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Thursday, May 27, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Women Songwriters Get A Belated Spotlight

"Can't We Be Friends" will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 6 at the Pike St. Cinema, 1108 Pike St. Tickets are $10 on Thursdays, $12 on Fridays and Saturdays. For information, call 682-7064. ------------------------------------------------------------------- For anyone who loves vintage vocals, or hums along to big band tunes from the '30s, or who wonders why you never hear about women songwriters, the nostalgic revue of popular songs by women composers now playing at the Pike Street Cinema makes an entertaining (and dare we add educational) evening.

The revue's title, "Can't We Be Friends," is taken from the name of a 1929 hit song written by Kay Swift, a prolific popular songwriter who died in 1992. Arranged and produced by Dennis Nyback, a local entertainment entrepreneur best known for his historic and off-beat film series, and performed by Nora Michaels, a veteran Seattle chanteuse who's developed a following for her one-woman Edith Piaf show, the revue of 20 songs is interspersed with film clips of singing and dancing from the '20s, '30s and early '40s, which are a treat in themselves.

Michaels is a likable entertainer who knows how to deliver speaking lines without making them seem like awkward glops of glue linking songs. She gives thumb-nail profiles of each composer before singing and is backed up by a jazz trio led by long-time Seattle pianist Jack Brownlow. Though the show is performed in The Pike Street Cinema's tiny theater, it has an easy-going cabaret style about it that makes an audience member long for a cocktail, or at least the tinkling of ice cubes in a highball glass.

Dressed in a black satin evening ensemble and flashing streamlined red fingernails, Michaels belts and croons her way through such well-known songs as "What a Difference a Day Makes," popularized by Dinah Washington; "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," which became a signature song for Louis Jordan; "Them There Eyes" and "Good Morning Heartache," both sung to great acclaim by Billie Holiday; and "Why Don't You Do Right?," a hit for Peggy Lee. Other songs on the program were hits for such big names as Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey.

The subject matter of the songs is mostly romantic and sentimental, but then so are popular songs written by men. Love, requited or not, is never out of style with songwriters and their audiences, as the revue aptly demonstrates.

The names of the women who wrote the songs, including Maria Grever, Joan Whitney, Irene Higgenbotham and Doris Tauber, are unknown by all but the most knowledgeable students of American popular song. Whether that stems from inherent sexism or historic oversight is unexplored in the revue. But that's fine. "Can't We Be Friends" is meant as entertainment, not a case for the prosecution of a discrimination suit. As entertainment it succeeds.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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