Mary Wilson reigns supreme

Voluptuous as a sundae topped with a froth of whipped cream, Mary Wilson opened a two-weekend return engagement at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room Tuesday.

Looking every inch the dream girl in a beaded black dress with a rebellious spaghetti strap, Wilson serenaded her appreciative audience with a slate of songs she called ballads, though the actual repertoire encompassed bossa nova, pop, folk and jazz.

The voice, which famously backed Diana Ross for a decade, wrappedthe room like a velvet scarf with Tina Turner fringing, opening with Artie Butler’s lush ode “Here’s To Life.” Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile” followed, as Wilson found her stride and settled into the room.

Seemingly unaware of her big gay following filling half the room on Tuesday, Wilson encouraged the ladies in the house to cuddle into their men for “Body and Soul,” with its seldom-sung verse. The tempo picked up as Wilson shimmied into “The Girl From Ipanema” and the Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 hit “Mas Que Nada.”

Wilson’s patter is all homegirl simple, yet sly. She acknowledges the history that got her to this stage with appreciation, but makes it clear that was then, this is now. “Maybe just one,” is her allusion to possibly dipping into the Holland-Dozier-Holland songbook that made the Supremes one of the top acts of the 1960s.

After songs by Bonnie Raitt and Billy Joel and a charming cover of the Norah Jones charter “Don’t Know Why,” she made good on the promise with an energetic “My World Is Empty Without You,” sharing the spotlight for exceptional featured riffs by band members Fil Lorenz, Torrance Brewster, Sam Bevan, Gary Claude and musical director-pianist Tammy Hall. It’s a seamless ensemble piece, made even more notable by Wilson’s telling that she had not met the very talented musicians prior to rehearsal earlier that day.

“It may have looked like the Supremes,” Wilson said of the musical “Dreamgirls,” pausing for effect before adding, “but I didn’t get paid, so it definitely wasn’t about us.”

Her joke told, she pays tribute to her backup sister — the late Florence Ballard — with “I Am Changing,” one of the songs from “Dreamgirls” sung by Effie White, the character based in part on Ballard’s experience of being dismissed from the group.

Now living in Las Vegas to be near her eight grandchildren, Wilson has borne her share of personal hardships. She survived a heart attack last year and sharp-eyed audience members may spy the name Rafi tattooed on her right shoulder — a tribute to the 14-year-old son she lost in a car accident in 1994.

In her closing number, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Wilson taps into her cumulative life experiences, elevating the charming folk song to a theatre piece of melancholy understanding.

IF YOU GO

Mary Wilson

Where: Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday; closes Dec. 16

Tickets: $52.50 to $57.50

Contact: (866) 468-3399; www.theempireplushroom.com   

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Man suing SFPD alleging officers beat him with batons

Cop attorney fires back: police were ‘interrupting a dangerous domestic violence incident’

Nuru corruption scandal prompts call to boost Ethics Commission budget

Watchdog agency lacks staff, resources to carry out its duties

Supes to boost subpoena power

Peskin legislation would allow committee to compel testimony under oath

Drug overdose deaths surpass 300 in San Francisco

Three-year rise in fatalities ‘generally driven by fentanyl’

Preston finds support for District 5 navigation center at community meeting

Supervisor hopes to narrow down list of possible locations within months

Most Read