Ann Kittredge: Movie Nite

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Ann Kittredge

Movie Nite

Birdland Theater, NYC, February 27, 2022

Reviewed by Shannon Hunt

Ann Kittredge

From the moment Ann Kittredge took the stage singing “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld) in her glittering camera-ready gown, the theater at Birdland transformed into old-school Hollywood. By channeling such leading ladies as Bette Davis and Judy Garland, the singer’s tribute to the silver screen, Movie Nite, harkened back to the glitz and glamour of early Tinseltown.

The song list spanned decades of movie history, starting with “If I Had a Talking Picture of You” (B.G. DeSylva/Lew Brown/Ray Henderson) from 1929’s Sunny Side Up to “Another Day of Sun” (Justin Hurwitz/Benj Pasek/Justin Paul), which opened 2016’s La La Land. Kittredge’s smooth voice suited every style she sang, transitioning between sweet soprano and seductive chanteuse with almost effortless versatility. Most of the music was a throwback to the big-studio era, and she nailed the look; in her flowing sequined gown and coifed curls, Kittredge embodied the ultimate femme fatale, gracefully commanding the stage like Hollywood royalty.

She peppered the show with anecdotes about her childhood love for music and movies. Her haunting rendition of “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo” (Bronislau Kaper/Helen Deutsch), from the 1952 movie Lili, was a touching remembrance of her mother’s favorite song. Her recollection of watching old Fred Astaire films on TV turned into a toe-tapping medley of Irving Berlin songs including “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” “Top Hat,” “Cheeck to Cheek,” and “Stepping Out with My Baby.” Later, she told the crowd, she developed a love for all things Bond—and, in particular for Daniel Craig—leading to a humorous take on “Nobody Does It Better” (Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager) from The Spy Who Loved Me, which she dedicated to the latest 007 actor.

She showed off her comedy chops with cleverly written classics such as “10,432 Sheep” (Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne) from West Point Story and “They’re Either Too, Young or Too Old” (Frank Loesser/Arthur Schwartz) from Thank Your Lucky Stars. Her torch-song section, however, revealed a more dramatic range; after sharing ill-fated love stories of screen legends (like Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy) and then one of her own (a cad she knew long ago, named Tom), she launched into a heartbreaking playlist of unrequited love, including “The Man That Got Away” (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin) from A Star is Born, “Stormy Weather” (Arlen/Ted Koehler) from Stormy Weather, and “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (Jule Styne/Cahn) from Anchors Aweigh. A polished performer, she used her voice, her face, and hergestures to convey the raw agony of love-gone-wrong without sacrificing a single note.

The brilliant accompaniment of Alex Rybeck on piano (also the music director and arranger) and Sean Harkness on guitar made a great evening even better. The three performed seamlessly with each other, and their collaboration led to one of the high points of the show: a folk-opera rendition of “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” (Victor Herbert) from Naughty Marietta, which was arranged by Rybeck, performed by Kittredge, and accompanied solely by Harkness on guitar. 

The most powerful moment of the night, however, needed no musical accompaniment at all. After returning to the stage for her encore, Kittredge began a spine-tingling a cappella rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Leigh Harline/Ned Washington), an awe-inspiring moment that left the audience spellbound. First heard in 1940’s Pinnochio and often dismissed as simple and syrupy-sweet, the song became a chilling and surprisingly raw tour-de-force in Kittredge’s capable hands. When she finished and the stage went dark, the entire room was left with goosebumps. And that, of course, is the perfect ending and reaction to any cabaret show.