The cabaret show Beth Wilmurt premiered during last spring's Divafest at the Exit Theater is still -- at a year old -- funny, quirky, and spry. Wilmurt comes in late wearing a backpack and jeans, cusses unbecomingly, and mounts the stage in time to nail an uptempo version of "The Lady Is a Tramp." She pretends, between songs, to have no idea what to say -- "This is the part of the show I have set aside for some banter" -- but the idea of Wilmurt stepping unprepared onto any stage is almost as amusing as her Midwestern-girl shtick. She plays an innocent in cabaret land by standing on the piano, passing out, and disappearing midsong through a door, but she also sings beautifully, and the charm of Cabaret Rebel
lies in the distance between Wilmurt's put-on gawkiness and the sweet passion of her songs. From ballads like Harry Nilsson's "Life Line" or a surprisingly sad "Clementine" to rave-up standards like "Bye Bye Blackbird," she handles herself with a fine balance of feeling and cheese. Sometimes this balance wobbles, and her two backup musicians, for all their virtuosity on five instruments -- piano and accordion (David Malloy), clarinet, guitar, and drums (David Babich) -- can't sing to save their lives. But overall the show is a shamelessly earnest and sexy revival of American standards. Wilmurt does the shy, cautiously lyrical, white-girl-next-door thing really, really well.