Music » Critic's Choice

Julie Wilson




The Plaza Tavern, open since February in the First National Plaza space once inhabited by Nick's Fishmarket, is positioning itself as a supper club in the classic New York tradition, hiring Susan Anderson (of the late, lamented Gold Star Sardine Bar) as entertainment director and importing some of Manhattan's top cabaret talent. Its first major headliner, Andy Bey, appeared a couple of weeks ago under a free-admission policy that proved ill-advised (reviewers and fans complained about inattentive, loud-talking audiences), so you'll have to cough up a $15 cover to see Julie Wilson when she opens there this week. Still, that's like paying Ripple prices for fine wine: Wilson, 74, is the undisputed grande dame of cabaret, a consummate dramatic actress and droll comedienne whose medium happens to be music. On her sublime new Sings the George Gershwin Songbook (DRG), her husky, weathered voice is a little less supple but more emotionally expressive than ever; her throaty vibrato and still bitingly precise articulation support intricate, half-spoken phrasings that convey microscopic nuances of thought and feeling. A onetime showgirl--she was in Earl Carroll's Vanities at Chicago's Oriental Theater more than half a century ago, before she went on to star in such golden-age musicals as South Pacific, Bells Are Ringing, and Kiss Me, Kate in the West End and on Broadway--Wilson pays homage to her vaudevillian heritage in her current show, "A Salute to the Ziegfeld Follies," featuring songs by Irving Berlin, Vernon Duke, and a slew of lesser-known composers. Numbers like "St. Louis Woman," "Sadie Green (The Vamp of New Orleans)," and "Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me" may not have the sting or sophistication of the Sondheim and Arlen material she used to perform at the Gold Star, but Wilson's mercurial interpretations--by turns tender, erotic, world-weary, and impassioned--bring new depth to anything she sings. Reservations are required. Tuesday through next Saturday, April 24, and next Tuesday, April 27, through Saturday, May 1, 9 and 11 PM, Plaza Tavern, 70 W. Monroe; 312-977-1940. ALBERT WILLIAMS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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