DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Andrea Marcovicci Plus Betty Buckley at the Blue Note

News   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Andrea Marcovicci Plus Betty Buckley at the Blue Note
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Andrea Marcovicci
Andrea Marcovicci Photo by Heather Sullivan

ANDREA MARCOVICCI

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly two decades since Andrea Marcovicci took the cabaret world by storm with her tribute to the songs from the world of film, "Marcovicci Sings Movies." That program, which remains my favorite Marcovicci recording — featuring sublime renditions of "The Folks Who Live On the Hill," "Here Lies Love," "Fanny" and "Someone to Love" — was followed by equally stellar tributes to Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser and the songs of the World War II era. Known as much for her impeccably researched evenings as well as her natural way with a lyric, Marcovicci has decided to revisit her earlier triumphs with a new show at the Algonquin's Oak Room entitled just . . . love, By Request. It's been a daunting but enjoyable task for the multitalented performer, who relearned nearly 200 songs for the show, which allows audience members the chance to choose their favorites from Marcovicci's staggering repertoire of classic and contemporary material. The singing actress, who is also at work on a new evening devoted to the life and songs of the late Hildegarde, recently spoke with me about her By Request program and her desire to sing "other people's feelings." That interview follows.

Question: How did the idea for the By Request show come about?
Andrea Marcovicci: There were a number of facets to this idea. One was singing in the spring and wanting the lightness that comes from a "non-book show." I'm going to call my other shows "book shows" [because of] the intensity of the research, the amount of time each show takes, which is between a year or two, and the depths of academia that it requires. I wanted something for the spring that I could do, perhaps, even as a series every spring, [to] get away from the book shows for a while. There's another deep reason — more and more I run into people who say, "I want to hear such and such a song because of this . . . because it was my wedding song, or it reminds me of my mother." They have reasons, and as much as it's wonderful that I'm always moving forward and doing these books shows, I'm also a person who is never singing anything from my old repertoire, for people who may have fallen in love with me 15 years ago [because of the song] "Two for the Road." So I wanted that opportunity, and I also wanted the opportunity to be able to sing other people's feelings for a change, not my own.

Q: Tell me about that idea of singing "other people's feelings."
Marcovicci: The notion of singing other people's feelings — of really wanting to find out what moves [a person] in a song, why [does he or she] want to hear this song. Let's sing [his or her] feelings. Going to the table and singing from the man to the woman. Literally, standing next to him and singing for his bride, which is what's been happening. Q: How are the shows going so far?
Marcovicci: It's been unbelievable. Last night I called it communion, and then I made fun of myself. . . . It's bad enough that I usually sound like a schoolteacher, now I sound like a priest! [Laughs.] It's a bit of real communion between audience, song and performer. One person wanted to hear "The Way You Look Tonight," and I said, "Do you have a special memory attached?" And she said, "Well, my husband and I have been married for 56 years," but then she said, "I said to him, 'You know you're married to an older woman now.' And he said to me, 'You'll always be 26 to me.'" Now, is there any reason for me to write dialogue any longer when you can get something like that?

Later on in the show last night, there was a young couple, and they requested "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "These Foolish Things." And I said, "Wait a minute. Let's figure this out. You're how old, 12, 18?" [Laughs.] To me they looked like babies. They were in their twenties. I said, "Are these your parents songs? Do you have a memory attached?" They said, "No, we're making a memory tonight." So, it is working. It was a dicey possibility, but I felt that it would work. It's not too big a room. Indeed, the audience is so interested in each other that they're quieter than they've every been.

Q: How does the evening work?
Marcovicci: There's a booklet on the table . . . . I went into rehearsal in February in my entire repertoire. I went back to every single song. We re-rehearsed and I re-memorized over 180 to 200 songs. Then I decided [whether I wanted it] in the booklet for choice or not because some songs either would have been terribly out of place or take too much time to set up, so I chose from each repertoire — I chose from "Movies," I chose from Kern, I chose from Berlin. I chose not to choose from certain shows I might want to revive, like Ruth Etting. I might want to bring [the Etting show] back in its entirety. But I chose from almost all of the shows. "Movies" is almost intact. All of "World War II" is intact, all of Astaire, all of Porter, all of Loesser and then a smattering of almost every other show. Then we put it into these books, so they get to look through the booklet of my entire repertoire that I'm offering. It's very well laid out by Lesley [Alexander], so that it isn't very difficult to go from page to page. . .

And then there's an insert, and in the middle you [list] your three favorite requests and you sign your name. What you don't know until I'm on the stage is that I'm going to call on you for a memory. That you find out. And, last night when I said that, they went, "Ohhhhhh." . . .

Q: How many songs are you performing each night? How do you decide when to end the show?
Marcovicci: I have a natural barometer. It's supposed to be 15 [songs] and then an encore. It went too long the second night, it was too short the first night, and it was perfect last night. . . . Last night people asked me for songs that were already in [the show], and some people asked me for something that I needed to replace a song with. Very complicated bit of business! [Laughs.]

Q: So there are some songs that you're doing every night. . .
Marcovicci: Every night or wanting to do every night. Last night three of the songs I wanted to do, I couldn't because there were songs that were similar to them that were asked for.

Q: Do you have the sheet music onstage with you?
Marcovicci: [Musical director-pianist Shelly Markham] has the sheet music, and if I had to read over his shoulder, I wouldn't be the least bit embarrassed. He has four books of my latest shows — Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, World War II and Astaire. On his left side, he has three huge alphabetized songs books. Anything that isn't in our last four shows, he goes to those alphabetized books. . . . But the arrangement [of the song] is going to change based on the memory that these people tell me. If somebody tells me that this is their mother's favorite song and their mother recently died and I've been doing it as an uptempo, obviously it's going to have to change. So, Shelly's listening at the same time for the sensitivity it will take to think that fast on our feet.

We did "[A Nightingale Sang in] Berkeley Square" totally different than we've ever done it because somebody wanted to hear it — it was his 80th birthday. I was doing it early in the show, and I also knew I had to do "Foolish Things" [later in the evening]. They're very much the same song, and Shelley just intuitively responded to everything I was doing.

Q: It must open up the interpretative possibilities for you when you hear someone else's memory versus what you have in your mind.
Marcovicci: That brings it back exactly to what I wanted to do. Let's sing someone else's feelings for a change. I wanted so much to make myself the vessel and the conduit for some of these other feelings. I know how important these songs are to preserve, but when you really look into the eyes of an 80-year-old man who has asked you to sing "Berkeley Square" on his 80th birthday, and you know he went through the war, that's his song. It's not my song anymore. It's not about what I found in "Berkeley Square" that makes me a different interpreter of that song. I need to deliver "Berkeley Square" the way he wants to hear it.

Q: What are some of the songs that you are performing every night?
Marcovicci: I knew all these requests were going to be old, so some of my songs are modern. "What More Can I Say?," "Brave and Foolish Thing," "What Is Love?," "This Wonderful Girl Can Go Wacky." I knew that occasionally I’m going to close with "The Kind of Love You Never Recover From." The second night, all my songwriters were there, and they kept asking for each other's songs, so it was very modern.

Q: What's it like performing when the songwriters are there? Does that put more pressure on you, or have you done this for so long that you're now accustomed to it?
Marcovicci: I have blessedly gotten used it! Almost inevitably, I used to forget nothing except the song that was the songwriter sitting there. But I have gotten past that, thank goodness. I now actually enjoy it enormously.

Q: You also have another show based on Hildegarde's life.
Marcovicci: That's in the works now. That will be the show coming in in the fall to mark my 20th anniversary at the Oak Room. And Hilde is amazing.

Q: What did you discover researching her life?
Marcovicci: Mostly what I discovered is that her early recording career — she was the fourth most prolific recording artist of all time — that is where the real gems lie. And her storyline is fantastic — it's a great story. . . I debuted it at the Gardenia as always. The workshop went great. I get one more workshop before bringing it in to the Gardenia again, where I get the bass player as well as just Shelley. Then we bring it in. It's dreamy. [Laughs.] She's so much fun. Singing her songs — it's always at the height of emotion. It's very dramatic or it's very silly. I get to be my silliest, because she was really silly.

Q: Did you ever get to talk to her?
Marcovicci: I only saw her when I was a little girl, and she was playing the piano with her gloves on. And I just watched her as a little girl and thought she was a little loony. And, years later, backstage at Carnegie Hall, I got to button those gloves, but I never got to know her the way so many of my friends did. Our paths just did not cross, and now I know her after a year's research.

Q: Do you have interest in doing theatre?
Marcovicci: Absolutely. I would like to play Vera to Mr. Jackman's Pal Joey, but so would every other dame around! [Laughs.] That would be divine. I wanted very much for my Lady in the Dark to come to Broadway, but it opened right after 9/11. I very much want to do theatre — that's a dream for me. I've done it, but it never lasts. My Broadway shows always seem to have a habit of closing. [Laughs.]

[Andrea Marcovicci will perform just . . . love, By Request through June 10. Show times are Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 9 PM with late shows Friday and Saturday nights at 11:30 PM. There is a $60-$65 cover charge with dinner required at early shows, except Tuesday nights. Tuesdays and late shows have a $20 minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Call (212) 419-9331 for reservations.] BETTY BUCKLEY at the Blue Note

There are few singers who come to life so vividly when they perform as Betty Buckley.

When she chats onstage, the Tony-winning actress — who is currently playing her first week-long engagement at the Blue Note — is soft-spoken, often punctuating her anecdotes with a self-deprecating laugh. Yet, when she sings, she is revivified; it's as though a strong current soars through her body, creating a sound that must be expressed. And, thankfully, it's a glorious sound — one that ranges from a kittenish whisper or a dark growl to a thunderous, forceful belt.

Just watch the emotions that overcome Buckley as she belts out the Billie Holiday standard "Stormy Blues" or the West Side Story classic "Something's Comin'": It is a joy that is utterly contagious. In fact, even when she is not singing, Buckley seems in an equal state of bliss surrounded by the music and the musicians who comprise Quintessence: musical director Kenny Werner on piano, Billy Drewes on reeds, Tony Marino on bass, Todd Reynolds on violin and Dan Weiss on drums and percussion.

In her newest program the singing actress not only demonstrates the power of her voice and her unerring interpretative skills, but she also showcases the aforementioned musicians, with noteworthy solos from each. Most enjoyable were the haunting strains of Reynolds' violin and newcomer Weiss' impressive drum solo that preceded Buckley's terrific take on the traditional hymn "The Water Is Wide."

In a 90-minute set that covered the complete range of emotions, Buckley was at her most touching in a pairing of two Antonio Carlos Jobim gems, "Dindi" and "How Insensitive." She also offered a rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish's "Stardust" that was intensely still and focused, yet remarkably striking. Her version of "Everything Must Change" had a similar intensity, and one could not help but be moved by Buckley's complete belief in the song's melodic refrain: "Rain comes from the clouds, sun lights up the sky and music makes me cry."

Other highlights included two Alan and Marilyn Bergman works — "Like a Lover" (with music by Dory Caymmi) and the little-heard "So Many Stars" (music by Sergio Mendes) — as well as a more upbeat take on Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods anthem "No One Is Alone." Buckley also scored with a fiery "Cry Me a River" and a medley of three standards from the American Songbook — "You're Nearer," "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "My Funny Valentine" — yet the biggest surprise of the evening was a wonderful reading of the pop hit "Get Here," which Buckley built to a thrilling climax. Let's hope that Brenda Russell tune finds its way to Buckley's next recording.

[Through June 4 Betty Buckley and Quintessence will offer 8 and 10:30 PM shows at the Blue Note, located in Manhattan at 131 West 3rd Street. There is a $40 cover charge and a $10 minimum at the tables and a $30 music charge but no cover at the bar; call (212) 475-8592 for reservations or visit www.bluenote.net.]

DIVA TIDBITS

Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, who received a joint Tony nomination for their performance as conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton in Side Show, will reteam during the second evening of the second annual Broadway Cabaret Festival. The three-day festival at Manhattan's Town Hall will kick off Oct. 20 at 8 PM with Music in the Air: A Tribute to Jerome Kern. Those lending their voices to the works of composer Kern will include Stephen Bogardus, Rebecca Luker, Michael Winther and several other Broadway and cabaret artists. Skinner and Ripley will take to the Town Hall stage Oct. 21 at 8 PM for a concert that is simply titled Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley Sing Broadway! The belting duo will offer a wide-range of Broadway debuts, including many from their two acclaimed CDs, "Unsuspecting Hearts" and "Duets." The Festival, produced and hosted by Scott Siegel, will conclude Oct. 22 at 3 PM with Broadway Originals! The afternoon concert will feature the original stars of Broadway shows re-creating their noteworthy performances. Already scheduled to entertain are Jerome Robbins Broadway's Debbie Gravitte, Jekyll & Hyde's Christiane Noll and Never Gonna Dance's Noah Racey. Additional stars will be announced at a later date. Tickets for the concerts are $50 per night. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 43rd Street. For more information visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org.

More names have been added to the list of performers taking part in Broadway Musicals of 1978, the next offering in the acclaimed Broadway By the Year series. Recent Lestat star Carolee Carmello, original Hairspray cast member Mary Bond Davis and former Ring of Fire singer Lari White are the newest additions to the June 19 concert at Town Hall, which will feature songs from shows that debuted on Broadway in 1978. Carmello, Davis and White join the previously announced Chuck Cooper, Felicia Finley, Julie Garnyé, Nancy Opel, Noah Racey, Christine Pedi, Lennie Watts and Bryan Batt. Batt will also direct the 8 PM evening. Concertgoers can expect to hear tunes from Working, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and On the Twentieth Century and watch dance numbers from Bob Fosse's Dancin'. Tickets, priced $40 and $45, are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or (212) 840-2824.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, who is currently playing the Blue Note; <i>Side Show</i>'s Emily Skinner (l.) and Alice Ripley, who will reunite for the Broadway Cabaret Festival this fall.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, who is currently playing the Blue Note; Side Show's Emily Skinner (l.) and Alice Ripley, who will reunite for the Broadway Cabaret Festival this fall. Photo by Joan Marcus
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