Most people know the iconic American singer Peggy Lee for her biggest musical hits which spanned several decades, including Someone Else is Taking My Place in 1942, Fever in 1958, and Is That All There Is? in 1969. Obviously, that’s just scratching the surface of Ms. Lee’s impressive discography, which included over a dozen albums through her seven-decade career. With her show Not Your Mama’s Peggy Lee at the New York City hotspot Pangea, singer Eva Steinberg gave the audience a reminder of why Lee’s music has stayed with us to this day, starting with the eternal anthem I’m A Woman— a song about women’s empowerment which, ironically, which was conceived by two men. For this one, Steinberg “takes back” the song in a way, adding a few reworked, personalized lyrics: “I’ve lived in a five-story walk-up since 1974, I work with a personal trainer so I can get still get up to my floor! I make jewelry, do crosswords, and yes I can cook too; I work as a freelance writer and now I’m singing for all of you!” The result was no less than a smart, sassy delight… and a real crowd-pleaser as well. Eva Steinberg is indeed a gifted singer, and Musical Director Gregory Toroian’s new arrangements bring Lee’s iconic hits to a fourth dimension. Steinberg would have indeed made Ms. Lee proud with her new takes on such songs as the oft-redone Fever and 1955’s Alright, OK, You Win, which Eva described as one of Lee’s great hits. But there’s more to Not Your Mama’s Peggy Lee than just ear candy. Showing great respect and affection for Ms. Lee’s legacy, Steinberg also teaches us more– much, much more– about the woman born Norma Deloris Egstrom than we ever knew. For example, Peggy Lee was a prolific songwriter. Out of the 16 songs which Steinberg sings in her one-woman show (not including an encore medley…), Peggy Lee co-wrote eight of them, including He’s a Tramp from the 1955 Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp. Lee also appeared in that film, albeit in animated form as the vampy Pekingese Peg, and she also voiced several other characters in the movie. Steinberg’s take on this song is appropriately campy. As it turns out, Peggy Lee wrote or co-wrote over 270 songs throughout her career. As we learn in Steinberg’s show, some of Ms. Lee’s songs appeared where you’d least expect them. Lee co-wrote and sang the closing credits song for the truly bizarre 1954 avant-garde romantic western Johnny Guitar (one of Eva’s favorite films), which starred Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. On a personal note, I am proud to say that I am one of the few people who did actually see this film… and, indeed, Lee’s vocals at the end are unmistakable. Steinberg once again did justice to this rare piece of movie music
Eva Steinberg, described as “an open mic favorite” by the show’s director/producer Sue Matsuki, had reportedly “just gotten back” into performing only recently. If Steinberg took a break from singing professionally, the audience would never have known that. Al throughout the hour-long running time of Not Your Mama’s Peggy Lee, Steinberg didn’t miss a note, whether the mood was upbeat (I’m Gonna Go Fishin’), feverishly romantic (The Shining Sea), or downright heartbreaking (Sing a Rainbow). Steinberg’s voice is smooth, youthful, and amazingly unblemished. For songs like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, from the movie of the same name, Eva’s delivery is delicate yet quietly strong; I believe that her voice could singlehandedly bring on world peace. She can really hit those notes, which is best demonstrated when she gives the audience Cole Porter’s foot-tapper I Am in Love. The quietly romantic He Needs Me, from the movie Pete Kelly’s Blues, is probably one of the most achingly honest songs about L-O-V-E from the 1950’s– and it seems custom-made for Eva’s unique charms. Then Was Then and Now is Now, a song which holds some personal significance for Steinberg (She sang the song at a commitment ceremony.), became a perfect musical representation of renewal, hope, and new beginnings. Bouquet of Blues, so rich in metaphor, became a mini-anthem of jazzcraft: So many stories exist within the song’s three-minute running time, particularly when Steinberg sings that astonishing last note. Not Your Mama’s Peggy Lee is a fun and fantastic showcase for both Eva Steinberg’s endearing personality and her singing talent. It’s also a celebration of what cemented Peggy Lee’s status into American pop culture. Steinberg is just fine in capturing Lee’s unique persona: street smart, sassy, and just a li’l bit sexy: so well conveyed in songs like the aforementioned swinger I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ and via the lyrics of I Don’t Know Enough About You: “You know I went to school, And I’m nobody’s fool; That is to say until I met you. I know a little bit about a lot o’ things, But I don’t know enough about you!” The cherry on this sweet show (I won’t give away the encore!) was the upbeat, jazzy New York City Blues, which Peggy Lee co-wrote with Quincy Jones. The song was ostensibly Ms. Lee’s love song to “New Yawk”, but it’s clear that when Eva sings the song’s closing lyric, “New York is my CITY!…“, it was Eva Steinberg’s love letter to her audience that night at New York City’s Pangea. Now, THAT’S a lovely way to burn!
Eva Steinberg can be seen next on Saturday, December 17th in the showcase May I Introduce…, as part of Winter Rhythms 2022 at Urban Stages. Winter Rhythms 2022 is co-produced and hosted by Sue Matsuki. Also appearing that night are Ira Lee Collings(“The Gay Geezer”), Caitlin McBride, and Leslee Warren (“Me, Myself & I: Songs of a Nearsighted Girl” and this year’s Tomato’s Got Talent Contest!). For tickets and the entire Winter Rhythms 2022 schedule, visit Urban Stages Theater – Winter Rhythms 2022.