McDreamy Dancing with Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay pounds the piano at a “Midsummer Night Swing.”

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

An elderly man in a straw hat was getting his mojo on with a flushed, swivel-hipped blonde—I’m talking swing dance—as Nellie McKay (rhymes with McPie) channeled Ella Fitzgerald to sing “A-Tisket A-Tasket” last night at Damrosch Park, in Lincoln Center. McKay—she of the acerbic lyrics, feminist stance, and vegan-activist politics—might seem an unlikely choice to kick off the “Midsummer Night Swing” series (starting with, naturally, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”). But really, you never know where the 26-year-old might turn up: recently it’s been Broadway—with Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in The Threepenny Opera and as the composer for the forthcoming show Election.

The girl loves music, and it’s clear from her CDs—her latest is Obligatory Villagers—that she’s steeped in all things Tin Pan Alley. Looking demure in a black velvet and red satin dress that seemed an homage to the 40s (big red bow in the back), she appeared delighted to be sharing the stage with the Aristocrats Swing Band, lending her impressive piano skills to such standards as “Satin Doll” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” (on which she also scatted) and picking up a ukelele for “Route 66.”

“It’s like a regular dance hall,” commented my husband as he surveyed the large dance floor between the press box and the outdoor stage, with its purple-curtain backdrop. We were watching pogo-ing punks and smooth-stepping preppies, saddle-shoed boppers and suspendered hoppers, all ignoring the heat and grooving to “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Some of them had doubtless just learned their moves and/or just met their partners; the event began with swing-dance lessons.

Of course a Nellie McKay concert would not be complete without those unique McKay songs (by all appearances, eminently danceable). Nellie performed “The Dog Song,” with its attendant woofs (a little help there from the Hawaiian-shirted band) and “Happy Flower” (“Me and you / We misbehave / We trample fecklessly upon the bladder of our hearts”—see what I mean?).

The series runs through July 26.

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