Monday, April 8, 2013

Darling Liliane

She stalks the stage like a tigress, long, lean, lithe. Whippet thin and yet all woman -- not a hint of a waif-like urchin, or the trace of the athletic tomboy. Markedly French, deliciously feminine, intoxicatingly glamorous: we could only be describing Liliane Montevecchi, the feather boa-ed diva of MGM pictures; the Folies Bergère; the original Broadway production of Nine, which won her a Tony; and, now, a new one woman act entitled Hello, Darlings, which opened last night at 54 Below.

Taking the stage in all black, the left leg of her flowing pants slit and ruffled up the thigh to expose a leg to make Dietrich and Charisse sigh in envy, La Montevecchi held us all enthralled with her throaty, expressive voice and exquisite presence. The song program held few true surprises ("La Vie En Rose"? Check. "Les Feuilles Morte [Autumn Leaves]"? Check. "Ne Me Quitte Pas"? Check.), but what counted was the presentation. It was a master class in owning a stage, and commanding an audience. It was absolutely compelling. This sophisticated, New York audience banged tables, shouted anguished declarations of love, screamed and "Brava!"-ed. 

Liliane Montevecchi in the 1950's: the legs look even better today.
We are also happy to report that we can now add "made our nightclub debut" to our resume -- we were summoned with one of La Montevecchi's elegant, flawlessly lacquered fingers to the stage. Truth be told, we didn't have to do much -- in fact, "You just sort of stand there... Don't move!" as "our" number instructed. Yes, darlings, last night, we were Liliane Montevecchi's human prop for "A New Fangled Tango." When we first stepped into the spotlight, we looked out at the audience. "Don't look at them!" La Montevecchi said sharply, in a tone worthy of Gloria Swanson. "Only look at me!" Of course, we did as we were told. And it wasn't difficult to do, with those enormous, coal-black eyes of hers rooting us firmly in place.

When the song ended, we stood still for a moment as the crowd applauded. In what we imagined displayed crack comic timing, we stage whispered out of the corner of our mouth, "May I move now?" Exiting the nightclub some time later, we stopped by the table of Marilyn Maye, who just wrapped up her own triumphant, two-weeks-long-and-then-some-by-popular-demand run at 54 Below (read about it here). "Honey, a star is born!" she joked. It was only after we stepped outside and began our walk home that we suddenly went weak in the knees, and everything seemed a little blurry. My God, we realized. We had just been on stage with Liliane Montevecchi, in front of Marilyn Maye. And Tommy Tune. And Arlene Dahl. And heaven knows who else. (Ms. Montevecchi isn't big on celebrity introductions from the stage.) Oh, all we had to do was stand still and be a stooge, but what a great audience to be a stooge for! 

Arlene Dahl
Tommy Tune
Marvelous Marilyn Maye
It was a thrilling evening of stories, songs, and leg lifting (yes, she can still raise one above her head without hesitation) and Liliane Montevecchi is only performing one more show at 54 Below, tonight. See you on the stage!

Buy tickets here.

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