An Evening with Shirley Jones at Café Carlyle

Clear as a bell I remember being taken to the Rivoli, a first-run movie palace on Broadway, to see the film Oklahoma! starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Her freshness and lovely soprano was transporting. Seeing her so many years later onstage at the intimate, elegant Café Carlyle conjures the same thrill, her warmth and elegance filling the room. She began her show with a short video of her career, from musical theater ingénue to Academy Award winning prostitute to beloved sitcom mom.

Songs from the musicals Oklahoma!, Carousel and The Music Man filled most of the program. She wisely added songs by Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hart to show off different facets of her voice. At age 80 Shirley Jones’ voice cannot be expected to have the same pretty operetta-like glint it once had. Ms. Jones clearly understands that her persona, at least as understood by the general public, is one of charm and sweetness—despite indications to the contrary in her autobiography! She’s not a red hot mama or a jazz improviser. And, who cares if her voice isn’t as glistening as it once was? Standing up there on the tiny Café Carlyle stage, she quietly held us all in the palm of her hand with her easygoing grace and wonderful vignettes of her sixty-plus year career, which included her being discovered as a naïve kid by Richard Rodgers and being handpicked by Burt Lancaster—her favorite on-screen kisser!—for her Oscar winning portrayal of prostitute Lulu Baines in Elmer Gantry.

Accompanied by the easygoing and talented music director John McDaniel on piano, Ray Machica on drums and Tom Hubbard on bass, all experienced cabaret musicians, her song list included the expected Rodgers and Hammerstein classics “If I Loved You,” “Oklahoma,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “People Will Say We’re In Love.” Two of these R&H classics stood out. “Out of My Dreams” brought out a girlish dreaminess in Ms. Jones. “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which ended the program, showed off the “mezzo” in her soprano—her most powerful singing of the evening.

The soft voiced interpretation of Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns”—which she claimed Sondheim called “crappy”—was poignant, taking advantage of her age. Also deeply felt was “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld). The best fit for her voice was “You Made Me Love You” (James V. Monaco/Joe McCarthy).

This is a very rare opportunity to see a living legend up close and personal. The fact that she is appearing at the equally legendary Café Carlyle is merely a plus.

Shirley Jones
An Evening With Shirley Jones (through March 15th, 2014)
Café Carlyle in The Carlyle
35 East 76th St. at Madison Ave.
New York, NY
Reservations: 212-744-1600 or www.thecarlyle.com