ST. CLOUD -- At 80 and in frail health, Peggy Lee has faded from public view, but her music lives on in a critically acclaimed theatrical tribute developed by jazz singer Connie Evingson.
Evingson, a fixture in the Twin Cities music scene since the mid-1980s, brings her "Fever: A Tribute to Peggy Lee" to St. Cloud for a single performance Sept. 30 in the Paramount Theater. Show time is 8 p.m.
Part musical revue, part dramatic theater, "Fever" has been greeted with popular and critical success since Evingson's inaugural performance in late 1998.
The show features 25 of Lee's songs, wrapped in scripted dialogue about the singer's life, zipped up with dramatic staging and lighting.
A Star Tribune reviewer called the production a "conservative but genuine tribute" to the jazz-pop diva, whose last Top 20 song, "Is That All There Is," was released in 1969.
Evingson developed the "Tribute" in conjunction with the Illusion Theater's artist in residence, writer Kim Hines, whose script mingles biographical narrative between the musical numbers.
Although Evingson spends most of her time as a soloist in the jazz club circuit, she reprises the show from time to time at sold-out venues throughout the region.
She also is a member of the jazz ensemble Moore by Four, a Twin Cities headliner led by pianist-arranger Sanford Moore.
In "Tribute" Evingson provides the vocals and narrative, accompanied by Moore on piano, Dave Karr on sax and clarinet, Joan Griffith on guitar, Terry Burns on bass and Nathan Norman on drums.
Evingson said in an interview this week that she started researching Lee's music and career about nine years ago when Twin Cities jazz fans drew comparisons between the diva and Evingson's singing styles.
A Hibbing native, Evingson said she gravitated toward Lee because "we come from the same background, the same part of the country. ... and I admire her for taking the creative initiative with her life."
Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, N.D., and, like Evingson, comes from Scandinavian stock.
"I found her life inspiring and fascinating and realized she hasn't received as much attention as others from that period," Evingson said. "Lee was as big as other female singers but she was a songwriter as well, when others were not. That is unique."
A singer and actress, Lee reigned for nearly four decades as a show business queen, winning the hearts of music and movie audiences with her sensuous voice and glamorous look.
She emerged in the 1940s as the lead female vocalist in the Benny Goodman Band, leaving a few years later for a solo recording career with husband Dave Barbour.
Over the next 20 years, she recorded 40 hit singles, many of which were written by the wife-husband team.
Her smoky, sultry voice was as recognizable throughout the period as Sinatra's and Vaughn's and Crosby's. In 1955 Lee was nominated for an Academy Award for her film performance in "Pete Kelly's Blues" and appears in several other motion pictures throughout the 1950s.
"I don't think we look alike nor sound alike," said Evingson, a tall, willowy blonde who favors tailored black coats and gowns during her nightclub performances.
"But we are more alike in attitude and in style," she added. "Understatement is more my thing than going overboard, both artistically and personally. I think that is the case with Peggy Lee."
Most critics, however, have noted Evingson's similarities with Lee in voice and delivery.
A Star Tribune reviewer, for example, said, "Evingson convincingly recreates Lee's rhythmic buoyancy and flair for coloring postwar pop songs in various shades of blue."
The song list in "Fever" includes Lee's "absolute best that people expect to hear, and others that are lesser known but help outline her career and life," Evingson said.
The audience can expect to hear Lee's "Fever," "I'm A Woman," "Black Coffee" and "Where Can I Go Without You," among many others.
Tickets to the Paramount show are $17 for adults and $12 for seniors. Call (320) 259-5463.
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