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Theater : Karen Morrow Maintains Cabaret's Spirit

November 14, 1994|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

She's platinum-headed, she's brassy and there's absolutely no doubt that Karen Morrow possesses a "Show Voice," the title of a Billy Barnes song written for her, which she performs and proves in her club act "A Month of Mondays" at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, Monday nights through Nov. 28.

As of last week's opening night, the cabaret sound system had not yet adjusted to Morrow's high-decibel approach to a song, and at times Cinegrill patrons may have felt as if they were stuck between floors on an elevator with Ethel Merman in full blast. But aside from lung power, Morrow also possesses a show-biz heart of gold, which means she is determined to cheer you up with some Tin Pan Alley gusto and, by God, she'll do just that.

The evening's high point is Morrow's telling (and singing) her bio--the story of how a young girl who was sure she was meant to be sophisticated survived the indignity of being Catholic and Polish and Midwestern and taught by nuns. She found her voice and her calling when Father Schrader, casting director extraordinaire, picked her for the comedy lead in "Brigadoon."

*

That story segues into the Barnes song that celebrates Morrow's "take-the-stage alone/no microphone" show voice, by the end of which she explodes into a madly self-obsessed Mama Rose from "Gypsy" ("For me! For me!") and then collects herself ("I'm so sorry!").

The singer's ballads serve more as respites from up-tempo land than heartfelt outpourings; Morrow's is an external art and she seems never to take her eyes off her audience to check what she might be feeling inside.

She did, though, connect with "And What If We Had Loved Like That?," the Maltby-Shire song about a person who, in her great remorse for the passion she has failed to give a relationship, finally finds a kind of passion.

Cabaret has been transformed in the last few years by the psychological realism of Andrea Marcovicci and the honesty of Nancy Lamott, and Morrow seems completely uninterested in that kind of singing. She does, however, offer a taste of old-time razzle-dazzle. On Broadway, Morrow appeared in such non-spectacular musicals of the '60s and '70s as "I'm Solomon" and "The Grass Harp."

Her kind of musical may be becoming an endangered species, but Morrow is one of a number of performers dedicated to keeping that spirit alive.

* "A Month of Mondays," the Cinegrill, the Radisson Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, Mondays through Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. (213) 466-7000. Running time: 80 minutes.

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