Nellie McKay | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Nellie McKay, who just turned 20, is apparently one of those freakishly sheltered children, native mostly to Manhattan, who reach voting age with little awareness of and even less affinity for the mass culture of their generation. But while her influences may be unfashionable among her contemporaries, there are plenty of adults willing to pat the head of any self-consciously precocious musical-theater brat who combines the facile, satiric topicality of Tom Lehrer with the effete harmonies of Manhattan Transfer. So thank Sondheim that McKay is the brat Sony signed: on her debut, Get Away From Me, her virtuosity and exuberance repeatedly overcome the flaws in her sensibility. Geoff Emerick's production touches can be a little stagy, but more often they complement McKay's cabaret-tutored piano work and elastic voice, which smothers words at every stop as it swoops from torch-song murmur to theatrical enunciation. Her ersatz jazz is often more fun than the real thing, and that goes double for her simulated rap: "Sari" is pretty brilliant work for someone who probably discovered hip-hop when Morning Edition interviewed Timbaland. And while her indictments of middle-class complacency tend toward the callow, her worst offender, "I Wanna Get Married," turns out to be a fairly knowing fantasy of idealized shallowness, not a slam on actual stay-at-home moms. As her awareness of her own hypocrisy inevitably accumulates with age, she'll only get better. Alanis Morissette and Barenaked Ladies coheadline. $15-$47. Wednesday, July 21, 6:30 PM, Tweeter Center, I-80 and Harlem, Tinley Park; 708-614-1616 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amy T. Zielinski.

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