Sally Kellerman called her performance at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday night an "anti-show," meaning simply that formalities would be set aside, that she would feel free to rove the stage, chat with her audience, even redo a tune if the first try wasn't to her liking.
All of which seemed perfectly appropriate for the actress whose most celebrated role was that of "Hot Lips" Houlihan in the Robert Altman film "MASH." Kellerman, the singer, moved into a richly diverse musical portrayal that would have seemed surprising to anyone unaware of the fact that she has been singing professionally since she was a girl.
Selections ran from originals by keyboardist-music director Chris Caswell to double-entendre numbers such as the Nina Simone zinger "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl." Kellerman was particularly effective with the sexy tunes, underscoring the lines with the lithe movements, while her sardonic smile and flashing eyes made it clear that it was all in good fun.
Her unerring sense of rhythm brought vigor to several briskly swinging selections, among them Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation (And Your Mouth Is Working Overtime)."
But Kellerman was at her best with ballads. Her version of "Just One of Those Things" gave the piece -- usually sung at a rapid tempo -- the poignancy at the heart of the lyrics. Several ballads by Caswell -- especially "I Wish I Knew You Then" and "Oh What a Blue Night" -- affirmed a musical partnership between the two that will soon manifest itself in a new Kellerman CD.
And that can't come too soon for a singing talent that has been hovering behind her busy career as an actress and voice-over performer for far too many years.
Kellerman still has to find more musical focus in the complete range of her material, perhaps even take herself more seriously as a singer. But she has the full package of skills -- from imaginative phrasing and an inner sense of rhythm to engaging communication qualities and a gifted actress' ability to tell a story -- required to establish herself as a first-rate, jazz and blues-tinged vocalist.
'Hot Lips' Sally Kellerman plays the part of singer
Live at Catalina Bar & Grill, Kellerman keeps it low-key.
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