No one can ever accuse Dixie Carter of holding anything back. Halfway through her opening night set at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill on Tuesday, she was rolling around on top of the grand piano, raging through one emotional overload after another as she sang the slippery saga of "Bruce," a fashion-impaired transvestite.
A few songs later, she was slithering down the side of the piano, transforming herself into "The Laziest Girl in the World," interrupting her surrender to ennui by playing a stentorian blast on a trumpet.
But then, why should Carter hold anything back? At 63, she has served time in virtually every area of the entertainment world, peaking with her stellar performances as Julia Sugarbaker in the long-running CBS sitcom "Designing Women." And the cabaret stage provides her with an ideal up-close-and-personal opportunity to romp through a range of sassy, sensuous, sardonic and sweet emotions in a set of tunes ranging from standards to a group of originals by her accompanist, the gifted songwriter John Wallowitch.
Pure singing is not Carter's major strength, and there were a few wavering-pitch moments in her ballads. But it is to her credit as an actress and a communicator that she rendered songs such as Wallowitch's "This Moment" and, especially, Johnny Mercer's world-weary lyrics for "When the World Was Young" with stunning believability.
Cabaret is ultimately about musical storytelling, and Carter told her stories with every bit of communicative skill she possessed -- not just with her voice, but with her flashing eyes, her intense gestures, her supple body language and her brilliantly intuitive sense of dramatic pacing.
Where: Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: Tonight, 8:30; Friday-Saturday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Price: $35, plus $30 minimum beverage or dinner purchase
Info: (323) 769-7269