The New York Times reviews Give Me Fever: The Many Voices of Peggy Lee , presented as part of the Lyrics & Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y.
Because a vocal signature is as distinct as a fingerprint, there is a crucial difference between shows that pay tribute to a singer and those that salute a songwriter. Unless the performer is a skilled impersonator, what you hear are distant echoes of a voice that only call attention to the absence of the musician being remembered. In the case of a songwriter the material speaks for itself.
That said, “Give Me Fever: The Many Voices of Peggy Lee,” at the Lyrics & Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y on Saturday evening, hosted by the singer and pianist Billy Stritch, made do with four able surrogates (five, if you count Mr. Stritch’s suave contributions) who stamped Lee’s catalog with their own personalities.
Marilyn Maye, La Tanya Hall, Barbara Fasano and Gabrielle Stravelli all play in the sophisticated pop-jazz ballpark Lee helped build. But none possesses the mesmerizing, faintly ominous Lee mystique, which might be described as a refined hybrid: two parts Billie Holiday to one part Mae West. Simply by raising an eyebrow and flashing the shadow of a half-smile, Lee projected an insinuating erotic intensity while swinging songs in a husky near-murmur, every nuance calculated to the last breath.
The Lee acolytes were accompanied by an excellent quartet that, besides Mr. Stritch, included John Hart on guitar, Tom Hubbard on bass and Ray Marchica on drums. The script, written by Mr. Stritch with Mark Waldrop, repeatedly called attention to Lee’s often overlooked gifts as a lyricist.
The talents on hand were considerable. Ms. Hall, who sang “Black Coffee,” the 1948 torch song that weirdly substitutes caffeine for alcohol, was the most elegant and sinuous of the four and Ms. Stravelli (“Day In, Day Out”) the jazziest. Ms. Fasano sang warm, tonally rounded versions of “But Beautiful” and “The Shining Sea.” Ms. Maye, that ageless eternal optimist, turned the rueful “When the World Was Young (Ah, the Apple Trees)” into a satisfied summation and transformed “Is That All There Is?,” a confession of lifelong ennui and disappointment, into a hearty sigh of contentment.