Marla Gibbs is usually content to play the role of entrepreneur at her Marla's Memory Lane supper club. But Wednesday night she made one of her rare and welcome appearances in front of the spotlights, and it was a doozy--a full-fledged nightclub show titled "A Salute to the Legends," complete with comedian, dance team and the Gerald Wiggins Trio.
Joining Gibbs in the headline spot was her co-star in the NBC-TV series "227," singer / actress Alaina Reed. Gibbs' obvious fascination with Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, and Reed's similar enchantment with Bessie Smith and the blues singers of the '20s presumably was the motivation for the show's title, and each singer did an effective job of "saluting" her chosen "legend."
Reed's big, blowzy voice and upfront sensuality were perfectly suited to "Give Me a Pigfoot," "My Handyman Ain't Handy" and "Dr. Feelgood." But, surprisingly, she was even more effective with a slow-smoldering reading (including the rarely heard verse) of "Memories of You."
Gibbs' bright and sassy versions of "Is You Is or Is You Ain't" and "I Won't Cry Anymore" were just right--jazz-based interpretations that virtually quivered with spunk and energy. She was less effective with "I Got It Bad" and "Easy Living," when she sometimes slipped uncomfortably across the fine line between a Billie Holiday tribute and an outright Billie Holiday imitation.
Reed worked with some of her own musicians, but Gibbs wisely depended on the services of Wiggins, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Paul Humphrey--surely one of the most accurate rhythm sections a singer could ever want.
Opening the show were comedian Reynaldo Rey--a wonderfully funny, improvising jokester who played off topical themes the way Stanley Turrentine plays the blues--and the Karen McDonald Dancers.
"A Salute to the Legends" continues at Marla's Memory Lane through Saturday night and returns Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4. Dinner shows are at 8 p.m., with a cocktail show at midnight.