Nacha Guevara puts enough spin on her one-woman revue to elevate a clever cabaret performance to theater. When she sings in Spanish, for a quarter of the show, the ballads rival Piaf at her most stirring.

"Nacha," in its world premiere at the Terrace Theater, is a sophisticated assortment of songs -- by Jacques Brel, Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim and others -- deftly arranged by Guevara's musical director and husband Alberto Favero. (The native Argentinians were forced out of their country by right-wing extremists in 1974 and settled in Mexico. She's well-known in South America and has found a New York patron in producer Harold Prince.)

There is nothing trite about Guevara's music-hall manner: she even rescues Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns" from cliche, singing new Spanish lyrics into a mirror, her back to the audience. Mime and ballet movements come naturally to her long, lithe frame. And the staging is witty; all that's missing is a light touch. Studied tension and serious pantomime heighten dramatic climaxes but slow the humorous numbers.

Four Spanish torchers, including the theme from "Evita," are most moving, showing off a no-nonsense voice. But when she loosens up on "Hate Song" ("Stamp out hate/lash it with a switch. . ."), building to a perfectly hostile finish, Guevara is funny. NACHA -- At the Kennedy Center through Oct. 30.