The last time Tammy Grimes was in town, it was as the temperamental star in the archetypal backstage musical, "42nd Street." Now she's returned for a week to perform her cabaret act at Charlie's in Georgetown and is displaying a far more romantic and elusive presence.
It's all too easy to say that Grimes is unlike anyone else. The truth is, she is like many women, all of them different. Depending on which way the light and a song catches her, she can be mysterious, brassy, winsome, childish, or even gently, but rather incontestably, mad.
Her voice could never be mistaken for that of anyone else, although it, too, summons up a wide range of associations. It has a viscous quality, somewhere between honey and motor oil, that manifests itself in a sinuous gurgle or a determined purr. By the same token, her vocal chords often seem brushed with rust, which accounts for the plaintiveness, a kind of autumnal sadness. She is also a husky singer, and she can take a standard like "Where or When" and make it sound as if wind is sweeping through the lyrics.
At Charlie's, her 45-minute set concentrates mostly on songs of love -- some celebrated, others not. They go from classic Noel Coward ("I'll See You Again") and lesser-known Kurt Weill ("It Never Was You") to a good old country-western waltz ("Could I Have This Dance?"). In all of them, Grimes chases after shadows, memories, a face in the crowd, the times of youth. The mood may change from number to number, but whether it is feather-light or bitter and ironic, she seems equally possessed by the material.
Like the European chanteuse, Grimes is both singer and actress, and it is the actress who extends what is a fairly limited musical range. Her notes are not always unerring, but her emotions are. The bewitchment is on view twice nightly (8 and 10) through Sunday, with a midnight show, as well, on Saturday.