In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening Nancy McCall McGraw sings moving towards the stage. Music perambulates, vocal oscillates. The enthusiastic audience is packed with long time supporters. (Music-Hoagy Carmichael)
“Tonight we’re gonna dip our toes into the river of Johnny Mercer…Early on he wrote with Richard Whiting in Hollywood. When the composer died, Mercer took Whiting’s daughter Margaret under his wing…” “Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?” arrives in a jaunty start/stop arrangement. McGraw plants her feet firmly on the floor. (The Hirschfeld drawing would’ve spot-lit this position.) Her nose crinkles, she bounces.
Like tonight’s celebrant, the musical theater actress, cabaret impresario and performer, was born in Georgia. Perhaps she gravitated to the sensibilities of a fellow southerner as much as to Johnny Mercer’s extraordinary talent. “We were sent to teen cotillions to learn how to dance…I usually did pretty well ‘cause the girls were all taller than the boys, but not me.” McGraw is naturally warm and sympathetic. Though snippets of Mercer’s life help color, more of her own memories might’ve made the show more personal.
“If Some Day Ever Comes Again” (Music-Alec Wilder) is music box waltzy. Yearning emerges . How this leads to “Days of Wine and Roses” (Music-Henry Mancini), however, is a mystery. McGraw moves to a wall as if performing a scene-in-one. Parlando is utilized. Piano keys are stroked. Also affecting, the iconic “Autumn Leaves” taps our own memories.
Leave it to erudite Mark Nadler to unearth “Frasier” which, inspired by a Laguna Beach newspaper story, describes an over-sexed lion having his last big fling. The result is 57 children and a cage full of purring lionesses. Music is playful. McGraw is infectiously tickled. Apparently the beast is buried on Safari Park grounds. Headlines read, “He Loved Himself to Death.” (Music-Jimmy Rowles)
For my money, highlights include two groups of songs. The first, “I Wonder What Became of Me” (Music-Harold Arlen) and “When the World Was Young” (Music-Philippe-Gerard) begins musically loose-limbed and reflective. Like when a baby sees a bubble burst – McGraw rises on her toes – before his eyes…she descends. ‘Young arrives on its heels as if one thought. We believe every word.
The second cluster includes “Whistling Away the Dark”/“Moon River” (Music-Henry Mancini) and “Hit the Road to Dreamland” (Music-Harold Arlen), the latter a duet with Nadler. “Whistling” and “River” are delicate. Vocal quivers create frisson. The duet is convivial, sweet.
McGraw does better without volume dramatics which occur too often and are more a signature of her MD. She’s otherwise expressive. Gestures are minimal and fitting, use of the stage excellent.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
Nancy McCall McGraw sings Johnny Mercer
Director/MD/Arrangements/Piano Mark Nadler
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
February 22, 2o19
Venue Calendar: https://www.westbankcafe.com/laurie-beechman-theatre