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CABARET REVIEW

Melba Moore Powerful in Comeback Bid

May 29, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It would not have been at all surprising if singer Melba Moore had showcased numbers such as "I'm Still Here" and "I Will Survive" in her opening night set at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill Tuesday night.

The Tony Award-winning singer-actress has had a splendid career in virtually every area of the entertainment business. In the '60s and '70s, she seemed to be everywhere, eventually starring in her own CBS sitcom, "Melba." But her career went into eclipse shortly thereafter, when management decisions funneled away her earnings. A difficult divorce with alleged physical and mental abuse followed and, as recently as a few years ago, she was virtually unemployed and deeply in debt.

But Moore, who starred in the Broadway musical "Purlie" and who replaced Diane Keaton in "Hair," has come back strong, performing as Fantine in the Broadway production of "Les Miserables" and has two new albums due for release later this year.

Declining to do the obvious survival tunes, she opened her show, which she described as her first performance ever in a nightclub venue, with a set of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen standards.

"Since God has resuscitated me," she said, "I decided I wasn't going to do anything new. So I picked old songs to re-new."

And for the most part, she renewed tunes such as "Anything Goes," "Blue Skies" and "Begin the Beguine" with style and grace. A sendup of Pearl Bailey on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" was an imaginative way to rework the number, but "Stormy Weather" lost its focus when Moore hit the song with too much vocal firepower.

The second part of her set--with a '60s Motown medley, a "Hair" medley and some insightful comments about her life and times--was better, as Moore seemed to unwind and become more comfortable in the Cinegrill's cabaret-type setting. She is a superb singer with an amazing array of vocal skills--from operatic (although she pushed her high notes a bit too hard in an encore rendering of "Summertime") to gospel, rhythm & blues and jazz.

But Moore needs to give more thought to pacing and connectiveness in her program. Too many numbers finished with a loud, satisfied exclamation point, others were so short that they never had an opportunity to emerge in full-fledged interpretations and her between-songs patter took far too long to materialize.

Still, she is a major talent with the look, the sound and the imagination to create an effective--even an important--nightclub act. And if that doesn't satisfy her, she is fully capable of entertaining on a larger scale, in larger venues. Not only has Moore survived, she is better than ever.

BE THERE

Melba Moore at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., tonight and Sunday at 8 p.m., $15; Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m., $20. (213) 466-7000.

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