Sally Wilfert is a Broadway Baby, yet unlike many, she knows how to connect with a cabaret audience. Warm and accessible, the artist personalizes lyrics, sings conversationally and looks into the eyes of audience members making expression seem candid. Enunciation is pristine (unaffected).
“I Happen to Like New York” (Cole Porter) opens this show with grateful return to the stage. Talk about reconnecting with friends introduces Susan Warner’s droll, “What Did You Do to Your Face?” “What’s with the eyes?!/You look like everything’s a total surprise…” leads inevitably to “Was it expensive?” She’s charming.
Admitting she could actually be happy doing nothing but eating Doritos and watching Netflix, Wilfert rebels against passivity with “Some People” (Jule Styne/ Stephen Sondheim from Gypsy). The lady has a curiously unabrasive belt. Phrases soar without stress.
“On My Way to You” (Michel Legrand/ Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman) is dedicated to dear friend, Rebecca Luker who recently passed. It’s utterly lovely. Wilfert and Luker created the marvelous CD All the Girls before and during lockdown. Vocals having been recorded at their last live Merkin Hall concert, they were unable to get into a studio. Just when the ladies thought the project had to be abandoned, musicians were added from their homes.(Produced, Engineered and Mastered by Bart Migal.) For all intents and purposes, she appears to be a blonde beating heart. Piano is caressed.
Tandems include John Denver’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane” with Nancy Griffith/Tom Russel’s ”Outbound Plane”- wherein Wilfert integrates pop warble with theatrical Broadway oomph and James Taylor’s “Millwork” woven with Maureen McGovern, Peter Allen, Michael Renzi’s “I Could Have Been a Sailor.” Perched on a stool, her heels tilt up and eyes close with “…the wind in my face.” The actress offers lots of little signs she feels what she’s performing in addition to tone and countenance.
“Colored Lights” (John Kander/Fred Ebb from The Rink) also particularly brings out the actress who handles the stop/start misremembering adroitly. It’s a splendid song done justice. Dual encores include, “You Light Up My Life” (Joseph Brooks) during which the audience jumps in to accompany its chorus and a nifty, low key ‘Hit the Road to Dreamland” (Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen).
My only caveat is that Wilfert has been directed to make almost every song big. Frisson aside, several of these would have landed more effectively without raising her voice. She has nothing to prove at this point in her career, variety would add, and the artist is clearly able to meaningfully take it down.
Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy
Sally Wilfert at Feinstein’s/54Below
MD/Piano- Joseph Thalken
Director- Annette Jolles