Ron and I caught Andrea Marcovicci’s late show Saturday night at the Algonquin.
Marcovicci’s breakthrough act 20+ years ago (as well as her first cabaret LP) was Marcovicci Sings Movies. In her current show, Marcovicci Sings Movies II, the cabaret legend explores various aspects of the history of song classics in film.
Okay, since it’s Andrea Marcovicci, and since she’s the most elegant diva around, let’s mention the dress (I mean gown). It’s a jeweled flesh-tone chiffon sheath with Fortuny-inspired over-draping in a champagne silk charmeuse.* Marcovicci entered draped in grey shawl, and after doing the “reveal” of the dress commented, “This is what I invested in.” Late in the show she accessorized the outfit with a fox stole, and I was fascinated that she wound it twice around her right arm to anchor it. In addition to the requisite necklace, bracelets, earrings, and rings, she wore a large artificial gardenia on her left wrist that had a star moment during a lyric that said “every day was like a gift of flowers, ribbon-wrapped and waiting to be seen.” And unlike the last artist I saw in the space, the ensemble was exquisite and fascinating from the back, too.
Marcovicci explored various archetypes in the movies, both performers and themes and how movie music illustrated them, including the perfect gentleman – a Fred Astaire medley of course, the sidekick – Hamlet as introduced by Betty Hutton**, the perfect lady – Audrey Hepburn. She joked that Hepburn still inspires her to achieve her “original weight, seven and three quarters pounds,” and made the fascinating point that “if you look at the Mancini melodies writen for her movies, they are trim, elegant; they are simple and exquisitely tailored just like the Givenchys she wore; and if you hear them you see her instantly.” The subsequent medley of Moon River, Charade, and Two for the Road certainly bear out her argument.
Marcovicci mentioned that her first memory ever was of going to the movies with her father (as she puts it, “We didn’t have ‘quality time’ in the Fifities”). And she wove the theme of the movies bringing out our inner child through the show. It was especially touching when she discussed her own daughter who suggested the Randy Newman song When She Loved Me for this show.
I first heard the Marcovicci Sings Movies LP being played at Melody Records at Dupont Circle, and I bought it instantly and listened to it endlessly for a period. So it was a special, very touching thrill to hear Marcovici sing some of those tracks such as Two For The Road and It Might Be You live for the very first time. Marcovicci also recreated her own movie music moment, accompanying herself while singing Someone to Love, as she did in Henry Jaglom’s film of the same name. (However, she did not flip off the audience at the end.)
On Sunday, I mentioned this to one of Manhattan’s more mordant musical directors in town who responded, “Oh, does she play flat, too?” And I feel the need to discuss the fact that Marcovicci seems to be one of the most polarizing performers around. In fact there is even a song in the revue Cabaret Hell with the punchline, “…but I hate Andrea Marcovicci more.”
First of all, the voice. Yes, it’s distinctive and immediately recognizable. And it is one of those instruments that can cause an immediate reaction — for better or for worse. (I fell in love immediately.) However, I’ve never had occasion to wonder if Marcovicci actually knew what the melody of a song is, the way I have with others of more lauded instruments. And this is a genre where Mabel Mercer is the icon. Admittedly, when Marcovicci was going through vocal issues a few years back, she kept performing rather than putting her career on hold. But I am happy to say she sounds that best that she has in this century!
However, many people have attractive tones. What Marcovicci singularly does is combine an intense desire to communicate ideas to an audience by providing an emotional experience. For example, in her current show, she starts a section with a statement taking movies to task for the glamorization of alcohol and smoking. After several amusing Nick and Nora jokes she turns her attention to the songwriter Johnny Mercer, explaining that he had a notorious addiction to alcohol, and that his charm often turned so sour that he would have to call his hostess the morning after the night before and make floral amends, but often got to the point where he was told, “Don’t bother with the roses, Johnny.” Marcovicci then launched into a medley of Days of Wine and Roses (from a movie devoted to the ravages of alcoholism) and Call Me Irresponsible. The performance of the medley travelled a journey from a place of pixilated charm to boorish, alcoholic bravado. Then she wrapped up the sequence with the fact that the two songs were back-to-back Oscar winners. C’mon, that’s more layers than the Jacques Torres croissant I had that afternoon!
Of course Marcovicci could accomplish none of this without the steady hand of her music director, the incomparable friend-of-this-blog Shelly Markham. He totally understands how to support Marcovicci’s musical attacks and manages to make musical transitions that would baffle lesser players seem obvious and seamless. His arrangements of the songs remaining from Marcovicci Sings Movies V.1 seem somehow warmer than Glen Merbach’s work. Jared Egan on bass also provided a solid foundation.
Here’s her set list***:
- Long Ago and Far Away
- It Might Be You
- Good Mornin’
- I Won’t Dance / Cheek to Cheek
- Swingin’ on a Star
- Moon River / Charade / Two For the Road
- Days of Wine and Roses / Call Me Irresponsible
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- Someone to Love
- When She Loved Me
- The Way We Were / Thanks for the Memories
- Young At Heart
- Encore: As Time Goes By
* See, I learned something from watching all those cycles of Project Runway
** People who’ve heard Marcovicci’s views of putting an act together will recognize her belief in transferring “arcs” as useful from one show to another. In this, there were items from her Astaire, WWII, and Loesser projects. The lady preaches what she practices!
*** She said that she had considered the Oscar-winning song, It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp, but didn’t include it because she “didn’t have the wardrobe.”