“We all have to hit the skids in order to move on. That’s what this show is about…It’s what I’ve done all my life, start over. I want to tell you the story of my life without talking too much about it,” declared Linda Lavin during her delightful autobiographical cabaret show Starting Over at 54 Below.
Dressed in black slacks, a sequined white blouse and a gray blazer, the svelte, energetic, and soon to be 78 year-old Tony Award-winning stage and television star dazzled in an eclectic program of songs and anecdotes. Possessed of an outstanding, expressive character voice she was supported by an accomplished band.
“Where or When?” was her compelling opening number sung simply with flawless enunciation and that was followed by a jaunty medley that included “I Hear Music” performed with great volume.
Born in Maine, to a businessman father and an opera singer stage mother, she originally desired to be a ballet dancer after seeing and being inspired by the film The Red Shoes. At the age of 10, due to the machinations of a schoolteacher who coerced her to sing, “Look to The Rainbow,” at a musicale instead of dancing, she was then intent on being an actress. She performed the song here with a comical Irish brogue.
After reluctantly completing college, “ I was a good girl. I hated it.” She went to New York City to be in show business and later appeared in the hit Off-Broadway revue The Mad Show. In an exaggerated Brazilian accent she hilariously recreated Stephen Sondheim’s clever parody of “The Girl from Ipanema,” “The Boy From…” Soon after, she was on Broadway in the flop musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. She sang her signature song “You’ve Got Possibilities” from it to an artful Bossa Nova arrangement.
“He inspired me…the sophistication…so New York,” she rhapsodized about Bobby Short and then sang “Hooray for Love” in tribute to him.
She did “Secret Love,” that was originally performed by Doris Day in a terrific Judy Garland impression with appropriate gestures. It illustrated a lesson she learned from her mother to sing only “peppy songs,” instead of sad ones to her peers when she was young.
On the dark side was Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and Steely Dan’s enigmatically corrosive “Black Cow” that were subtle commentaries on her troubled romantic life.
“My mother wanted me to be a concert pianist,” she remarked as she went to the piano and played a jazzy “Love is Beautiful” at the urging of her accomplished musical director and accompanist on piano, Billy Stritch. As a solo he did a powerful Mel Tormé style rendition of “A Cottage for Sale.”
She deservedly thanked the excellent band early on. In addition to Mr. Stritch it was composed of Ron Affif on guitar, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Steve Bakunas on drums. Mr. Bakunas has been married to Ms. Lavin for a number of years and there was playful mention of that as he serenaded her with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
A special guest was the very youthful jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein who performed a thrilling “There’s a Small Hotel” with the band.
There was an emotional “You Must Believe in Spring,” and during a lively “No More Blues,” she showed off some lithe dance moves.
When she was 17, her audition song was “Almost Like Being in Love.” She humorously recalled how she was always cut off before finishing it at auditions and for the show’s finale she wonderfully sang all of it. At that age, she had the chance to come to New York City to be in an Off-Broadway production of her friend David Baker’s musical. She turned it down to go to college but said she would make her way there after graduation.
“Don’t get too old,” Baker advised her. In this joyous show, Linda Lavin very entertainingly proved that she hasn’t.
Linda Lavin: Starting Over (September 7, and 10-12, 2015)
54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-476-3551 or visit http://www.54below.com
Running time: one hour and 20 minutes with no intermission