In the past few years, a number of women singers who have been around quite a long time -- Maxine Sullivan, Sylvia Sims, Kay Starr, Helen Merrill, and Rosemary Clooney to name a few -- have been stepping into the spotlight and proving that maturity and experience are valuable assets. Peggy Lee is the latest singer to do this, with a new show at the Ballroom -- a classy cabaret in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
The performance, as heard on its second night, was a low-key, musically satisfying evening. In fact, Miss Lee could have been in her own living room, she was so relaxed.
Dressed entirely in white satin, fur, and diamonds, with a pure white pageboy and sparkly tinted glasses, she fairly glided through a generally excellent and varied selection of songs, including ``Just One of Those Things,'' ``I'm Gonna Go Fishin' '' (by Duke Ellington, with lyrics by Miss Lee), ``As Time Goes By,'' ``I'm a Woman,'' ``Why Don't You Do Right?'' and ``Johnny Guitar.''
It was a pleasure to hear her soft, velvety voice, which has lost very little of its timbre over the years.
Everything about her presentation was just right, from the perfectly timed lighting by Allan Miller to the splendid backup by Mike Renzi on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, Grady Tate on drums, John Chiodini on guitar, and Mark Sherman on percussion.
Mr. Renzi, who also accompanies Mel Torm'e, is one of the finest in the business.
Miss Lee sang a number of new songs, including the pretty ballad ``Love Dance'' that nearly lulled the audience into a trance, and one of Cy Coleman's latest ditties, ``Just Keep Holdin' On.''
But she didn't neglect her old chestnuts, either. Her renditions of ``Fever'' and the poignantly cynical ``Is that All There Is?'' weren't just tossaways -- they were better than ever.
One of the loveliest moments of the evening was the ballad ``You Are the Wind,'' which she sang with tenderness, sensitively accompanied only by Mike Renzi at the piano.
If she's smooth and relaxed as a singer, Miss Lee is also a droll and deadpan performer. On the one hand, she comes off like the legend she is -- the great prima donna, the grande dame. On the other hand, she turns that image into a joke.
In one of the best songs of the evening, ``I'll Give It All to You,'' to which she wrote the lyrics, she spoofed the legend, describing herself from head to toe in the most pedestrian way imaginable -- ``I'm so glad for the nose on my face, the way it holds my glasses in place,'' and so on.
Then in ``I Won't Dance,'' she did a little mock tap dance -- making sure that her legs and feet were in total darkness.
Peggy Lee is at the Ballroom through July 19.