“A cumba, cumba, cumba” and “A bongo, bongo, bongo” go the lyrics of “Cumbanchero,” a lively Latin number that Lucie Arnaz used as the irrepressibly upbeat finish to her 90-minute set at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Friday night.
The song was a tribute to her father, Desi Arnaz, and the jazz trio led by pianist and music director Ron Abel made it sound like a wild party, with the lanky singer, now 62, dancing joyfully in the middle of it. Arnaz followed with a tribute to mom Lucille Ball, too, singing “Hey! Look Me Over!” from the 1960 Cy Coleman musical “Wildcat,” Ball’s only appearance of Broadway.
There’s no getting around the family history, of course. Arnaz seemed fine with that, even if she opened with a video montage reminding audiences that she’s sustained a long showbiz career of her own. (Her musicals include “They’re Playing Our Song” on Broadway and “The Witches of Eastwick” in London; in 1985, she had her own sitcom on CBS.) That borderline-cheesy video and an aggressively sassy “Lulu’s Back in Town” suggested that the evening might smack of a Vegas lounge.
Luckily, Arnaz turned out to be better company than that. Her between-songs patter was frank and funny, and while you wouldn’t call her a pure singer, her range is good and her rhythm is splendid. A lonely take on Cole Porter’s dusky “It’s All Right With Me” surged into a zippy “Something’s Got to Give,” and the Patsy Cline standard “Walkin’ After Midnight” was briskly mashed together with “Lullaby of Birdland.”
Arnaz clowned around with a rebuke to the inane Willie Nelson-Julio Iglesias hit “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” by imagining a Dolly Parton-Charo “To All the Boys” (her Dolly lacked flavor, but her Charo was nicely ditzy). Dramatically, the high point was a heartfelt take on “Just a Housewife,” an ode from the musical “Working.”
“Cumbanchero” was something else, though. Arnaz has a “Latin Roots” act that she sometimes tours, and as she twisted instinctively and sang with fire, you could picture what a zesty, Cuban-flavored evening that might be.