Photo Credit: D. Sabella

Nancy McCall McGraw
In the Cool, Cool, Cool Of the Evening
Laurie Beechman Theatre
Feb 22, 2019

T0 say Nancy NcCall McGraw is a seasoned performer is akin to saying Mississippi Mud Pie is a slightly rich dessert.  From the moment she stepped onstage McGraw immediately put the audience at ease.  Not only with her Southern charm, her gentile wit and her keen use of lyric but also with her astute showmanship and extreme depth as an actress.

The show featured the lyrics of Johnny Mercer. And, to her credit, McGraw never pushed a lyric.  Instead, she embodied them, she lived them. She took each story and made it her own. Whether it was the poignant If Someday Comes Ever Again (Mercer, Alec Wilder) / Days of Wine and Roses (Mercer, Henry Mancini), the rousing rendition of Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (performed with her arranger, director and pianist partner in crime:  the audacious Mark Nadler) or the sassy and hilarious Lazy Bones, McGraw seemed to effortlessly guide us through the evening.  Peppering the music along the way with stories of Mercer and the South in general.  She spoke of coutillions and Southern style. A quality McGraw exuded and we were all the luckier for having shared her presence.

In addition to her beautiful interpretations of a mercer lyric McGraw gave us many “fun facts” about Mercer himself.  The show was educational, illuminating without ever being dry. We’ve learned that Mercer had really wanted to be a singer along the lines of Bing Crosby.  And, while he did have many number one hits he never approached the master crooners illustrious career. McGraw gave us a delicious taste of Mercer’s recording career (as a singer), with Save the Bones for Henry Jones (Danny Barker/Vernon Lee), which he recorded with the legendary Nat King Cole.

He also tried his hand at writing for Broadway, including Come Rain or Come Shine (Harold Arlen), here given a lush performance by McGraw. However, his Broadway career never approached that of Frank Loesser. So again, he moved on.

His film work was abundant as well as critically acclaimed, earning him 4 Oscars and 18 nominations with such songs as Days of Wine and Roses and Moon River (both Mancini) performed exquisitely by McGraw.

Once again Mr. Mercer was not satisfied with his film offerings and opportunities. However, McGraw keenly shines a light on his masterful lyrics, proving that although Mr. Mercer may have at times felt unsuccessful in his artistic endeavors, his lyrics will certainly last the test of time.

In the hands of McGraw these lyrics are fulfilled with all the treasures they possess. It is rare to see a show that is both entertaining and illuminating. It takes a special gift to put together an evening that is educational without feeling like a lecture-demo and pay homage to a great lyricist such as Johnny Mercer. Luckily for the audience McGraw handled the task with ease and aplomb.