Sharon McNight pays tribute to late, great ladies of stage and screen

There's no such thing a short answer to a question posed to Sharon McNight. The Bay Area, national and international cabaret icon has a wealth of showbiz stories and information that segues together another in a delightful, if erratic, pattern.

A simple greeting will bring on a quote from Hidegarde, accompanied by a detailed career synopsis of that lady.

This, in turn, inspires a brief treatise on Judy Canova (“a singing Minnie Pearl”), replete with yodeling; a sidebar on Martha Raye ('the woman had a fabulous voice in addition to being a fabulous physical comedian”); and a detour that touches Frankie Valli, Howdy Doody, Travilla gowns, Bette Davis, “Valley of the Dolls” and Sophie Tucker. The last is a subject dear to McNight's heart, having played the lady in a one-woman off-Broadway show that first sawlight at the Plush Room.

McNight is now in The City singing in the Empire Plush Room (with Joan Edgar at the piano) in “Gone, But Not Forgotten,” a showcase of signature tunes from Canova, Tucker and Raye, as well as Betty Hutton, Alice Faye, Ethel Merman and other late greats.

“It's some of the greatest music ever written,” says McNight of the '40s to '60s era tunes she's including in the new act. The women are an inspiration says the Tony nominee and MAC Award-winner. “Their timing is immaculate. There's an economy of movement in comedy that people don't think about. You have to plan every blink, every step. It's a challenge. And these women's talent should not be forgotten. So if I can get someone interested in listening to their music or seeing their films, I'm happy.”

With such an encyclopedic knowledge of her subjects, it's no surprise that McNight is a faculty member at Yale University's annual Cabaret Conference, along with Broadway and cabaret artists Jason Graae, Sally Mayes and the legendary Julie Wilson.

What is surprising is her resistance to technology. Her PDA is a well-worn address book, likely worth its weight in gold. “I'm very mechanical. I can fix anything. But don't make me sit and stare at a screen.” So, a little Googling research aside, don't look for McNight with white iPod buds stuck in her ears.

“I'd rather smell a flower, have a cocktail or dance a dance!” she says. Or tell you about the time Judy Garland… Oh, well, never mind. She has to save something for the show.

IF YOU GO

Sharon McNight

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

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 15 and 21; 7 p.m. Sept. 16 and 23; 10:30 p.m. Sept. 22

Tickets: $32.50 to $35

Contact: (415) 885-2800; www.theempireplushroom.com

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