La Lucci, as she has named the latest fragrance in her personal care line, got a taste for a singing career by pinch-hitting as Annie Oakley in the Broadway revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" for the month of December 1999. She made her nightclub debut as the opening act for Regis Philbin at Atlantic City Resorts last May.
Now she is appearing at Feinstein's at the Regency, one of Manhattan's top showcases for cabaret talent. She puts on a thoroughly professional show, notable for its infectious enthusiasm but lacking in the suave presentation of more experienced club artists.
Lucci has excellent backup from five musicians led by pianist Shawn Gough who has provided musical arrangements that are thoroughly enjoyable and suited to her high-spirited approach. Her voice is small but amply miked for a moderately sized room such as Feinstein's, but it lacks color, resonance, and finesse in phrasing.
She tells her audience when she was "just a little girl from Garden City (N.Y.)" she was encouraged in her ambitions for a vocal career by singer Vic Damone. But her burgeoning television career intervened until Broadway composer Marvin Hamlisch encouraged her to take the offer of the Annie Oakley role.
This leads her into a rendition of "They Say It's Wonderful" from that Irving Berlin show, after which she asks he audience, "I'm new at this, can't you tell?" Well, yes, but why suggest that you are out of your depth when you haven't even warmed up? Lucci still has a lot to learn.
But warm up she does. She is at her best in a torrid interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin's "Come Rain or Come Shine" and Jerome Kern's "Can't Help Lovin' dat Man," proving that she knows how to use her limited vocal resources to the best effect. She also does well by Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing," Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic" and Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around."
She makes an allusion to the 17 times she was nominated for the Emmy for her role of Erica Kane, the wicked, indestructible soap opera diva of ABC-TV's "All My Children," before winning the award in 1999 by singing Hamlisch's specially written "Winning Isn't Everything" and pays tribute to her love affair with New York City with Quincy Jones' "New York City Blues."
Cabaret singers seem to come in three categories -- the ones who talk about the music, the ones who philosophize about life, and the ones who talk about themselves. Lucci falls into the latter category, letting us know more about her happy marriage and her adorable children (even showing videos of them on a handily available screen) than we really need to know.
Aside from that, she never strays into bad taste, as some club entertainers, especially those used to Las Vegas audiences, are wont to do. She is a lady from the tippy top of her bouffant hairdo to the floor-length hem of her silver sequined gown. And for that, we should be grateful.
Even her anecdote about taking an aphrodisiac accidentally avoids a PG-13 rating. The pill's only effect was to make her break into song, "It's All Right With Me," by that master of double entendre, Cole Porter.
Lucci's publicist says she is scheduling more nightclub performances for the current season, and she's still taking singing lessons. Maybe there will be a life after Erika Kane for this redoubtable showbiz personality who already has turned herself into a business selling perfumes, hair care products, jewelry, and accessories.