Judy Kaye’s Club Debut

by John S. Wilson


Judy Kaye, who plays Lily Garland in the musical On the Twentieth Century, is making her nightclub debut at Reno Sweeney this week (she is appearing at 11:30 P.M. through Saturday only) with an act that is so well constructed and executed that one would think she were an old hand instead of a neophyte at nightclubs. A source of much of the polish of her performance is undoubtedly the long list of touring companies that she lists as the preparation for her "overnight" success after she replaced Madeline Kahn in On the Twentieth Century last April.

Miss Kaye arrived on stage as Lily Garland - blond wig, long gown, theatrical effusion. She does her first two numbers in this guise before removing the wig, brushing out her own brunette hair and making a point of showing that she has musical sides other than the comedy character she plays in the Broadway show. She covers a broad range – Hoagy Carmichael and the Beatles, songs from Starting Here, Starting Now and Man of La Mancha; Kenny Rankin, Stevie Wonder and Cole Porter.

In most cases, she outshines her songs. She has a glorious voice and a strong confident, straightforward projection combined with a good interpretive sense of her material. But her voice is so commanding that when she takes advantage of the opportunity to display its rich colors and textures, the songs themselves are reduced to a secondary interest.

There were two notable exceptions when songs, voice and interpretation all came together on one level – the top level.

"The Great Outdoors," done in her Lily Garland costume, was vintage Porter – done with crispness, with style and flair. But "The Tale of the Oyster," an untypical Porter song to which singers tend to apply a Porter style, was wisely removed from the Porter aura and given a cheerful wistfulness with which Miss Kaye brushed in her comedic strokes with a beautiful sense of shading.

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