” (Ellington/Strayhorn) was spectacular.  My note for this song indicates “Number one highlight.”  It would have been, too, if not for the final guest star, the inimitable and very beloved Sidney Myer.  Mr. Myer, the wonderfully eccentric singer and storyteller, has a style and timing that cannot be done justice here.  Sidney, through some combination of magic and authentic vulnerability, sang “Angels on Your Pillow” (Paul Horner/Peggy Lee) with such emotional honesty that there was nary a dry eye in the house.  A very teary Ms. Sullivan could barely pull herself together to close the show with a fine version of “Is That All There Is?,” Peggy Lee’s final hit.  With the audience encouraged to sing along on the refrain (and again on the curtain call with the entire company), it is clear:  that’s not all there is.  Brava!

Stacy Sullivan

I Like Men – Celebrating 102 Years of Peggy Lee

Weill Recital Hall – June 3, 2022

Music director/pianist:  Jon Weber

Bass:  Steve Doyle

Guitar:  Troy Fannin

Singers (in order of their appearance):

Stacy Sullivan

Derrick Davis

Todd Murray

Nicolas King

Steven Davis

Mark Nadler

Chuck Sweeney

Eric Yves Garcia

Danny Bacher

Gary Williams

Darius de Haas

Sidney Myer