CAMBRIDGE — Memoirs are usually in book format, but Saturday night at Sanders Theatre, Christine Ebersole sang and talked her memoir to an adoring crowd. For 90 minutes, the Tony-winning actress introduced us to her family, talked about youth and her career, and used her versatile voice to deliver a cabaret format of Broadway, American Songbook, and several obscure tunes.
Ebersole’s voice was heard before she sauntered onto the stage when she playfully told the audience (a la Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano) to turn off their cellphones because, among other things, “it hurts the performers’ feelings.” This was a preview of playful things to come including her first onstage sound, a vocal trumpet rendition of 1938’s “Big Noise From Winnetka.” This snappy tune was followed by “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” after which the songstress announced: “Welcome to age-before-beauty cabaret” and “I am the big noise from Winnetka,” referring to her Illinois hometown.
Age and youth figured prominently throughout the frisky and wistful banter and setlist including the Edward Heyman ballad “Blame It on My Youth.” Ebersole confessed: “At my age, trying to stay young looking isn’t just a full-time job, it’s really expensive” (she turns 60 on Feb. 21). Family anecdotes included meeting her husband, Bill, and knowing he was the one when he said, “Let’s talk about you,” which segued into a much applauded “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from “Showboat.”
The mother-and-daughter Beales from Ebersole’s Tony Award-winning performance as both characters in “Grey Gardens” appeared a couple of times. The actress shared a funny story about an “audition” in a bikini for a “dancing” part on 42nd Street (not the “42nd Street” for which Ebersole won her first Tony). She heard her father reciting Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and gave her rendition a la Little Edie Beale. The second apearance came later when she sang the sad “Another Winter in a Summer Town” and “Drift Away.”
After introducing the terrific band of pianist and musical director, John Oddo; reed player, Mike Monaghan; bassist Mike Rivard, and drummer Dave Ratajczak, Ebersole’s youth theme and humor returned when she announced: “My mother celebrated her 95th birthday, and the bigger miracle is she gave birth to me when she was 60.”
The funniest banter was when Ebersole returned for her encores: “I’m back. One of the funniest conventions of cabaret, isn’t it: the false exit.” She told the audience she appreciated the applause but was coming back anyway.
After an Eartha Kitt tribute with, of course, a Kitt voice, Ebersole ended with “Young at Heart,” preceded by: “We accomplished nothing short of a miracle tonight. All you have to do is click your heels together three times and realize that eternal youth is right inside your heart.”