Cabaret classic: A valentine to Paula West

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Paula West is going to do things to you in the dark, and you’re going to like it.

Now that she can actually be considered a veteran of the San Francisco cabaret scene, West is letting loose in her new show at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, and man does it feel good.

Backed by the George Mesterhazy Quartet, a jaunty West takes the stage and in short order she struts, she makes friends, and she romances in the dark. In her opening number, she funkifies “Dark Town Strutter’s Ball” to the point that a truly golden oldie sounds like the hippest thing going. Then she bends Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” into a fetching reggae pulse (and even makes it sound a little Cole Porter-ish). It turns out those turns are merely a warmup for the near-nuclear explosion of “Romance in the Dark,” a 1940s tease made famous by Lil Green.

Bold and sexy, “Romance in the Dark” gives West the perfect opportunity to show off just why she’s so incredibly good. The song caresses and punches. It slaps and tickles, if you will. And West imbues the song with warmth that turns into heat and sass that turns into sensuality.
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After that opening trio, can I just say that the Great Recession is officially over, and Paula West is the first step toward recovery – at least toward recovering a glimmer of unadulterated joy in these dark winter months. After the momentum of “Darktown Strutter’s” and Dylan followed by the climax of “Romance,” there’s no way West can follow up with anything but Cole Porter. “Nobody’s Chasing Me,” with its lounge-y melody and clever lyrics, serves as a between-courses palate cleanser, and the rest of the show is a nutritious feast.

West is pulling tunes from all over the place – New Orleans for “Iko Iko,” Tin Pan Alley for Hoagy Carmichael’s delicious “Bread and Gravy, mid-’60s Dylan again with a fantastic “Maggie’s Farm” – and she delivers them all with shifting colors and a voice as supple as it is strong.

For the evening’s wrenching ballad, she soars through “Where Flamingos Fly,” an obscure tune recorded by Peggy Lee and Helen Merrill that involves a criminal lover making a quick getaway. And she winds down with a swingin’ “Have You Met Sir Jones,” “My Romance” and “The Music Goes Round and Round.” To wrap up this close-to-perfect cabaret evening, she hauls out her big belt notes to wail on Porter’s “I’m in Love Again.” West’s exuberance is barely contained, and her opening-night audience felt exactly the same way. They demanded a second encore, and West obliged, offering “The Snake,” her ssssssinfully biting signature tune.

Paula West just gets better and better. She has exited the realm of wonderful cabaret singers and entered the pantheon of greatness. She’s at the Rrazz Room for the next month and a half. Treat yourself and see her – at least once. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.


Paula West continues at the Rrazz Room through March 14. Tickets are $35-$45 plus a two-drink minimum. The Hotel Nikko is at 222 Mason St. Visit for information.

Now here’s a treat. Paula sings “Like a Rolling Stone” with the George Mesterhazy Quartet.

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