DIVA TALK: A Chat with Andrea Marcovicci, Plus LaChanze Enchants & Chicago Turns Six

News   DIVA TALK: A Chat with Andrea Marcovicci, Plus LaChanze Enchants & Chicago Turns Six ANDREA MARCOVICCI
Over a decade ago, I interviewed Andrea Marcovicci for a radio program I hosted while in college in Massachusetts. She struck me then, as she does now, as one of the most intelligent performers, one who enjoys the exploration of her material as much as the performance. It hardly seems possible that the ever-youthful artist is currently celebrating her 15th anniversary at New York's Algonquin Hotel. It seems like only yesterday that I ran to the record store in Boston to buy her first — and still my favorite — recording, "Marcovicci Sings Movies," a wonderful collection of tunes from the silver screen, ranging from classics ("As Time Goes By") to rarities ("Here Lies Love") as well as more contemporary works like the "Tootsie" charmer "It Might Be You." Now, Marcovicci has assembled a show saluting one of the most celebrated composers Broadway has ever produced — Cole Porter. She has titled her show So in Love: The Love Songs of Cole Porter, which she will perform at the famed cabaret through Jan. 12, 2003. Just prior to her Algonquin return, I had the pleasure of speaking with Marcovicci, who seems as excited about preserving the American songbook as she was a decade ago. Excerpts from this chat follow:

ANDREA MARCOVICCI
Over a decade ago, I interviewed Andrea Marcovicci for a radio program I hosted while in college in Massachusetts. She struck me then, as she does now, as one of the most intelligent performers, one who enjoys the exploration of her material as much as the performance. It hardly seems possible that the ever-youthful artist is currently celebrating her 15th anniversary at New York's Algonquin Hotel. It seems like only yesterday that I ran to the record store in Boston to buy her first — and still my favorite — recording, "Marcovicci Sings Movies," a wonderful collection of tunes from the silver screen, ranging from classics ("As Time Goes By") to rarities ("Here Lies Love") as well as more contemporary works like the "Tootsie" charmer "It Might Be You." Now, Marcovicci has assembled a show saluting one of the most celebrated composers Broadway has ever produced — Cole Porter. She has titled her show So in Love: The Love Songs of Cole Porter, which she will perform at the famed cabaret through Jan. 12, 2003. Just prior to her Algonquin return, I had the pleasure of speaking with Marcovicci, who seems as excited about preserving the American songbook as she was a decade ago. Excerpts from this chat follow:

Question: What made you decide the time was right to do an all-Cole Porter show?
Andrea Marcovicci: Beyond the fact that I've been asked to do a Cole Porter show by every audience member since I began [laughs], I feel I've earned him and also, when I really went to work on it, I realized that I have a take on it that's going to be different than most people, and I believe it will be different enough from the two master Cole Porter interpreters that are so masterful that I've kind of always stepped away. And those are Steve Ross and Bobby Short, and Ella, of course, but I never Ella. But Steve Ross is so perfect, the absolute master of Cole, and Bobby Short — I was tempted to go to the other composers. The other thing is that I made the mistake, in my early career, of thinking that Cole Porter was a bit brittle, and I now realize that that wasn't so, not at all. As a matter of fact, there's a line in my show that I took from Oscar Wilde. I used to think that Cole Porter was cynical, and Oscar Wilde said, 'Cynicism is merely the art of seeing things as they are, rather than as they ought to be.' So Cole Porter is neither truly cynical nor brittle, and indeed, incredibly romantic, and although there's a little sense of loss or impending doom in these songs, it is great territory for me. Plus, I became fascinated with Linda Porter, his wife, and, indeed, she features so strongly in the piece that I might call it 'The Linda Porter Show.' [Laughs.] You have to wait until the inspiration strikes you for a particular composer. You can't just decide out of whole cloth, 'Well, here's my next victim, period.' And it really does happen slowly, and it evolves. And, of course, I had a lot of songs already in the repertoire, but I purposely went out not to sing those. There are very few that I used to sing.

Q: What are some of the songs that you will sing?
AM: The show opens with "Why Shouldn't I?" and "Let's Misbehave," and I have some ancient Cole Porter, "Love Letter Words" and "Wait for the Moon," songs that nobody knows, and I also have a song he wrote for Fanny Brice, "Weren't We Fools?" The familiar songs are "I Get a Kick Out of You," "So in Love," . . . to tell you the truth, a lot of the songs are not as familiar as one might assume. There's no "Anything Goes," there's no "Let's Do It," there's no "You're the Top." I tried to avoid the things that are sung to death, and I tried to concentrate on things that were very fresh, so there are big surprises in the show, really beautiful surprises like "How's Your Romance?" from The Gay Divorce of 1932. One of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, and I just now learned it two weeks ago. It was recommended and I found it, and I sent to the Cole Porter Trust for it, and it's so gorgeous.

Q: I've always thought that you seem to really enjoy putting together your shows.
AM: That's my favorite thing. I have to be honest with you. I am a book worm, and I'm kind of a school kid by nature. I was a Marymount girl. And when you are imbued with that kind of an education — thank God, I got it from my parents; they sent me to Marymount — the study is even more fascinating in a way than the performance because I spend months and months pouring through literature.

Q: Trying to get some idea of the person . . .
AM: Oh, absolutely. I read every biography; then I go into those anthologies of anecdotes and quotes and I cross-reference with every single reference book I have to find out if Ethel Merman said something about Cole Porter or if Cole Porter said something about Ethel Merman. And you go into everybody's biography, and you go to the back index, and you look up all the pages, so it is really like a thesis job. Q: How long does it take you to put together a show?
AM: Well, the World War II show was the one that took the longest. That took two years. This has taken — I got the show up and running in a couple of months, but the truth is that the work was before it and after it, so even though I debuted the show in July, the show is only now being finished, and the show was germinating in January, so I would say ten months at least before I feel that the show is really done. And I had a song list and a great show, and I just changed it two days ago with a slight alteration because it had to be expanded into a two-act concert for Irvine, and when I did it as a two-acter, I changed the first part of the show, and then I decided to keep that change in. So, all that happens, and on New Year's Eve at the Algonquin, I'm going to do a party version of Cole Porter, so I get yet a third version of the show.

Q: Does that keep it interesting for you to be constantly changing it?
AM: Very, very much fun. It's a wonderful pleasure.

Q: Will this show get recorded?
AM: It's going to be recorded, or a version of it. I'm going to go into the studio in March. I was going to have a record by now, but then I realized that I would have been pushing it, and I'm so glad I didn't do it because — this is not a good career move — but I always have an album of what I've done after I've done it. How dumb! But I can't help it. Until I've sung a show for seven shows a week for a couple of months, I don't know which song has to be on the album, I don't know which arrangement has to be done that way. And, therefore, I have classically and constantly shot myself in the foot because [the CD is] never there when I'm actually singing it! [Laughs.] . . . [But] you kick yourself if you make a record, and then three months later, you're singing at the Algonquin and you say, 'That's the stress of that line,' 'That's the meaning of that song, and woh, I missed it!' I'd hate that. We just roll with it around here. My feeling about my recordings is that they're a souvenir. I have never felt that as an artist that I've gotten the kind of distribution or national coverage that I would have liked. Therefore, there's no point in pushing for anything that's perfect. I'll take imperfection and be very satisfied!

Q: You're going to be at the Algonquin for two months. Do you like being in New York for the holidays?
AM: Oh, absolutely. I'm a New Yorker. I was born and raised there, and I live in Studio City, California, which is lovely, but Christmas in California with blue trees? They're white, they're pink, they're all kinds of colors, but it's not Rockefeller Center.

Q: How do you protect your voice when you're doing seven shows a week?
AM: I take a day of complete silence, either on Sunday or Monday, depending on benefits. I usually do a benefit on Monday, so usually Sunday is my day of voice rest. And, it's absolutely sacrosanct. It's 24 hours at least of complete silence, not one word to the bellman, not one word on the telephone, nothing! That's one way. And the other way is, as the week goes on, I try to talk later and later in the day, so that I'm not doing phone calls all day long. On Fridays, I often don't speak until about two or three in the afternoon, and on Saturday I try not to talk until five.

Q: You have double shows on Fridays and Saturdays.
AM: Oh, those are so hard. Oh, my God they're hard. [Laughs.] I liked it better when I did a different show for the late show . . . [but] Donald [Smith] said, quite rightly, that people have been waiting for you to do Cole Porter for such a long time. And, if they read about it, and then they show up at a late show, and you're not doing it, they'll throw a tomato. [Laughs.]

Q: Have you noticed any change in the cabaret audience over the past 15 years since you've been singing — are audiences getting younger . . .
AM:Younger and younger all the time and more diverse. I feel, in spite of the money, which is quite prohibitive, and I've tried to keep mine down . . . I think my cover is still down at 50, down at 50! I begged them to leave it at $25 years ago, but it naturally rises with inflation. But I find that people are reading about it and are wanting to take a chance . . . I've seen people come who were five years old, and are now dating and getting their parents to spend the money to send them when they're 15 years old. It's really very sweet. In 15 years I've seen kids grow up and come on their own. I've seen people get married, divorced, married again [Laughs.] I really go through everything with them. And there's this wonderful woman I remember so well. I hope I see her this year. She came every single year with her husband, and one year she wasn't there because he had died. And, of course, the next year she was sitting right there by herself, and she said, 'He would want me to be here.' There's a lot of that . . . and I dedicate songs to them, and there's a lot of that sweetness that happens every year.

Q: How do you think being a parent has affected . . . [Marcovicci has a seven-year-old daughter Alice with husband Daniel Reichert.]
AM: In every way, but most importantly, a renewed openness to experience, and an unbelievable sensitivity to emotion. I don't think I ever got over the postpartum thing. I still cry so easily and I'm moved so easily . . . Having a child in your life, whether you are the parent, the aunt, the godfather, it enriches you and opens you to an experience that is very rare and treasurable in this world. As a parent, of course, you have more of the stresses than the aunts and the uncles and the grandparents and the godparents. And those stresses are a mixed blessing because they're very difficult. But to watch a child develop is probably one of the great gifts that the world has to offer, and whether you do it as a teacher or a parent, we need children in our lives. And I was not around any children until I had my own. I was a godmother to one, but I must say I didn't do it particularly well. I didn't rise to the occasion — I was quite distant. I was never used to being with children. I was not a babysitter. I didn't have younger siblings, but now I love all children, all babies. The funny thing about when you have a baby of your own, you think you can accost any baby on the street! [Laughs.] I'm surprised I haven't gotten hit with pocketbooks!

Q: Would you want your daughter to go into performing?
AM: I wouldn't say I would want her to, but I certainly wouldn't mind. [Pause.] No, I'd probably prefer she didn't, but only because I would suffer for her to such an extent. My husband's an actor, and I suffer for him every audition [he] goes through . . . I got out of the audition process by having this sort of third act in my career where I very rarely audition for anything. But then I go through the audition process with him, and I suffer with him. And you can imagine if she was doing it. Oh, God! I'd hate it, but if it was something she wanted, I suppose I would just follow along. Mostly, I want her to be happy, and I know that sounds so simplistic, but I would like her to have a less complicated nature than mine. I would like her not to suffer from the darker side of nature the way I always have. That would be really splendid. I just hope she doesn't get as 'complicated,' which is the best word. I would like her to have a more relaxed nature like her daddy, and not such an up-and down and wilder nature like me. But it's probably a done deal, and she'll be what she is. We'll watch Dr. Phil and figure it out. [Laughs.]

Q: Are you involved in any other projects after the Algonquin?
AM: I'll do my normal schedule of going from town to town to town, and I'll make the album of Cole Porter. I think I'm going to stay in L.A. for the pilot season this coming year. I really want to go back to my acting. I would really like a TV series now so I could stay home more. And I told my agents that I'm now really available to staying in L.A. a little bit more. I have most of February, March and April more at home than away for a change, and I'm going to be looking into whatever it is I could do. It would be nice to be able to bring in my income at home.

(Show times for Andrea Marcovicci's Porter tribute are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 11:30 PM. There is a $15 minimum and a $50 music charge for 9 PM Tuesday shows and 11:30 PM Friday and Saturday shows. All other performances have a $50 music charge and a $50 prix fixe dinner requirement. There will be no performances on Dec. 24 and 25 or Jan. 1. The Algonquin Hotel is located in New York City at 59 West 44th Street; call (212) 944-1618 for reservations.)

RECENTLY SEEN

LaChanze
It's always exciting — and a bit anxiety-producing — to watch an artist make his or her solo concert/cabaret debut. I needn't have worried, however, last Saturday night. LaChanze, who debuted her first concert act at the Kaplan Penthouse of Lincoln Center's Rose Building, was a natural for the intimate setting, offering a diverse array of material.

Some singers do quite well just producing beautiful sounds from their throats; with LaChanze, the music seems to begin at her toes, glide through her entire body, and then burst out of her mouth. She is amazingly relaxed onstage, and uses her rich alto to great effect. LaChanze ("That's capital L, small a, no space!, capital C, small h, a, n, z, e," she joked) also possesses one of the most radiant smiles that grows wider and wider as the applause grows louder and louder.

She began her sold-out show with Lala Hathaway's "So They Say"; other highlights included "The Skate," a spirit raising tune from The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Kirsten Childs' Off-Broadway musical that starred LaChanze; a belty, nuanced "Another Hundred People" from Sondheim's Company; and her Once On This Island charmer, "Waiting for Life." Not surprisingly, the most moving offerings of the evening were two songs written to pay homage to the death of her husband, Calvin Gooding, one of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Both Leesa Richards' "Last Night" and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' "Song for LaChanze" were poignant reminders of the tremendous loss of life last September.

Chicago
I also had the pleasure of attending the Nov. 17 performance of Chicago, which celebrated the revival's sixth anniversary on Broadway. I particularly wanted to attend the musical because I knew it would be the last chance I would have to see the stage version prior to the Miramax Films debut in December.

I'm happy to report that the Kander and Ebb musical is as sharp, funny and entertaining as ever. I think I've seen this production six or seven times, and it never disappoints. It's one of the most exciting theatrical evenings to be found on Broadway, and its current stars are as enjoyable as any who have gotten the chance to strut their stuff during the musical's six years.

Charlotte d'Amboise and Caroline O'Connor now head the cast as, respectively, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, and they make a dynamic pair. If d'Amboise doesn't possess the pipes of former Roxies Sandy Duncan or Belle Calaway, she is, perhaps, the best dancer to play the role in this revival, gliding across the stage with ease. She's also extremely funny, sexy and one of the most likable Roxies I've encountered, and her performance of "Roxie" is magnetic. Caroline O'Connor, who starred in the Australian production of Chicago and who is now making her Broadway debut, is every bit a match for d'Amboise. During her entrance — and in profile — she bears a remarkable resemblance to Bebe Neuwirth, who created the role of Velma Kelly for this production; O'Connor, it should be noted, is very much a star in her own right. Her performance is often quite original, and she brings a thrilling belt voice to the part. From the moment she opens her mouth in "All That Jazz," you know you're seeing a star performance.

Billy Zane — of "Titanic" fame — is appropriately suave and matinee-idol handsome, if a little less vocally secure than previous Flynns. Rob Bartlett and Roz Ryan remain strong in the roles of, respectively, Amos Hart and Matron "Mama" Morton. And, production numbers like "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango," "We Both Reached for the Gun," and "Hot Honey Rag" remain showstoppers.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone will host the 32nd Annual Theatre Hall of Fame Ceremony and Honorees Dinner on Monday, Jan. 27, 2003. The ceremony — at the Gershwin Theatre (222 W. 51st Street) — will be followed by dinner at the famed Sardi's Restaurant on West 44th Street. The 2002 inductees include actors Stockard Channing, Tammy Grimes, Frank Langella and Jean Stapleton; playwrights Larry Gelbart and David Mamet; producer Bernard Gersten; and scenic designer John Lee Beatty . . . Leslie Kritzer — who starred in the Paper Mill production of Funny Girl — will be Alice Ripley's standby in the upcoming production of Tell Me On a Sunday at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Marcia Milgrom Dodge directs the production, which begins performances Dec. 17, 2002, and runs through Jan. 12, 2003. For tickets, call (202) 467 4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org . . . Scottish singer Morag McLaren will join singer-comedienne Georga Osborne on Nov. 27 for an evening of opera and musical theatre spoofs at Don't Tell Mama, which is located in New York City on Restaurant Row (W. 46th Street). Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations. Osborne's acclaimed show, Summer in the Attic (Some're Not), has been extended at the New York hotspot . . .

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Dec. 20 at the Sunoco Performance Theater in Harrisburg, PA
May 31, 2003 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

May 16, 2003 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

Nov. 23-30 at the Curran in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 3-16 at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 20 at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA

Linda Eder in Concert:

Nov. 23 at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 3 at the Verizon Wireless Theatre in Houston, TX
Dec. 4 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, TX
Dec. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL
Dec. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 17 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL
Dec. 18 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 20 and 21 with the Atlanta Symphony at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert

March 27, 2003 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert:

Now through Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

—By Andrew Gans