By Karen Feld
For years Peter Marshall hosted TV celebrities on Hollywood Squares. And now it feels as though the gracious and relaxed entertainer is hosting us at a cabaret in his intimate living room. “And Then She Wrote,” his first major club appearance in 60 years, opened at the Metropolitan Room Friday evening. This delightful show spans generations from America’s Songbook.
Marshall, an energetic 86, who began his show biz career as a big band singer, surrounds himself on stage with talented women: Grammy nominee Denise Donatelli; Anne Drummond on piano and flute; Brandi Disterheft on bass; and Carol Weisman on piano and vocals. The ambitious performers run through a roster of 30 familar tunes penned by women including Dorothy Fields (“Sunny Side of the Street;” “The Way You Look Tonight”); Carolyn Leigh (“Young At Heart;” “The Best is Yet To Come”); and Betty Comden (“New York, New York;” “Make Someone Happy”). Marshall seems to have fun on stage as one of the vocal trio doing the first Fields’ song he learned, “Diga Diga Doo,” as well as “A Tisket A Tasket” composed by Ella Fitzgerald when she was only 15.
The music is interspersed with Marshall’s amusing anecdotes from his 72 years in the business as well as fascinating tidbits. For example, Ann Ronnell was the first female composer to write an entire score. Denise did a fabulous job on Ronnell’s “Willow Weep For Me.” Marshall added some intrigue when he told the audience that Ronnell was involved with George Gershwin when she wrote the piece. And later when Denise sang “Can’t We Be Friends,” a Kay Swift composition from “Fine and Dandy,” he couldn’t resist teasing with the sexual innuendo that Swift also had an affair with George Gershwin.
Marshall’s impression of Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers, one of his favorite performers, was right on. He is not only entertaining but an inspiration to those many years his junior. It didn’t matter that he occasionally missed a note. “That was close,” he quipped laughing at himself. This octogenarian could be the Betty White of the cabaret circuit. Marshall’s solo of “Real Live Girl” was a highlight of the set.
Performances at The Metropolitan Room continue through Monday, Jan. 14 with two shows Saturday (7 and 9:30 pm); Sunday (4 pm) and Monday (7pm). For reservations: 212-206-0440 or www.metropolitanroom.com