Liliane Montevecchi – Be My Valentine

 

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by Elizabeth Ahlfors

 

At Feinstein’s/54 Below charismatic Liliane Montevecchi opened her show slyly emerging from the back of the house. With a flirtatious air, she strolled among the tables, singing Charles Aznavour’s, “Je Cherche Un Billionaire.” (Aznavour may have mentioned “millionaire,” but for Montevecchi, today’s economy calls for bigger bucks.) This was the start of an autobiographical evening as effervescent as a flute of fine champagne.

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An irresistible Valentine invitation, Montevecchi traces the peaks and valleys of her life through the American and French songbooks with nods to Cole Porter, Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen as well as Jacques Brel, Aznavour, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  Accompanied by versatile pianist Ian Herman, she sprints through the energy of “Bruxelles” and delivers melodic salutes to French icons, Edith Piaf (“La Vie En Rose”), Mistinguett (“Mon Homme”), and American-born Josephine Baker (“J’ai Deux Amours”).

 

A breezy sense of spontaneity wafts through the show, although Montevecchi is undeniably a disciplined, trained performer. Anecdotes, poignant or humorous, are accentuated with well-placed pauses and generous explosive shrieks of laughter as she smoothly shifts in and out of costumes, creating vignettes of song segments. One flash movement creates a specific mood, donning a black broad brimmed hat and trench coat to remember the grand boulevards of Paris with “Just a Gigolo” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” When she follows this with “Irma La Douce,” mentioning that the film starred Shirley McLaine, Montevecchi quips, “It should have been me” and her rendition of Irma’s regret and despair proves she has a point. Also outstanding is the melancholy aura in her ballads, “Autumn Leaves” “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”

 

 

At 83, Montevecchi remains in peak condition, as svelte and limber as she was in her days as a ballet dancer with Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris and her ten years starring in the Folies Bergère. Wearing a long skirt with a high slit, she stuns viewers with her sky-high leg extensions. She bows from the waist to touch her head on the floor and her glides across the stage are movements of matchless grace. On the vocal side, she does not exactly hit the high notes, but her voice is robust and she delivers the essence of her story with drama and theatricality musicality.

 

 

Montevecchi had a brief M.G.M. career but her fame ignited in the theater, thanks to Tommy Tune, responsible for encouraging her to audition for two Broadway shows he was directing. For Nine in 1982, she received a Tony Award and Grand Hotel earned her a Tony nomination in 1990.

 

 

At the end, though, it is Liliane Montevecchi’s signature passion and joie de vivre, her mischievous charm and captivating chic, that galvanizes this Valentine evening in the memory books.

 

www.Feinstein’s/54Below.com   254 West 54 Street (Cellar)  February 11 thru 13

Photos/Video: Magda Katz

 

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