With her slim figure and tight-fitting black dress, Mary Cleere Haran, who opened Wednesday at the Cinegrill, is very much a presence for the present, yet her repertoire anachronistically veers almost entirely to the distance past. When she precedes “Alfie” by announcing that “the next song was actually written during my lifetime,” you realize why she had to make the point.
Making her first local appearance (one wonders why, at 36, she only recently became an overnight hit in New York), Haran has a deep attachment for the 1920s and ‘30s. Her long commentaries between tunes range from dryly witty to near-hysterically funny as she talks about everyone from Richard Rodgers to Ginger Rogers and looks back at her days as a health-food-happy Haight-Ashbury hippie.
Along with the sardonic humor and the Marilyn Monroe moues there is a slick sophistication. For a while you feel that she is a mite too ladylike, that the routines are too pat, and that she might well let down her strawberry blond hair and remove the black gloves.
The hair stays the same, but the gloves, along with the less revealing parts of her dress, do come off, right in the middle of “Lorelei,” and you begin to forget that she spent so much time watching Loretta Young on TV. When she suddenly updates herself by half a century to tackle Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March,” you no longer worry about her possible excess of perfection, since this extraordinary song with its odd litany of one-syllable words calls for a sentient and flawless interpretation, which is precisely what she gives it.
Though she is not an improviser, Haran’s rhythmic sense is as intelligent as her conversation.
Accompanied most efficiently by the pianist Jonathan Wolf, with Paul Gormley on bass and Bob Leatherbarrow on drums, Haran with her elegant, fine-tuned act is a sure bet to become the last important new cabaret singer of the 1980s. She remains at the Cinegrill through Saturday and returns Wednesday through Oct. 22.