Shirley Jones is a treasure. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. She grew up in Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Sang all the time as a kid. Came to New York for a visit when she was in her late teens. Her piano playing chum told her about an open call for the South Pacific chorus. She sang for a man of whom she had never heard, Richard Rogers. He called his partner, another unknown, Oscar Hammerstein. When the audition pianist had to leave they swanned across the street to where the Philharmonic was rehearsing, and she auditioned with the orchestra as her accompaniment. Got the job. Duh.
Prior to this Ms. Jones was on her way to veterinary school. It is the loss of animals all over the kingdom that she never made it. And of course their loss is our gain.
Six months after this audition Jones was cast in the movie (or as she affectionately calls it the motion picture) Oklahoma. This was followed by Carousel – both opposite Gordon MacRae. Then came her surprising role in Elmer Gantry as Lulu Baines, a jilted lover turned prostitute, that won her an Academy Award. After that she returned to her high button shoes and played opposite Robert Preston, the original Music Man on Broadway and the personal choice of Rogers and Hammerstein. The studios wanted Frank Sinatra but the writers wouldn’t grant permission for that. Instead they demanded Preston get the role.
She was next featured on that bit of television cotton candy The Partridge Family. From 1970-1974 she was the center of this teenage universe. Since then she has kept her tow in the water, appearing on stage and television as well as the occasional film. Last year saw the successful publishing of her book Shirley Jones: A Memoir.
It is the American musical that holds her heart, however, and in her wonderful show at the Cafe Carlyle it is to Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Hart that she returns. Ballads are her strength and specialty these days. This is a woman with a past. Her history is rich and her life’s experiences show on her face and in her perspective on life. How lovely to see a woman rejoicing in who and what she is. No hiding behind a mountain of plastic surgery for this gal. She has earned the right to say what she thinks and sing what she wants.
In addition to the above gents, Jones also includes Sondheim with a rich interpretation of Send In The Clowns. An extended nod goes to Meredith Wilson and The Music Man, which Jones labels “the best musical EVER”. More classics follow: Herman Hupfeld’s As Time Goes By and You Made Me Love You by Monaco & McCarthy.
With each of these songs Jones MAKES you listen. It is the story she is giving you. The music is a bonus. We are the clowns. The horns in the Music Man’s parade were dazzling, each one. A kiss is still magic no matter the decade. Love can be wheedled out a person no matter how they resist. Hopes and dreams and heartbreak and tender mercies are under our noses. All we have to do is breathe it in Jones, who has kissed more men than you can shake a stick at and has the video to prove it, knows all of this. She has lived a life in front of us. She is an icon imprinted on our very innards.
I’m so nervous! She told us after the first number. And why not? Jones has no time for faking or pretending. But as the night went on, the nerves passed, and we all settled in for a visit with an old friend accompanied to perfection by her trio headed by John McDaniel (Music Director and Piano) .
We didn’t know how much we missed her till she surprised us and showed up at the kitchen door. I say we never let her go away again.
An Evening with Shirley Jones will run Tuesday – Friday at 8:45pm; and Saturday at 8:45pm & 10:45pm. Tickets are $70 ($120 for premium seating, $50 for bar seating) Tuesday ~ Thursday & the Saturday late show; and $80 ($130 for premium seating, $60 for bar seating) on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made at www.thecarly1e.com or by phone at 212.744.1600. Cafe Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).