There is a bit of irony in the idea of a Musicals in Mufti presentation of the Alan Jay Lerner-André Previn musical Coco — which celebrates the life of Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel, one of the fashion world's most celebrated icons — since Mufti stagings are presented "in street clothes, without the usual trappings."
But as Andrea Marcovicci — the glamorous cabaret favorite who is starring in the title role of the York Theatre Company presentation, which runs Sept. 10-12 — joked to me earlier this week, "I made the [cast] laugh [when] I said, 'This is supposed to be in street clothes, but you haven't seen Andrea Marcovicci's street clothes! So I may wear something a little fancy. My street clothes are not quite the same as normal people's street clothes."
Perhaps the acclaimed singing actress, who has done as much as anyone to keep the American popular song alive — and may know as many of those classic tunes as any singer out there — could borrow a costume from the 42nd Street Moon Theatre's spring 2008 production of the little-seen musical Coco, in which she also starred. That production, like the current York mounting, was also directed by Mark Kaufmann with musical direction by Michael Horsley.
"I think we did it for three weeks, and there was much more rehearsal," Marcovicci explains. "I can't even believe that this is four days [of rehearsal], and then your first audience is there on the night of the fifth day! This is utter and complete divine madness," she laughs, "but the professionalism of the people that they have here — I mean, we have Charles Kimbrough in our cast. And the other singers – we have Jessica Grové and we have Lewis Cleale and we have Tom Galantich. You have to go down the list of names – the voices are so extraordinary. They all read music. They all sight-read in a second. I mean, it's just amazing to be around these voices and this talent.
"Now, of course, this couldn't necessarily be going the way it's going if we didn't have the same director and musical director from San Francisco, because this score was completely lost, and our musical director from San Francisco, Michael Horsley, was the one who found the bits and pieces and reconstructed it from scratch," she adds. "So without that, I'm not so sure that something as huge as this could be done in five days." Marcovicci says she was initially attracted to the role because "it's a lost piece." "I have done Lady in the Dark," she adds, "so I'm not necessarily afraid of vehicles that are attached to historic figures like Gertrude Lawrence or Katharine Hepburn, because I'll always go back to the bare bones of a piece and see what was written, and when you do, you find that in the original script and in the original songs, there's still something that the author has put on the page that's there for you to find that can make it specifically touching to you. When I read the piece — of course, I didn't get to see Katharine Hepburn, and I certainly didn't get to see Gertrude Lawrence — my tendency is to see what's there from scratch. The melodies in Coco — since I hadn't heard it, I read the score before I heard it — are beautiful melodies, so I was very, very attracted to the piece. And then I read the book, and it's a really terrific, snappy book. It's got terrific lines and great humor, and it's Lerner all the way through. It's Lerner lyrics, and it's Lerner book."
|photo by David Allen|
The 1969 musical — which famously starred Hepburn in her only Broadway musical outing — is set in 1953 and, according to Marcovicci, concerns "[Coco's] comeback, but it's filled with flashbacks that are an amalgam of people that existed in the real Coco's life. [The authors] made some very creative, artistic choices to create people that had existed in the real Coco's life . . . and then they create a fictional character, Noelle [Jessica Grové], who is a young model that Coco takes under her wing and gives her a chance to be motherly toward, and that's all fictional.
"[Coco] did make a comeback in the mid-50s," Marcovicci continues, "and the Parisian critics were very harsh to her, but the American market was ripe for her, and the American woman who was going back to work in the mid-50s just adored her. So she was able to counter her critics in Europe, who thought she was finished and shouldn't have made a comeback, with the American buyers who adored her. So it's at that time, but it goes back and forth, through the play, with these flashbacks to her childhood and fills you in on what made her the woman that she became."
When she first played the legendary designer for San Francisco audiences, Marcovicci says with a laugh, "I did my typical overworking [research] of her life, but it doesn't help a lot when you're working on a fictional version of Coco, which is 'loosely based on aspects of the life of Coco Chanel.' That's what Lerner says at the top of his script. And since then, of course, I've seen 'Coco Before Chanel,' the movie, and read so much. At the time, I did a lot [of research] — this time around, I was lucky to have enough of a breath to revisit all the work that I did on the play, which I'm happy [about], to remember the words and the songs and what I felt about the play and how I felt about playing her."
The much-in-demand singer, who will return to the Algonquin's Oak Room for her 24th consecutive season Nov. 16, describes the Coco score as "a kind of cross between Lerner and Loewe and André Previn himself. It seemed almost as if Previn was giving Lerner a bit of his old partner and then trying out a lot of his own wings. So it's a beautiful, beautiful mix." The Mufti presentation will also boast the inclusion of a lost song, "Someone on Your Side," for the character of Noelle. "[Jessica] does it brilliantly. I mean, it's so touching. It's all I can do not to cry, and of course, I think Coco's supposed to be a teeny bit tougher than I am," Marcovicci laughs.
Marcovicci, in fact, has high praise for the entire company: "All these voices are just so absolutely astounding. Oh, my God, this is a 'run, don't walk' kind of thing to get the last few tickets. These voices are so amazing. It's all I can do just to stay in character and not just go, 'Ooohh!'"
Audiences and critics will likely have the same reaction to Marcovicci's newest cabaret act, Blue Champagne: The History of the Torch Song, which she describes as a "very yin-yang show. It's either very hilariously funny or very tragic, and it allows me to go back to my roots as a singer, because when I first started, I was really investigating the torch song. So it's a tribute to Ruth Etting and Libby Holman and Helen Morgan and my own mother, Helen, and in some ways it's reinvestigating myself and why I wanted to sing in the first place." And, yes, her 91-year-old mother, Helen Marcovicci, will make select Thursday-night appearances at the Algonquin. "As a matter of fact, she just asked me, 'Andrea, what song do you want me to sing at the encore?' 'Well, I think "Blue Prelude" would be appropriate, Mum.' . . . I heard that [song] when I was five. She's very well featured in the storyline of this show because growing up with a torch singer in the house is not exactly easy!"
When asked how she believes her cabaret performances have changed over the past two decades, Marcovicci answers, "My sheer comfort level and my ability to absorb distraction or, as I say when I'm teaching, 'embrace distraction,' [has increased]. My humor – I was never anywhere near as funny when I started. I took it all very seriously. But my love for audiences hasn't changed. If anything, it's just grown and grown and grown. My actual, just sheer embracing of the audience, that I'm so glad that they're there, so glad we share this great music and that we don't allow the history of the music to die. Because it's not just about the songs, it's about where did they come from and how did they develop. It's a very important part of what I do to keep the history of the music alive."
But, for now, Marcovicci is focused on the weekend concert stagings of Coco. "Nobody's done Coco, nobody has plans to revive it, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity chance to see a lost show, and I think it's just divine," the gifted chanteuse concludes. "I'm so moved by this piece, and it's certainly not just about a bunch of dresses. And that's what's nice when you do something in Mufti, when you strip away everything and you see, 'Oh, this is about the lines and the emotions, it's about the words.' It's wonderful."
[Show times for Coco are Sept. 10 at 8 PM, Sept. 11 at 2:30 and 8 PM, and Sept. 12 at 2:30 and 7:30 PM. The York Theatre Company plays the Theatre at Saint Peter's, which is located at 54th Street, east of Lexington Avenue. For more information or to purchase tickets, priced $39.50, call (212) 935-5820 or visit www.yorktheatre.org.]
[Marcovicci will play the Algonquin Nov. 16-Dec. 30. The Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 West 44th Street. For reservations call (212) 419-9331 or (212) 840-6800 and ask for Oak Room Reservations.] Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.