Spider Saloff likes to dip a toe in jazz, keeping her rhythms relatively limber and indulging in an occasional scat chorus. But she remains primarily a cabaret singer--in fact, the best cabaret singer gigging regularly in Chicago. In mid-September she warmed up for her current three-week engagement--and closed out the first century AG (after Gershwin)--with a pair of supper-and-stage shows devoted entirely to George Gershwin's music. Gershwin and his brother Ira (the lyricist) did most of their work for stage and film musicals, but Saloff feels no need to lift her interpretations directly from their scripts--or to emulate the heroines of those old movies and plays. Besides, I doubt that the original cast of The French Doll could've dared to raise temperatures in 1922 the way Saloff does with her quietly lusty version of that show's "(Please) Do It Again"; and I don't think her stately, mature rendition of "Ask Me Again" (a song discovered five decades after George's death) would've made sense inside the helter-skelter plot of a Roaring Twenties musical. Saloff imbues the material with a casual, breezy majesty, reminding us that the Gershwins wrote those songs to be not just romantic but iconic. And when she takes the low road, like she does on an obscure comic tune called "Vodka"--growing tipsier with every chorus, ending up sprawled across the grand piano--she plays it broad enough to get a laugh without ever losing her timing. Saloff has an occasional problem with intonation, but her highest notes, sung in a Broadway vibrato, always find their mark. Her current show includes not just Gershwin but songs by his few peers and many successors; she'll lean on a crackerjack trio led by pianist Jeremy Kahn. Friday and Saturday, 9 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, 8:30 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, October 9 and 10, 9 PM, Metropole Room, Fairmont Hotel, Illinois Center, 200 N. Columbus; 312-565-7444. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.