Evoking ’50s Glamour, Through Teasing Taunts
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published June 8, 2011
Ah, Paree! As the statuesque French chanteuse Yanna Avis sang Cole Porter’s great ode to the City of Light, “You Don’t Know Paree,” on a recent evening, a composite view of the city as imagined by Balzac, Zola and of course, Porter himself, flickered in my imagination. “Until you’ve lived a lot, and loved a lot, and lost a lot, you don’t know Paree,” go lyrics that Ms. Avis, a soigné international beauty, sang with a wry understanding.
Both Ms. Avis and her show at the Metropolitan Room are throwbacks to a cabaret style that flourished in New York in the 1950s and early ’60s in which traditional glamour and high style were the thing. Nothing must disturb the playfully naughty Folies Bergè re spirits in which bittersweet moments are thrown in for contrast. The songs concentrate on appearances and the competitive erotic games indulged in by courtiers in a world of unbounded leisure; the only enemy is boredom.
Ms. Avis, who sings in French, English and German, is neither a deep interpreter nor a polished vocal technician. But her mildly husky voice, hesitant phrasing and Continental attitude were enough to carry a show on June 1 in which her musicians (David Shenton on piano, David Finck on bass and Patrick Farrell on accordion) provided solid support.
Ms. Avis, elegantly attired, illustrated songs with gestures and poses from the fashion magazine playbook. Hitched together, the standards “My Old Flame” and “I Remember You” became a teasing guessing game. (Which statement is true, “I can’t even think of his name?” or “I remember you?”) In “Aprè s Moi,” an old Eartha Kitt song, the singer taunts a romantic rival by declaring she’ll be the first to enjoy their mutual object of desire. Whether or not blondes are dangerous is the question posed by “Blonde Woman,” a Friedrich Hollander song associated with Marlene Dietrich.
“My Man” was sung in tribute to the French music-hall legend Mistinguett, who popularized it in 1916 as “Mon Homme,” several years before Fanny Brice recorded it. The show is a textbook study in how different French cabaret is from American. Its essence is distilled in a word heard less and less nowadays: chic.
An earlier version of this review misstated the surname of David Shenton, Ms. Avis’s pianist.
The show will be repeated Monday and Wednesday at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 206-0440, metropolitanroom.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 10, 2011
A music review on Thursday about the singer Yanna Avis, at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan, misstated the surname of her pianist. He is David Shenton, not Shelton.