Holmes combines Porter, Simon for cabaret show at Smith Center

If your Fourth of July songbook begins with “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and ends with “America the Beautiful,” Clint Holmes, The Smith Center’s resident headliner at Cabaret Jazz, has a few other suggestions for you.

How about Paul Simon’s “Feelin’ Groovy” — or “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”? Maybe Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” or perhaps “Just One of Those Things”?

Not that anybody’s forcing you to choose. Those timeless tunes, and many more, are all part of Holmes’ award-winning “This Thing Called Love,” which the singer brings back to Cabaret Jazz this Independence Day weekend.

“It’s kind of a special show,” Holmes says — and not just because it earned him top honors at New York’s 28th annual Bistro Awards. (Holmes collected another honor, for his show “Stop This Train,” from the BroadwayWorld.com New York Cabaret Awards.)

He’s delighted that a show created in Las Vegas won over “snobby” New Yorkers.

In addition, Holmes adds, “I’ve investigated the territory” since introducing the show 2½ years ago, enabling him to bring “a lot more nuance” to his performances.

“I know this guy,” he adds — “this guy” being “a man who falls in love, screws it up, and wants it back.”

Initially, the guy and his romantic travails — from love’s first blush to passion, disenchantment and sadder-but-wiser acceptance — weren’t part of the show.

Instead, Holmes planned to explore the work of “an older composer and a more contemporary” one, settling on Porter and Simon as “great writers, great American writers, sophisticated writers” representative of their respective eras.

But, as director Larry Moss told Holmes, “ ‘There’s a love story to be told here,’ ” so the show “became a miniplay,” the singer says.

Starting with the line “Cole Porter and Paul Simon walk into a bar,” the show features not only Porter and Simon classics (including “De-Lovely” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” respectively) but such lesser-known songs as Porter’s “Get Out of Town” (paired in the show with Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”) and Simon’s “Love.”

Holmes’ musical director, Jeffrey Neiman, introduced Holmes to the latter.

“ ‘No one does that song,’ ” Simon told Holmes when the two finally met at New York’s Carlyle Hotel.

Holmes was in town to record the show at the swank Cafe Carlyle, where he performed “This Thing Called Love” to such acclaim during a three-week run.

Holmes and his wife, singer Kelly Clinton, were in the Carlyle’s tea room “and, across the room, there’s Paul Simon,” Holmes says.

At his wife’s urging, Holmes finally approached Simon and introduced himself, explaining the concept behind “This Thing Called Love.”

Simon told him, “ ‘I heard about it — and I heard it was great,’ ” Holmes says.

But Simon wasn’t the only one singing its praises; New York Times critic Stephen Holden wrote that the show merged “the excitement of Las Vegas and the sophistication of Manhattan” while describing Holmes as “a brainy showman whose sensitivity to lyrics is matched by his fearlessness as a performer.”

Overall, it’s “an interesting mix of music,” Holmes notes, crediting both Moss and Neiman with helping to shape “This Thing Called Love.”

In the process, their collaboration led to a textbook example of a cabaret show, which Holmes defines as “nightclub and theater combined,” he says. “That’s one of the things that makes it different.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.