Portia Nelson Revue, This Life, Revived at Firebird in Tribute to Late Singer, May 3-24

News   Portia Nelson Revue, This Life, Revived at Firebird in Tribute to Late Singer, May 3-24 This Life: The Songs of Portia Nelson, the award winning Manhattan cabaret revue, is returning for an encore engagement in New York City, May 3-24, in tribute to the late Broadway actress, singer and songwriter who died March 6 at age 80.
Portia Nelson with This Life's  Deborah Tranelli, Terri Klausner, director John Znidarsic, musical director Paul Katz and Tom Andersen.
Portia Nelson with This Life's Deborah Tranelli, Terri Klausner, director John Znidarsic, musical director Paul Katz and Tom Andersen.

This Life: The Songs of Portia Nelson, the award winning Manhattan cabaret revue, is returning for an encore engagement in New York City, May 3-24, in tribute to the late Broadway actress, singer and songwriter who died March 6 at age 80.

The show, which stars Tom Andersen, Terri Klausner and Deborah Tranelli, plays 9 PM Thursdays, May 3, 10, 17 and 24 at the FireBird Cafe, 365 W. 46th St., in Manhattan.

Directed by John Znidarsic, the revue played last fall at Don't Tell Mama, where Nelson caught its closing performance on Oct. 11. That was to be Nelson's last public appearance. This Life was given the 2001 Bistro Award for Outstanding Musical Revue on March 5, and Nelson died in her New York home after a long illness the next day.

This Life includes Nelson's classics such as ''Make a Rainbow,'' ''Confession of a New Yorker'' and ''As I Remember Him,'' which have been sung by Marilyn Horne, Michael Feinstein and Nancy LaMott. Before Nelson began writing these tunes, she had appeared as Minerva in Broadway's 'The Golden Apple (1954) and as Sister Berthe in the 1965 film, ''The Sound of Music.'' She was also a cabaret star of the 1950s, playing such legendary nightspots as the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel.

Andersen is a MAC Award-winning singer-songwriter who has headlined at the Kennedy Center; Klausner is a Broadway veteran (Evita and Sophisticated Ladies') and Obie winner (Bed & Sofa), and Tranelli is a Bistro Award-winning singer and TV co-star (she was Phyllis for 11 seasons on ''Dallas''). Cover charge is $30 with a $15 food-drink minimum. For reservations or more information, call (212) 586-0244.

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Nelson, a Brigham City, UT, native, lived in Manhattan. She had battled cancer in recent years, but recovered. However, her health had deteriorated recently. Nelson was not married.

Often called a renaissance woman, Nelson was an author and poet ("There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self Discovery"), a painter, an actress ("The Sound of Music," The Golden Apple), a songwriter, a nightclub chanteuse, an arranger and a recording artist.

In the 1950s, Nelson sang at such nightspots as Blue Angel and Bon Soir and traveled the world, performing live. She sang on five theatre albums for producer Goddard Lieberson at Columbia Records. She was heard on studio recordings of On Your Toes, Roberta, Oklahoma!, The Boys From Syracuse and on the original cast album of The Golden Apple.

"She was one of the great stars of Cafe Society in New York," said friend Deborah Tranelli, a singer and actress who appears in This Life. "Portia was a soprano...people know her recent work with her singing in a lower register, speak-singing songs. Portia was so unique, she had a beautiful soprano voice; it was that wonderful blend, it had sort of a classical sound, and yet she loved jazz tunes and Latin rhythms. She was a unique sound. She was also a great interpreter of lyrics. She loved lyrics. That's something she impressed upon me and anyone who she worked with: Telling the story through the lyrics."

Among her solo albums are "Let Me Love You: The Songs of Bart Howard," "Portia Nelson: Sunday in New York," "This Life: Her Words, Her Music and Her Friends," all on the DRG label. She hosted a New York radio called "Sunday in New York."

As a composer and lyricist, Nelson wrote "Make a Rainbow," which Marilyn Horne sung at Bill Clinton's inaugural ceremony. Her better known songs include "Sunday in New York" are "Confession of a New Yorker" (also known as the "Hate-Love New York" song). She wrote musicals for television and specialty songs for "The Carol Burnett Show." Nelson was also an arranger who created the sound for and produced an album for Elaine Stritch.

She also authored the famous poem, "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" (which is also a song). As an actress, she appeared as Sarah Doolittle in the original "Dr. Doolittle" film with Rex Harrison, and again played a nun (Sister Elizabeth) in the movie, "The Trouble with Angels."

— By Kenneth Jones