Last night, Rita Wilson made her NY cabaret debut at 54 Below, with a show of songs she grew up hearing on AM/FM radio in Los Angeles. A packed house, including her husband Tom Hanks and Broadway director George C. Wolfe, gave her very Left Coast show hearty applause, as, backed up by no less than three guitars and the essential big black female backup singer, she sang familiar chestnuts. The Everly Brothers’ “Dream,” The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” “Angel of the Morning” and, strangely “Wichita Lineman,” were some of her familiar selections – what might be deemed as “wimp rock” – along with a couple of self-penned ditties.
Her patter was relentlessly upbeat but generic, with very little personal info, aside from childhood drives in the family car listening to the music which shaped her. We did learn that she was in a “Charlie” perfume commercial, and she sang the jingle, as well as the one for Jordache jeans, which rather expressed the tone of the evening.
As for her pipes, themselves, well, one could say that it is maybe one of the better “shower voices” around, but still not quite ready for prime time, especially a venue like 54 Below. It’s a thin affair which strained – sometimes unsuccessfully – to hit the high notes. She was particularly out of her depth trying to cover the Linda Ronstadt hit “Love Has No Pride,” but her warm, genial stage presence – like a favorite aunt performing in your living room for indulgent relatives – completely won the audience, consisting, it appeared, mostly of friends and movie fans – over. (Some even signified their approval at the end with upheld lit cellphones, attempting to turn the intimate elegant room into a rock arena.)
I sat near Sting, who arrived very late in the set with wife Trudie Styler, and, if body language is any judge, appeared profoundly bored.
Under the immediate circumstances, Wilson’s decision to include Kenny Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston” – even with a mea culpa spoken tribute to the survivors and victims of yesterday’s bombing – seemed questionable, to say the least.