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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Linda Lavin is the Life of the Party

Also see Richard's reviews of Miss Saigon and The Overcoat

Linda LavinTony Award winning actress and famed television star Linda Lavin is currently wowing the audience at the Empire Plush Room in the historic York Hotel, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco. She is the "hostess with the mostess," as Ethel Merman said in Call Me Madam. Ms. Lavin is the kind of person who would be the life of any party, and she commands the stage with a very vibrant personality.

Dressed in a svelte black pants outfit with sequins and looking, as Billy Crystal would say, "absolutely mahvelous," she goes immediately into Gershwin's sprightly "Little Jazz Bird." She is off to a good start, with the great Billy Stritch on piano, her husband Steve Bakunas on drums, and Daniel Fabricant on bass. Between songs she talks about her life and how she started her show biz career singing in clubs that usually had the words "downstairs" or "upstairs" in their names (she says she is happy to be singing in a club that is on ground level). Her first big national cabaret gig was in Miami during the '60s, BSB (before South Beach). Linda makes many amusing off-the-cuff remarks, including a few about being informed by the Pillsbury Company that she was the singing voice behind the Pillsbury dough boy commercials(without her consent). She says it has taken all of these years to get a "commercial break."

Ms. Lavin has an eclectic grab bag of songs ranging from selections by Cy Coleman, Mary Rodgers and the Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. She even sings her television series theme song, "Theme Song from Alice," written for her by David Shire, Alan and Mary Bergman. Billy joins her in the delightful duet "Two Lost Souls" from Damn Yankees.

Linda gives Billy Stritch a break by taking to the piano herself to give out a rendition of a 1912 music hall song based on the old "Maggie and Jiggs" cartoon strip called "So Is Your Old Lady" by Al Dubin. It's not the kind of song that a cabaret singer would typically sing, and she does a credible rendition of the old vaudeville song. She displays a good blues voice on Hugh Prestwood's "The Song Remembers When" and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "I Walk A Little Faster." The artist even goes into the realm of the semi-operatic with "I Dream Too Much" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields in honor of her mother who was an aspiring opera singer but left her calling to raise her children. Linda comes up with a Betty Hutton voice for Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz's "Rhode Island is Famous for You" that is a real kick.

She performs a personal love song to her husband of six months with the lovely romantic Walter Hirsch/Fred Rose "Deed I Do." However, when she attempts to sing Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Antigua" in a Spanish accent, it just does not work. She seems to have trouble with the inflections of the accent (it would be better suited for Rita Moreno who is coming into the Empire Plush Room next, and who was in the audience opening night.)

Ms. Lavin sings two songs that she introduced, the first being the sparkling and brassy "You've Got Possibilities" from her role as a fellow employee looking for a little love from Superman in Charles Strouse-Lee Adams' It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman. She tells the audience she can't even get the guy's shirt off since he is wearing a big red S. The highlight is the hilarious number that she introduced in The Mad Show called "The Boy From ..." written by Mary Rodgers with lyrics by a young man named Esteban Ria Nido, aka Stephen Sondheim. The song is a parody of Jobim/Gimble/de Moraes' "The Girl from Ipanema."

Linda Lavin is funny, warm and full of personality and she will be appearing at the Empire Plush Room at the York Hotel, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through September 18th. For tickets and reservations please call 415-885-2800 or visit www.EmpirePlushRoom.com for more information. The incomparable Rita Moreno returns to the room on September 20 through October 9th.



Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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