Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Sharon McNight does a entertaining performance as Betty, Betty, Bette
Sharon McNight returns to the Empire Plush Room at the York Hotel in San Francisco for a three-week stint to pay tribute to three great film stars. Ms. McNight's new act is premiering at San Francisco's prime cabaret located at 940 Sutter Street. The artist now celebrating her 25th year as a cabaret diva has won six San Francisco Cabaret Gold awards, a MAC award and a Bistro award and is one of the few women to impersonate Bette Davis. She has played every club from Los Angeles to Berlin, from the Moose Hall to Carnegie Hall, and clubs in New York including Don't Tell Mama where she received raved reviews.
McNight's takes on film stars Betty Grable, Betty Hutton and Bette Davis are great, especially her bitchy camp of the divine Bette Davis who constantly puts down my friend Joan Crawford. The local diva is accompanied by Joan Edgar on piano and Randy O'Dell on percussion in her 90-minute song fest.
The cabaret artist first comes onto the small stage as Betty Grable, the pin up bombshell of the armed forces during WWII. Sharon wisely does not try to imitate the curvaceous film star or duplicate her voice. The Betty Grable segment contains songs that you are likely to never hear again - and maybe that's good. McNight sings "O'Brien Has Gone Hawaiian" with an Irish brogue and "Down on Ami Ami Oni Oni Island" (from the throwaway film Song of the Islands, a minor effort for Fox), both written by Mack Gordon and Harry Owens. One could even forget "You're My Little Pin Up Girl," another mundane song by Mack Gordon with typical '40s lyrics by James Monaco from, what else, Pin-Up Girl. It was great for the war effort, however. Sharon does a jazzy rendition of "In Acapulco" from Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshow by Gordon and Monaco and a great interpretation of Gable's most famous song, "I Can't Begin to Tell You," a Mark Gordon/James Monaco standard from The Dolly Sisters. On the whole, this first segment is the weakest since it is very hard to duplicate the sex symbol with the '40s commonplace songs that the film actress sang.
McNight comes into her own with the camp and bitchy version of the favorite of drag queens everywhere, Miss Bette Davis. This is the first time in memory that I have seen a woman doing a complete Bette Davis act with cigarette, giant cocktail glass, et al. The artist comes out dressed like Margo Channing with the huge cocktail glass that must hold a whole quart of vodka. Her first line to the audience is "Isn't it amazing what they can do with potatoes?" This segment is "hate Joan Crawford time again." She says Joan had more hair than the Muppets. She talks about Baby Jane and Davis' battle with Joan and how Joan went into the hospital for sixty days so she would not have appear opposite to Bette in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. There is a great story on how she (Bette Davis) got the part in All about Eve after Claudette Colbert and Gertrude Lawrence turned down the role of Margo.
McNight sings two songs made famous by the temperamental star: the Frank Devol song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy," and the wonderful Frank Loesser/Arthur Schwartz comedy classic, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." Sharon says she found lyrics to the Bette Davis theme in Now Voyager, a lovely melody by Max Steiner. The lyrics by Kim Gannon are spoken rather then sung.
The third and last segment is a tribute to the wonderful and energetic Betty Hutton who made Paramount Films a lot of money. Sharon actually looks and acts like Betty. She starts the segment with "Rumble, Rumble, Rumble," the Frank Loesser song from Perils of Pauline. Sharon starts the song slow, then looks at the pianist, turns her back to the audience, takes a pill and then jumps and jives like Ms. Hutton did in the film. She also sings the charming Frank Loesser song, "I Wish I Didn't Love You So," from the same film. Betty Hutton's biggest hit, Isham Jones/Gus Kahn's "It Had to be You" from Incendiary Blond, is beautifully sung as is Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, which was recorded by Ms. Hutton. Sharon says that Ms. Hutton is now 84 years old and living in seclusion in Palm Springs.
Sharon McKnight shows that she is a marvelous vocal actress and a master of lampoon with an instant connection with her audience. She knows how to keep the audience on their toes and there is never a dull moment while she is on stage. Ms. McKnight will be playing at the Empire Plush Room, Hotel York, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through April 23rd. For reservations please call 415-885-2800 or visit www.empireplushroom.com.