Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice

Kathleen Turner

Finding My Voice

 Café Carlyle, NYC, May 22, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Kathleen Turner
Photo: David Andrako

Sometimes it isn’t the greatest singer that makes a song sing or the funniest jokes that delight an audience. In cabaret, what is most needed for a successful performance is the unique connection where the audience gets to know and care about the performer. Who is this entertainer, what he is doing and saying about his life?

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Or, in this case, what is she doing and what does her life say about her? In actress Kathleen Turner’s debut New York club appearance, Finding My Voice at the Café Carlyle, she brings her life, her ideas, and her  adventures to her audience. It adds up to one of the best cabaret shows of the year. 

We all recognize that recognizable sexy, husky Turner voice that has distinguished her in roles like Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but who knew she could sing? “And at the Carlyle, huh!  Barbara Cook, Bobby Short…all those wonderful singers,” Turner quipped, a preview to her lusty sense of humor.

Frankly, her singing is not great, and is barely on-key, with chopped-up lines and a limited range. But, add personality, humor, bluntness, and a compelling song list and she delivers a captivating show. The songs enliven the journey of her life as a diplomat’s daughter, stationed in Canada, Havana, Venezuela, homes in Missouri, California, and on New York’s West Side. While Turner once claimed her voice was closer to bass/baritone than to the usual Broadway soprano, here, drawing on her practical side and acting talent, she follows the advice in Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields’ “Pick Yourself Up” and “Let’s Fall in Love” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (“Now is the time for it, while we are young”).

Reflecting back on her personal life, she includes “On the Street Where You Live” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner) and her time living alone, pairing “Nobody’s Heart (Belongs to Me)” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) with a gusty Stephen Sondheim number from Dick Tracy,  “Live Alone and Like It.” She faced a painful battle with rheumatoid arthritis that put her career on hold, a story particularly touching since she is again busy with her career and with her political activism.

Her optimism reflects influences by women like Molly Ivins, Ann Richards and, quoting Margaret Mead, she says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With the Depression standard by Jay Gorney and Yip Harburg, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

,” Turner, a lifelong activist, urges everyone to devote a specific time to help others.

For almost two hours, Turner’s numerous stories and songs combine to color her life’s journey, but it is with her down-to-earth humor, passion and honesty that she grabs the audience and ties it up.

Her songs are the tapestry of her life and it adds to ours as she shares her interactions with Edward Albee, Francis Ford Coppola, Dame Maggie Smith, and words to live by from Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” (“Give your love, live your life/Each and every day”).

Kathleen Turner is what cabaret is all about and is here accompanied by Ritt Henn on bass, Sean Harkness on guitar, and music director/pianist Mark Janas.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.