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Shirley Jones Celebrates Her Big-Screen High Notes in a Cafe Carlyle Cabaret: Concert Review

Shirley Jones on Stage - H 2014
Courtesy of Michael Wilhoite
Shirley Jones on Stage - H 2014

The Bottom Line

A heartwarming evening of musical nostalgia from a performer who still exudes an image of chirpy, wide-eyed optimism.

Venue

Cafe Carlyle, New York City (runs through March 4)

The Oscar-winning singer-actress performs songs from her classic movie-musicals "Oklahoma," "The Music Man" and "Carousel" in her cabaret show.

Shirley Jones is enough of a show business pro to know where her bread is buttered. Her show at New York’s Cafe Carlyle leans heavily on the classic film musicals that made her a star, featuring extensive material from The Music Man, Oklahoma and Carousel. It’s a heartwarming evening of musical nostalgia from a performer who still exudes an image of chirpy, wide-eyed optimism.

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Turning 80 in a few weeks, the veteran actress/singer has inevitably lost some of the range of her lustrous soprano voice. But she still manages to hit more than a few of the requisite high notes, finessing the rest with admirable technical virtuosity.

The evening begins with a series of clips of her extensive film and television career, including the aforementioned musicals and her Oscar-winning turn as a prostitute in 1960’s Elmer Gantry. There’s also a snippet of her hugely popular ‘70s television series The Partridge Family, although, much to the dismay of the baby boomers in attendance, she delivered only a brief stanza of its theme song, "Come On, Get Happy" -- "That’s all the happiness you’re going to get," she teased.

In between such iconic songs as "If I Loved You," "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man," "Where or When" and "You’ll Never Walk Alone," she regaled the crowd with amusing anecdotes about her life and career, many of which will be familiar to those who read her recent best-selling memoir. She prefaced her rendition of the cabaret war-horse "Send in the Clowns" with a story of its composer Stephen Sondheim telling her that it’s "the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever written." Reminiscing about her many handsome co-stars, she declared Burt Lancaster to be the best kisser and recounted how she fell in love with Richard Widmark, although they never had an affair.

She also amusingly described the start of her career, when as a teenager she impulsively auditioned for a production of Oklahoma during a visit to New York and instantly attracted the attention of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Within a few weeks she was in the chorus of South Pacific, and it wasn’t long after that she left for Hollywood to embark on her successful big-screen career. "I watch Turner Classic Movies every day," she announced. "Of course, I’m on it, too."

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Among the show’s highlights are a swinging version of "This Can’t Be Love" and medleys from Oklahoma! and The Music Man given gently unobtrusive arrangements by her musical director, Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winner John McDaniel.

Set List

If I Loved You
Send in the Clowns
This Can’t Be Love
Where or When
Seventy Six Trombones/Goodnight, My Someone/'Til There Was You
As Time Goes By
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
You Made Me Love You
Oklahoma/Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’/People Will Say We’re in Love/Out of My Dreams
You’ll Never Walk Alone