by Mary Campbell
It’s a very happy show, Peggy Lee says about her July 10 to August 3 engagement at the Ballroom cabaret, and she’s happy to be in New York doing it.
She says she certainly didn’t stamp angrily out of New York vowing never to return, when her autobiographical Broadway musical Peg closed after 13 previews and five performances in December 1983. She had started to write it as a book, turned it into a play, didn’t intend to star in it, but did that too.
“If my life was depressing, that’s too bad,” she says. “I tried to make it funny. But it wasn’t funny when I lived it.”
“I know that the music was good. I think I know that kind of music as well as anyone.”
Speaking by telephone from her home in Los Angeles, Miss Lee says that she has been touring, in England, Scotland, Wales, Japan and the United States. A London company, which makes video cassettes of operas and ballets, taped her two-hour show in Atlantic City last summer and will release The Quintessential Peggy Lee in American in August.
It’s the company’s second non-classical video. The first was jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. It’s Miss Lee’s first video.
“It was a terrible shock when Peg closed,” Miss Lee says. “I only had one day’s notice. I’d invested six years of my life in it. As soon as I got over the shock, I just continued to work.”
“I kept my quintet together after Peg. I love music and I love working with these fellows. They’re jazz musicians, although they can do everything. We just finished playing the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago and I got the most magnificent review in the Chicago Tribune I think I’ve ever had.”
“We do about 25 numbers. I come back after intermission in another beautiful gown. I’ve been fitting gowns for weeks now. There will be plenty of dazzle.”
The month in New York is Miss Lee’s first night club engagement since the Empire Room of the Waldorf 10 years ago. She has performed in Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall.
Miss Lee says that her health is good. “I was able to give my lung machine to the American Lung Association and I hope it helps someone the way it helped me. I think it has helped my singing generally, because I’ve been singing better than I used to. At least that’s what the fellows tell me. I think I can tell, too. I know it is easier.”
She has had three angioplasties since Peg. “That is balloon surgery that is incredible. It’s for the heart; it’s instead of bypass surgery. I had one, then I went to Dallas and did eight performances. I came back and had another and went out again. You go in the hospital Wednesday and you’re out on Friday. You have to rest a bit after that. I rest and do my painting, writing songs and reading.
“They have one more to go, sometime after New York. They hope to clear up the problem.”
Miss Lee has enough songs for three shows. She usually includes “Fever,” “I’m a Woman,” “Lover,” “Is That All There Is?,” “Big Spender” and her first hit, with the Benny Goodman Band, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
Sometimes she sings a Billie Holiday medley but she thinks she won’t do that in New York. “It’s interesting to do but I think it’s too much of a downer. This is an upbeat show.”