There’s no denying that Melba Moore sings her freaking face off in her cabaret act at Cafe Carlyle. Most of the time that’s great, pure diva pleasure, but there are also a handful of times when all of those notes start to get in the way.
Moore is perhaps best remembered for her 1980s hit “You Stepped Into My Life”, but she started on Broadway, firstly in the original production of Hair and then another hit, Purlie, which earned her a Tony Award and rave reviews. She then went on to a career as a disco and r&b diva, and has just released a new r&b single “Love Is”, which she sings toward the show’s conclusion.
She sings “Love Is” with great simplicity and feeling, perhaps because she wants to make sure that this new song gets a hearing the way it was written. Earlier in the evening, however, she gets really flashy singing jazzy arrangements of standards. The show has a subtly chronological structure, going through the songs and artists that influenced Moore, to the songs she sang on Broadway, finishing up with her hits.
It’s revealing that, in tipping her hat to Ella Fitzgerald, Moore chooses to sing “Air Mail Special” Ella’s fastest, flashiest showpiece, rather than something more melodious from the songbooks, say Rodgers and Hart’s “Manhattan” (a song that would be a good fit at the swanky Carlyle). It’s as though Moore is out to prove something about her improvisational abilities and vocal range. Melba, we all know you can turn it out, you just don’t have do turn it out so hard on every song.
The fireworks work best on the standards, especially an impassioned “Stormy Weather” and the concluding “Lean On Me” (the Aretha Franklin song, not the Ben E. King one). All in all a very entertaining and slightly exhausting evening.
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