Having mastered the small screen (Cheers) and big stage (Chicago), Bebe Neuwirth is, surprisingly, new to the cabaret circuit: her appearance at Feinstein's is her first such solo show in so intimate a setting, and she tackles it like a pro.
No preliminary schmoozing to warm up the audience - which makes sense, because they've seen her, chosen her, and are warmly predisposed. With Scott Cady providing sensitive piano accompaniment, she launches right into two cinematic chestnuts: As Time Goes By, then The Trolley Song - the latter, so intensely and imaginatively acted, it seems absolutely fresh.
It's only then, once we've been both reassured and dazzled, that she indulges in a bit of patter, while sipping from a mini-bottle of Champagne through a straw. The rest of the evening - roughly a score of songs all told - is heavily skewed toward Kurt Weill, whose story-songs (About Susan's Dream, Billbao Song, Surabaya Johnny) well suit Neuwirth's dramatic flair. Bookending these are two seemingly antithetical but congruent Weill collaborations: How Much I Love You, featuring the witty lyrics of Ogden Nash, and Je Ne T'Aime Pas, a contradictory cri de coeur from Maurice Magre.
We come expecting at least a dash of comedy, and Neuwirth doesn't disappoint: Ring Them Bells, the Kander/Ebb saga of fortuitous intercontinental romance, is a knockout. The only real misfire is Sondheim's Another Hundred People, which she delivers as an unrelentingly embittered rant- there's got to be a least a touch of wonder in there. It's also an instance in which Neuwirth's broad vibrato - tolerable on the low tones - gets the better of her, to unpleasant effect.
But the songs that really transport her, like Billbao, do the same for the audience: when she sings it was fantastic, you can't help believing, and envisioning the shady pleasure palaces of your own lost youth. And with a lesser-known Piaf treasure, Les Amants d'un Jour , which alternates between sangfroid and post-traumatic stress, Neuwirth will coolly, skillfully tear your heart in two.