By ROB LESTER****I don’t know if she can ride a bicycle, too, but if cabaret is like riding a bicycle, to invoke an old saying, and you just get back in the seat and pedal and what you learned is all there, then Tennie Leonard is clearly in the driver’s seat and riding high. She (re)cycles her career and act after her second career intermission. At the end of a very satisfying, successful first night of her “back onstage where she belongs” return, she graciously thanked the venue and the audience, expert sound/lighting man J-P Perreaux (Oui, un ami du Metropolitan Room), sublime music director Ian Herman, veteran director Scott Barnes who guided her now and back when, booking manager Sidney Myer and the very full audience, she also thanked her daughter, Lauren, who convinced her to get back on the horse…I mean, the bicycle….I mean, the stage. I think there was a general consensus in the happy crowd that we should definitely be expressing our thanks to Lauren, too, for the nag, the noodge, the notion, the nice effort that ended this too-long break. So, thanks, Lauren. And don’t tell Mama, but Mama might be called back to Don’t Tell Mama before she can catch her breath for a return of The Return Show. And many happy returns. And many happy return customers. Your mom is the very definition of an old-school cabaret old pro who has “still got it.” Ms. Leonard, you may turn in your AARP card because your fans are not letting you retire again. The final two time slots you’ve booked at the nightclub—December 10 (at 4:30 PM) and the no-longer-superstitiously unlucky night of the 13th — are just the beginning of a new beginning.
Beginning with a bang, with “Golden Rainbow,” a song asking for luck and dreams, seemed to bring a lucky and dream-fulfilling start. She sounded vibrant and upbeat and strong and rarely showed any evidence of a layoff before the eventual playoff after “Better” (Ed Kleban), which couldn’t be bettered. But, of course, there was an encore. After all, after all was said and done, this WAS classic cabaret. And the encore was embraced eagerly. Along the way, there were gems with new shine, such as Cole Porter’s diamond-like “Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)” rising to new heights and burnished gold with Goldenberg & the Bergmans’ “Fifty Percent” which she delivered with 100 percent authenticity.
If asked for a quibble or two, I’d say that I wished she talked more and showed some of her mischievous side earlier. She has stories to tell that she only drops hints about (sharing a 300-pound bodyguard with Frank Sinatra, playing legendary posh rooms of another era, Brenda Lee in the adjacent recording booth in Nashville). A parody using a certain musical theatre warhorse as a comment on the woes of short-term memory frustrations might have been a welcome leavening earlier in the set and cemented a more rounded impression of her ingratiating personality with less of a wait for that welcome change of pace which could have been an ice-breaker.
Ian Herman is a simpatico and top-drawer piano man who brings drive and anchoring. He gets to really take the wheel and show more of his wheelhouse with a rollickingly jazzy “Day In, Day Out” and another such opportunity to stretch out would be a good idea. They seemed to be very much on the same wavelength and brought the audience —ready, willing and enabled — into their musical world. And what a rich world it is– rich voice, richly satisfying material…Isn’t it rich? Are they a pair? Quite.
So, if YOU know how to ride a bicycle, or can afford a cab on top of cover and minimum, or have a golden ticket called a MetroCard, are in walking distance, head to 343 West 46 Street on the 10th or 13th. I almost had to rent a boat to row to Restaurant Row that first night in a downpour, but the rain didn’t dampen my spirits or those of my soggy fellow listeners toting umbrellas and several toting flowers for the return of a favorite. And certainly the anticipation didn’t become bothered by the precipitation, even if the coincidental early-in-the-set appearance of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen’s “Right as the Rain” wasn’t noted. Everything here and now in the show titled Here and Now seems as right as the rain we need to make cabaret flowers bloom again. Good to have Tennie Leonard in the cabaret garden again, her career coming around and around again, like a bicycle wheel with the “re-tire” pun too tired to invoke in the spoke, so I will just speak now and forever hold my peace after I say, “Treat yourself to a classy show and go.”