MTC Diary
Here & There
This & That
Beaux Arts
Home Theatre

Bobby Short

The following fragment from a 2001 letter turned up in a housecleaning two days after Bobby Short's death. We would see him, I believe, once more.

But not so fast. I shelled out {an unseemly sum] at the Carlyle last night. We had dinner – nothing outrageous, but everything’s expensive – and a few drinks (five between us), and I tipped both the waiter and the captain my usual hefty percentage, and then there was the cover charge, which came to $120. (Not a bad deal, considering that we sat only slightly off center opposite the end of the piano, about the length of our living room away.) The crowd, for the first time in our experience, was thin. There had been a crowd at the earlier show, but it was a Thursday night (after all), and as well all know – and as Mr Short himself amply hinted – the new economy is no longer with us. Even so, there were enough hands present to punctuate the songs with hearty applause. It’s as much a show, in its way, as The Producers. I’d had the idea of slipping the entertainer with a little note saying that for Kathleen's birthday I’d be grateful if he’d play her old favorite (which we’ve never heard anyone else sing), "My Particular Property." But I decided against it after remembering how thoroughly plotted Bobby Short’s shows are. They’re the Kabuki of cabaret; they only look spontaneous if you’re not paying attention. Is this a fault? I don’t think I’d like it if Matthew Broderick decided to improvise his steps during "I Wanna Be A Producer" (another great number) or if Nathan Lane decided to replace "Betrayed" (a number that would stop any lesser show) with something from A Funny Thing… There’s also something deeply ambiguous about Bobby Short’s presentation. There he is, a polished and dapper black gentleman who enunciates each vowel with elocutionary clarity – even when it’s "black," which it usually isn’t. The effect is rather like that of a butler who outshines his employer. He beams at the applause like a searchlight, sweeping the room from one end to the other. He may sing three, or possibly four standards – last night, we had "They Can’t Take That Away From Me," "Just One of Those Things," and "Let’s Call It A Day" – but few people would have heard most of his material. He goes in for clever lyrics, which may strike some listeners as arch. Bobby Short wears a beautifully embroidered heart, stitched in real but no longer circulating blood, upon his sleeve.

I didn’t "get" Bobby Short until I understood all of this – understood that, while every other entertainer in America was trying to convey the impression of kicking back out on the deck, Bobby Short was preserving the art of the night club.

Permalink  Portico

Copyright (c) 2005 Pourover Press

Write to me