Review: Jane Krakowski at the Kennedy Center

Jane Krakowski, shown at last month's Emmys, had vocal problems Saturday at the Terrace Theater.
Jane Krakowski, shown at last month's Emmys, had vocal problems Saturday at the Terrace Theater. (By Jason Merritt -- Getty Images)
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By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 5, 2009

Jane Krakowski led with strength Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, revving up her kittenish charm as she lolled on the piano and crooned "The Laziest Gal in Town." Strapless red satin dress, come-hither purr, suggestive punch lines landing effortlessly -- yeah, she made an impression.

Not everything went so well, however, in what the star of stage (she's a Tony winner for the musical "Nine") and small screen ("Ally McBeal," "30 Rock") said was her first venture into cabaret. "Sick and under-rehearsed" is how Krakowski apologetically described the state of things, and in fact she steadily lost her voice during the first of two shows at the Terrace Theater.

Yet she was a trouper about it, and she managed to give the enthusiastic capacity audience a surprisingly good time. It wasn't a vocally demanding show, anyway; Krakowski presented herself not as an ambitious jazz chanteuse but as a throwback musical comedy star.

The songs she chose with music director and pianist Michael Kosarin skewed toward the comic and departed freely from the Broadway standards that typically (and naturally) govern the Barbara Cook's Spotlight Series at the Kennedy Center. Where most stage singers bow to Stephen Sondheim or Rodgers and Hammerstein, Krakowski invoked Gwen Stefani and Ann-Margret. The Stefani gloss came during a rap passage neatly inserted into "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and the updated rhymes were clever. She not only rhymed her own name with "Lebowski" but cutely went gangsta and self-referential by chanting, "One rock ain't enough -- hell, let's make it 30."

The Ann-Margret number was "13 Men," which Krakowski performed with a mini-shimmy as the guitarist in her five-piece band supplied the lightly funky "wock-a-wock" licks that instantly brought 1960s variety shows to mind. This seemed like Krakowski's element, rather than, say, the weary lilt of "Ten Cents a Dance," although that number briefly showed off her solid Broadway pipes. (She had enough voice to push through to the end of the set.)

Krakowski is slated for a few weeks at a Manhattan club later this month, so presumably her voice will be stronger and the act will be honed. On Saturday the band members still seemed to be familiarizing themselves with the material, and Krakowski frequently glanced toward her music stand for lyrics and segue tales.

The audience wasn't fazed; as the athletic scouts say of promising young players, Krakowski has a big "upside" in cabaret. She's personable and funny, fearless enough to duet with just her bassist for a sultry "Handy Man" or wing it with fresh, dishy new Twitter-themed lyrics to Rodgers and Hart's "Zip," created especially for her by "Hairspray" writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Even under the weather, she sparkled.

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