The fragrance of aged wood, comfort-of-home seats and, mirabile auditu, no electronic amplification enhanced Joan Morris' and William Bolcum's survey of Vintage American Song Saturday night at the new Wolf Trap Barns.
With pianist Bolcum supplying historical commentary and Morris assuming numerous musical roles, the revue moved from turn-of-the-century tear-jerkers to ragtime novelties to burlesque come-ons to Broadway showpieces to classic ballads of the late '20s. Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Sissle and Blake, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Scott Joplin and Mayor Jimmy Walker were among the credits.
Morris sulked and teased, warbled and soared, declaimed haltingly and tongue-tripped a mile a minute. She was alternately silken-voiced songstress, music hall flirt and rubber-faced comedian. Her rolling eyes and air-sculpting hands added meaning merely suggested by the lyrics. Bolcum's accompaniment, ingeniously and sensitively appropriate throughout the program, was now Gay Nineties parlor piano, now Perils of Pauline melodrama, now syncopated boost, now Tin Pan Alley torch song support. His showcase of three Joplin numbers, including the seldom-heard "Searchlight Rag," proved his mastery of the idiom and an emotional commitment to a genre nearly beaten to death a few years ago.
Three decades of song, from "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" to "It Might as Well Be Spring," and still their audience wouldn't let them go. They finally made it offstage after a third encore, Morris' tongue-in-cheek delivery of "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise," a zany catalog of culinary horrors penned by Bolcum.