Sally was darling in “Matters of the Heart” at Don’t Tell Mama on Manhattan’s 46th Street. She sang her heart out in a moving tribute to those things that pull at the heartstrings of our lives and just in time for Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season when people reflect on matters they hold dear. She made the lyrics come alive with her great interpretative skills, taking her audience to places that perhaps they had not visited in a while, where major events happened in their lives, places where, whether happy or sad, they felt something. With her great sense of humor, she intertwined a number of witty quotes in-between songs as well which made everyone laugh regardless of what memory the song stirred up in them.
For example, after beginning her repertoire with “Zing Went the Strings of my Heart” and “It Was Always You,” she joked that her musical director, Matthew Martin Ward, who was also her piano accompanist, cheated his mother. She then retracted the comment, admitting she had maligned him, and offered up a quote from President Bill Clinton, who said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” Speaking about another song she sang, “What Would You Do?,” she used a quote from Erma Bombeck to make the point about how we change with age. The witty author said, “The only reason I would take up jogging is so I could hear heavy breathing again.” After singing “Misalliance,” Sally treated everyone to this irresistible quote from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”
The small venue was packed and Sally, who has a commanding stage presence, kept the audience engaged, even pulling them in to sing a Beatles song with her, “All You Need is Love;” this was right after she sang “In My Life” which was followed by Matthew’s heartfelt vocal of “The Fool on the Hill.” Although his primary role was to play the piano, Matthew took part in some of the singing as well and when they sang together, their voices complemented each other’s joyously and resonated throughout the room. There was real chemistry there. Some of the numbers were uplifting while others were melancholy but Sally made you feel the lyrics no matter what the mood. “Always on My Mind” and “Touch Me in the Morning” were among them.
One particularly powerful song was “I Wish It So” taken from Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret on Nazi Germany. It is about a woman named Fraulein Schneider who is pressed to leave her home and all that she
holds dear to live in a foreign country and speak a foreign language. As Sally put it, “It can take a lot of strength to hold on, but sometimes you have to be even stronger to let go.”
Sally, who has enjoyed a successful career in the entertainment business, is a natural on stage and kept the attention of the exuberant crowd before her throughout the hour-long show. Growing up in a singing and acting family, Sally has led an interesting life; besides her other talents, she is a masterful ballroom dancer and many of her dancing friends were in the audience. She ended her show on a note that celebrated this artful expression which she describes as very dear to her heart, by singing, “Stairway to Paradise.” Sally can waltz, foxtrot, swing, hustle, tango, rhumba and do all the other dance moves out there with the best of them; with her tall, elegant stature and magnificent poise, that must be quite a sight to see.
She once worked with Barry Manilow, back in the ’60s, before he became a household name. They performed together in a very off-Broadway play called The Drunkard, a melodrama set in Victorian times that was revised into a musical. Barry played the piano and composed some of the songs but, yearning to be a singer as well, he prompted Sally to let him harmonize with her on the song, “Out of This World.” Sally said that, like Bette Midler, she found him to be a wonderful accompanist. In fact, she said he’s the best she’s ever worked with other than Matthew, although his predecessor, Paul Trueblood, was masterful as well; Paul died unexpectedly in 2012 and she was put in touch with Matthew a week later; they connected immediately and have been together ever since. Sally writes, directs and produces her own shows, but Matthew collaborates with her on the songs; they find, arrange, and create the musical program together. Matthew is also the regular pianist for The Isadora Duncan Dance Company and is a composer himself.
When she is not performing on stage, Sally records books for the Library of Congress’ Talking Books program which reads to the blind. She also reads for Recorded Books. She was chosen out of more than 100 women who auditioned to read To Kill a Mockingbird and received rave reviews. It must be that great vocal ability of hers to interpret the words and convey their meaning to all who listen. In all, Sally has recorded more than 250 fiction and nonfiction books.
Key to Sally’s ability to draw in her audience is the unique quality of her voice which is not only powerful but takes you to the heart of the message. Reflecting on this gift in her own words, Sally says, “Every song, like every book, has its own story. In singing, I try to tell that story, to express it through my voice; diction matters here as well. If you don’t have the words, you can’t get the story. It is the immersion in each song that I love, expressing each according to its demands.”
Sally has had a very versatile career. Besides acting, singing, directing, producing, dancing and reading for the blind, she has staged opera and read for the symphony orchestra (“The Carnival of the Animals,’ “Façade”). Her first professional job was to play the role of Anna in The King and I. She has coached and staged cabaret performances but one of her favorite things to do is her own cabarets.
If you missed Sally’s performance of “Matters of the Heart” at Don’t Tell Mama, you have one more opportunity. She will do an encore presentation of this enchanting cabaret on Saturday, December 6th at 5:00 PM.
Sally Darling: “Matters of the Heart” (November 23 and December 6, 2014)
Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-757-0788 (after 4 PM daily) or visit http://www.don’ttellmamanyc.com/shows
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission