An ebullient and engaging performer with a fine voice and impressive dance moves, Ms. Collier (a St. Louis native) got the hometown crowd at the Grand Center Bistro on her side from the start with Maury Yeston’s “I Want to Go to Hollywood” (from “Grand Hotel”) and kept them there through her finale, Jule Styne and Leo Robin’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Along the way we got a cheerfully informative traversal of over a dozen songs associated with some of the brightest and (in some cases) brassiest blondes of the silver screen, from Ginger Rogers (Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go” from “Follow the Fleet” in 1936) to Renee Zellweger (“Roxie” from “Chicago,” 2002).
This was a show that pulled off the neat trick of maintaining a consistently high energy level while maintaining a nice sense of pacing and variety. The strategic placement of ballads like Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s “Too Late Now” (from “Royal Wedding,” where it was sung by Jane Powell) and Meredith Willson’s “Good Night, My Someone” (“The Music Man,” Shirley Jones) certainly helped in that regard, but mostly the credit goes to Ms. Collier’s ability to be energetic without ever seeming frenetic. A self-described “up-tempo gal,” Ms. Collier clearly knows her where her strengths lie and how to make the most of them.
Perhaps the most obvious of those strengths is her comic ability, hilariously displayed in songs like Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger’s “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry” (which demonstrates that only a real dancer can be clumsy in a truly funny way) and “I’m Tired,” the classic Dietrich send-up from “Blazing Saddles.” Throw in what appears to be a genuine sense of sheer joy in the act of performing, and you have an irresistible combination.
I also appreciated the fact that “Hollywood Blondes” was informative as well as entertaining. I’m an unabashed fan of the cabaret act that focuses on the music, its creators, and its cultural context, so I found the biographical bits on the women who introduced these songs nearly as enjoyable as the songs themselves. Ms. Collier cannily gave a background sketch of each performer before naming her, turning each each one into a kind of trivia question. As an audience engagement technique, it was both effective and fun.
Accompanying Ms. Collier were the redoubtable Carol Schmidt on piano, Ric Vice on acoustic bass, and Clancy Newell on drums. They all had chances to shine in solos and as a combo played with a polish that was quite impressive, given the brief rehearsal period they had with Ms. Collier and her arrangements. There’s a reason you see the names of these musicians so often on cabaret programs; they’re quick studies and they pay attention to each other and to the star.
Thanks to Robert Breig’s Mariposa Artists for bringing Michelle Collier back to her old hometown. One hopes there will be more such visits in the future. Meanwhile, Mariposa’s next presentation is Palm Springs-based singer Jerome Elliot’s “My Favorite Springs” at The Chapel Venue on Saturday, June 29th; see brownpapertickets.com for details.
Song list for “A Tribute to the Hollywood Blondes”, including the actress who introduced each song:
- Maury Yeston: I Want to Go to Hollywood (Grand Hotel, 1989; the only song not from a film)
- Irving Berlin: Let Yourself Go (Follow the Fleet, 1936) (Ginger Rogers)
- Harry Warren and Mac Gordon: Down Argentine Way (1940) (Betty Grable)
- Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger: Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry (The Fleet’s In, 1942) (Betty Hutton)
- Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner: Too Late Now (Royal Wedding, 1951) (Jane Powell)
- Cyril Mockridge and Leigh Harline: I’m Gonna Stake My Claim (River of No Return, 1954) (Marilyn Monroe)
- Andre Previn and Comden and Green: Thanks a Lot But No Thanks (It’s Always Fair Weather, 1955) (Dolores Gray)
- Irving Berlin: Shaking the Blues Away (Love or Leave Me, 1955; originally recorded by Ruth Ettig in 1927) (Doris Day)
- Rodgers and Hammerstein: Honey Bun (South Pacific, 1958) (Mitzi Gaynor)
- Meredith Willson: Goodnight My Someone (The Music Man, 1962) (Shirley Jones)
- Mel Brooks: I’m Tired (Blazing Saddles, 1974) (Madeline Kahn)
- John Farrar: Hopelessly Devoted to You (Grease, 1978) (Olivia Newton-John)
- Shel Silverstein: I’m Checkin’ Out (Of This Heatrbreak Hotel) (Postcards from the Edge, 1990) (Meryl Streep)
- Kander and Ebb: Roxie (Chicago, 2002) (Renee Zellweger)
- Jule Styne and Leo Robin: Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953) (Marilyn Monroe)