Saturday night Betty Rhodes, musical-theater performer turned supper-club singer, attempted to evoke the smoke, intimate, atmosphere of a cabaret in the Terrace Theater without any of the props. The balance between brazen camp and maudin vulnerability, the off-color jokes and dramatic gestures, while possibly perfect on Broadway, seemed inappropriate to the elegance of the Kennedy Center.
Her show relied heavily on camp poses. She entered on the back of a chaffeur-driven motorcycle. Clad in slinky beige satin that looked more like a nightgown than a dress, with an orange-red boa around her shoulders, she smacked more of the put-on than the come-on.
Rhodes' voice is Broadway-brash-tough and sharp and witty, but sometimes verging on strident or abrasive. Yet on a song like "Summer the First Time," that voice is a perfect foil for the sentiments. Her rendition was both poignant and powerful.
Rhodes has a flair for impressions, and in a '50s medley, her approximations of Teresa Brewer and Kay Starr were charmingly precise. But it may be that facility that results in a certain characterlessness: Her style is not singular enough to make her voice sing in your mind after the show is over.