Monica Lewis' opening at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Cinegrill on Wednesday night stretched the definition of the room's current "Legendary Ladies" series to a somewhat uncomfortable limit.
The 65-year-old singer-actress was an active performer in radio, films and television in the '40s and '50s, but since her retirement in 1957 most of Lewis' energies have gone to her home and marriage (to producer Jennings Lang).
She demonstrated a serviceable voice, a perky stage presence and a strong connection with her audience. The choice of material, however, left a lot to be desired. "At Long Last Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Lullaby of Birdland" are not exactly rarities around the nightclub circuit. Lewis' performance of them was, like her voice, serviceable, and perhaps a bit more than that on the light samba rhythms of "Spring."
Matters improved somewhat with Alan and Marilyn Bergman's "Nice and Easy" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing." Lewis was even better with Johnny Mandel's "A Time for Love," and at her very best with a lovely Stephen Sondheim set.
But the sum of Lewis' performance seemed a bit less than the total of the individual songs. Her occasional reminiscences about her days in Hollywood were often more interesting than the songs that followed.