Keely Smith is one of those performers whom I think should be a gay icon, but for some reason isn’t. It could be because in her early career she was her husband’s second banana—she first came to fame as the “girl singer” who performed with late Vegas luminary Louis Prima, the guy who first sang “Just a Gigolo “ and “Jump, Jive and Wail.” She was, nonetheless, a great favorite of such leading lights as Count Basie, Elvis Presley and JFK.
Smith, currently at the Café Carlyle, is simply the most relaxed performer I’ve ever seen in a cabaret; full of raucous jokes about how she likes much younger men. She claims to be “too old” for the up-tempo numbers that she and Louis sang (but not too old for sex, she notes). Still, Keely delivers lots of rhythmic pow for those songs, enough pow for several powder kegs. But it’s the ballads where Smith really shines, delivering such sophisticated fare as “The Way You Look Tonight” in a burnished, glowing alto that drips with warmth. Whether you like it hot and hard-driving or cool and smooth, Smith does it all with breathtaking ease.