Photo courtesy of David Andrako

The word legendary is bantered about a fair amount these days, but I think that the word is appropriate to apply to Judy Collins. As she strode on to the stage for her new Café Carlyle engagement last Tuesday, she greeted her audience by humorously stating, “You’re looking at the American Idol of 1957.”

As she began her show, Collins further remarked to the audience, “You look great.” She looked terrific herself, effervescent and radiant in a lovely white gown as she launched into an evening entitled Love Letter to Sondheim. Collins’ recording of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” was a big hit in the mid-1970’s, earning her a Grammy nomination. While the performance was heavily tilted towards the songs of the Broadway master, Collins also sang selections of her own creation including “Maria” and Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.”

Collins was ably accompanied by her musical director and pianist Russell Walden. A clear highlight of the evening occurred when Collins accompanied herself at the keyboard for a while, displaying a very accomplished piano technique. A little research revealed that she studied classical piano and impressively at the age of 13 performed Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos.

I have always thought that one of the secrets of Collins’ appeal is that she has an inherent almost regal but approachable dignity (like a wise earth mother) which makes her singing seem to transcend turmoil and often provides great comfort. She won her first Grammy in 1967 for her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” at a time of great worldwide upheaval. Collins’ delivery of the following lyrics I am sure provided some healing perspective then as they do now: “I’ve looked at life from both sides now/From up and down, and still somehow…I really don’t know life at all…”

Not surprisingly, “Both Sides Now” was requested as an encore, which Collins very graciously and memorably delivered. This was followed by Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” providing a lovely, poignant close to the evening.

Upcoming engagements at the Café Carlyle include Steve Tyrell who will be appearing April 10-14. And Woody Allen performs with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band every Monday evening through June 11.

In the middle of her set, Collins sang “I’m Still Here,” Sondheim’s anthem for all those who are still thriving through the many chapters of life. After a career spanning close to 60 years, Collins is clearly still thriving to the delight of her audiences and can be seen at the Carlyle through April 7.

The Café Carlyle is located at 35 East 76th St. in Manhattan.