Nellie McKay

Reviewing then-teenaged Nellie McKay's debut album in these pages in 2004, I fretted that—despite her mischievous instincts and prodigious gifts—that she was maybe a bit too much. I knew she had a bright future, but I was wrong about one thing: Being a bit too much is the whole point with the effusive artist. She's since then covered Doris Day (on a cheeky tribute CD) and performed Kurt Weill (as Polly Peachum in the 2006 Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera). In her lounge-act-cum-social-commentary I Want to Live!, which shouldn't be missed in this one-night stand, McKay lights the deceptive sunshine of her voice onto the darkened skies of the 1958 film about Barbara Graham, a thief and prostitute put to death in California's gas chamber in 1955 for the brutal killing of a Burbank widow. (Susan Hayward emoted her way to an Oscar in the movie.) McKay's song cycle, backed by a jazz quartet going pop, finds room for all kinds of odd surprises in making murder go musical. She sings her way to the Beatles in the show: Just before she's found guilty, McKay's Graham plucks "I'm So Tired" on a ukulele in her prison blues, moving from sweet to sour with a furious cry of "I'd give you everything I've got for a little piece of mind!" STEVE WIECKING

Sat., March 3, 8 p.m., 2012

 
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