The golden age of the supper club is reborn at the Gardenia, where Andrea Marcovicci is currently holding court in "Smile." This self-described workshop of her new cabaret act finds the record-breaking song stylist turning her incisive facility with the Great American Songbook toward creating uplift in these trying times, which she does, brilliantly.
Marcovicci's veiled, fragile-edged instrument remains an idiomatic voice, made less for display than interpretation. Accordingly, when she disappears inside a lyric, or shifts registers with a melisma that illuminates a melody's structure, the spirit of Mabel Mercer is nigh.
Together with invaluable musical director Shelly Markham and bassist Nate Light, Marcovicci approaches the airtight set with an unforced desire to connect with us, from her endearing "It's Only a Paper Moon" to her heartfelt final rendition of the title song.
Along the way, we get chestnuts -- "Ain't We Got Fun?," performed with verses and lyrics intact -- and rarities -- David Ross and Marshall Barer's marvelously poetic "Beyond Compare," here almost a one-act play. Her take on "12th Street Rag" is slyly bouncy, her pairing of Rodgers and Hart's "Thou Swell" and "This Can't Be Love" palpably rapt.
"Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and "Pick Yourself Up" as tribute to Fred Astaire is one highlight, "If I Had You" and "It Had to Be You" another. Her infectious enthusiasm supplies Marcovicci with choice conversation fodder, whether recalling the Incomparable Hildegarde or introducing "(I Asked) the Moon" songsmith Babbie Green, in attendance at the reviewed performance.
And when Marcovicci brings her 93-years-young mother Helen on stage to amaze us with chops worthy of Lee Wiley, time and space dissolve. As such, "Smile" is caviar for devotees of the art of the diseuse, and a cabaret must-see.
-- David C. Nichols
Andrea Marcovicci in "Smile," The Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends March 24. (323) 497-7444. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Photo: Andrea Marcovicci performing in 2004. Credit: Peter Kramer / Getty Images.