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I Want To Live! 4 Out of 4 Stars.

April 1st, 2011

By Jeremy Gerard,

This weekend is your last chance to attend one of the weirdest, most remarkable performance pieces I’ve ever seen.

The unlikely venue is the tony Park Avenue cabaret Feinstein’s at the Regency. Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay’s roots are in jazz and her voice is one of clarion beauty. She approaches the small stage and sings an upbeat fragment from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

She’s introduced as Barbara Graham, the dubious heroine of “I Want to Live!” the 1958 film that won Susan Hayward an Oscar as one of the few women to die in California’s gas chamber. McKay shifts effortlessly from the mock upbeat lull of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t It a Lovely Day” to a spine-tingling version of “April Showers.”

McKay is accompanied by an outstanding jazz quartet and occasionally pulls out her ukulele as well. She never drops character, turning us into voyeurs at a decidedly noirish encounter.

Through April 2 at 540 Park Ave. Information: +1-212-339- 4095; Rating: ****

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