By Massimo Iacoboni
There is something wonderfully nostalgic about Café Carlyle, the revered, exclusive music venue on Madison Avenue that remains a bastion of old New York’s esthetics. It is part of an increasingly small coterie of old-fashioned luxury establishments that includes such icons as the 21 Club and The Russian Tea Room.
The small, windowless, frescoed room is a delectable time-warp and as precious as a Parisian chocolate box, the kind embellished by gilded lining, hand-crafted wrapping paper and satin ribbon.
Just as familiar was the set list of cabaret standards the audience was treated to, a somewhat expected checklist of classics that included Every Time We Say Good Bye by Cole Porter and Nice Work If You Can Get It by George Gershwin. Both Porter and Gershwin feature heavily in the repertoire of this debut engagement at the Café, where the singer appears through June 3.
Ms. Bennett has been performing alongside her father since she could walk and talk. Some of her early performances were shared with legendary American icons Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie and Don Rickles. Growing up with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Gene Kelly, it was inevitable she would inherit a passion for the arts.
Teach Me Tonight by Gene de Paul and Fascinating Rhythm by George Gershwin, the two opening numbers, offered an immediate measure of her vocal attributes. Ms. Bennett’s timbre is light and whispery, but her low notes tend to evaporate quickly, and there was a certain blandness in her reading of the lyrics.
She was more engaging in the third song, Pennies From Heaven, to which she brought an appropriate blend of lightheartedness and swing, and seemed equally at ease with Embraceable You, also by Gershwin, which suited her mellow, sensual tones.
Next on the program was the cheeky Nice Work If You Can Get It, one of nine songs George Gershwin wrote for the movie A Damsel in Distress, in which it was performed by Fred Astaire with backing vocals provided by The Stafford Sisters. Ms. Bennett’s rendition, however, felt like a missed opportunity, one she could have used to showcase a livelier, more extroverted approach.
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, by Jimmy McHugh, was sung as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, who, Ms. Bennett’s reminded us, would have been 100 this year. Unfortunately, it lacked both the vibrancy and rhythm commonly associated with the Queen of Jazz. Every Time We Say Goodbye and Our Love Is Here To Stay by Gershwin, and From This Moment On by Cole Porter, among others, rounded out the program, which on the whole lacked the intense emotional involvement in lyrics and meticulous phrasing that Ms. Bennett’s father continues to bring to the American songbook.
Antonia Bennett is at Café Carlyle until June 3rd, with Spike Wilner, Piano; Paul Newinsky, Bass: Anthony Pinciotti, Drums.