DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Andrea Marcovicci Plus A Chat with Olivia Newton-John

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18 Nov 2011

Andrea Marcovicci
Andrea Marcovicci
Photo by Daniel Reichert

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

I was a sophomore in college when the buzz about a new cabaret singer, actress Andrea Marcovicci, made its way from New York to Massachusetts, and one crisp winter day I headed to Boston from the Brandeis University campus to purchase her first (and still my favorite Marcovicci) recording, "Marcovicci Sings Movies." I rushed back to our radio station, where I had a weekly show about the music of Broadway and cabaret, to listen to the LP in one of the private listening booths. I have a very vivid memory of listening to her rendition of "As Time Goes By," which was followed by the "Tootsie" anthem "It Might Be You," smiling broadly and thinking, "Okay, now I get all the fuss!" And, as unbelievable as it may seem, Marcovicci has been spellbinding audiences for more than two decades at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, where she is currently celebrating her 25th season at the famed venue with a brand-new show entitled No Strings. Her latest act, which plays through Dec. 30, features music director Shelly Markham on piano and Jered Egan on bass and is described as a "journey about life on the road: a warm, funny, heartfelt, and candid tale of Andrea's time spent traveling from city to city and what that bittersweet time has meant to her as a singer, an actress, a wife and mother." I recently had the chance to chat with the gifted artist, who spoke about her new show, her thoughts on TV singing competitions and the idea of returning to Broadway.

Question: How did the idea for the No Strings show come about?
Andrea Marcovicci: When I knew I was going to celebrate my 25th anniversary [at the Algonquin] and I was thinking about doing a show about traveling for quite a while anyway, it really did seem to be appropriate to do a show about traveling when you think that I spent the last 25 years as a, what I call, road warrior. [Laughs.] And, due to the extremely lucky gift of being invited back every year for 25 years, my number one destination is New York, is the Algonquin. It's an average of seven weeks, but it's been as long as nine, ten weeks. It was once 16 weeks, and I became very adept at packing and leaving home, and after I first sang at the Algonquin, my name was established, and I was invited to travel and travel and travel and travel—not only around our country, but to London, Australia, Barcelona and, hopefully, even other places someday soon as well. But it became part of my life to be constantly traveling—constantly on the road going from place to place. And, it's a mixed blessing, and that's really what the show is about, this lucky mixed blessing, and I am homesick for my daughter and my life at home when I'm on the road, and I have a sense of restlessness when I'm at home, which is what happens when you are a road warrior. [Laughs.] I related a great deal to the George Clooney movie as you can imagine, especially when he was walking through the airport with that almost dance-like finesse as he went through the security gates. He had a kind of dance-like finesse to it and I related to it so much, but the whole movie I related to it as well—"Up in the Air"—because I have managed to stay on the road a great deal of the time for 25 years and still be able to create 25 new shows, fall in love, get married, have a child… [Laughs.] Live a life! So, the show is about the songs that I've collected along the way and the many goodbyes I've had to say, and the many hellos as well.

Andrea Marcovicci
photo by Daniel Reichert

Question: Since it's a show about your life and, I would imagine, your most personal show, how did you go about deciding what aspects of your life you wanted to talk about and what you didn't want to share?
Marcovicci: Well, a lot of it is based on the songs. "Two for the Road" is one of my favorite songs of all time. I share that with not only a lot of other performers, but with the audience members who love it. I've put a little story into the center of it about [my daughter] Alice and my husband, who I've separated from quite a while ago now. The opening song is "Sail Away" and "Let's Get Away From it All." I have a song—two songs—about Paris. I have two songs about London. I have put in a very interesting section, "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" that goes into "It's Natural With You" and ends with "My Love is a Wanderer," which is basically dedicated to all wanderers. And, I have quotes throughout the show about travel from Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli. [Laughs.] And, I have that lovely song "You Belong to Me," which doesn't sound like a song we all know until I say, "See the pyramids along the Nile"… And, "Here's to Us" is the encore because it's about the influence that Mabel's had on my life—Mabel Mercer. I have a brand-new song about the Algonquin itself. It was actually written quite a few years ago, but I have sung it very, very rarely. It's called "Back at the Algonquin."

Question: I know that originally the title of the show was going to be Travels of the Heart, but now it's No Strings. What did that difference mean to you?
Marcovicci: Two for the Road: Travels of the Heart began to sound a little sadder than the show really is, and No Strings is in reference to the Fred Astaire section, which has to do with the spring in your step when you hit an airport, and very most, especially, this frisson of excitement that I feel, still, to this day when I travel. No Strings really represents that feeling and the lightness of foot that I feel, and I felt that better reflected the overall geniality of the show. There's a lot of fun in it and some wacky fun, too. I'm finally singing "When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba." I've been talking about it for 25 years, and I've never sung it. [Laughs.] I'm finally singing it.

Question: Is that by the guy who wrote "As Time Goes By"?
Marcovicci: Herman Hupfeld, yes. And, there's such charming songs in the show, and I definitely didn't want to lead the audience to thinking that there was a heavy heart in this show because there isn't. It's very light-hearted, and it may be more personal than my latest shows, which have been biographies of other people. I didn't want them to think that this was anything other than, although personal, it's definitely light-hearted and wise. Wise but light-hearted.

Donald Smith
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Question: You mentioned before that it's your 25th year at the Algonquin.
Marcovicci: Yes, it's my 25th year. This is the time to come and celebrate. I'm amazed and honored and grateful to everyone that's brought me here, of course, most especially Donald Smith, who discovered me and brought me there 25 years ago after he had discovered and opened the room for Steve Ross and then Michael Feinstein.

Question: Does the room or the hotel feel like a second home to you, having been there so long?
Marcovicci: It is home. It's home for my craft. It's where I've created a particular style of cabaret, which I take for granted, but when you look at 25 years of it, it's a real style that is what some people call the Andrea Marcovicci-style. [Laughs.] I mean, it's me, so I don't look at it from the outside very often, but other people do. It's what I call historical cabaret, really, because I so often take a person and create a show like the Fred Astaire show, the Gertrude Lawrence show, the Mabel Mercer show, the Ruth Etting show, the Hildegarde show… The list is so long now. The Johnny Mercer show. There's so many shows that I've created, and that particular style of historical cabaret, where I create almost a play, just became second nature to me over the last 25 years to write a piece that took two workshops, sometimes three workshops, and an entire year before arriving at the Algonquin. The effort and the research and the creative team behind it—with Shelly working so hard and my taking the workshop time to do it. It always takes a year before I bring it into the Algonquin, and that style has become something now that is really a style. When I'm gone [laughs], I think it will be remembered. I hope it will be remembered as a particular style of cabaret.

Question: I think you brought something different than just someone standing and doing 20 songs in a row… You learn about what's being sung as well as you get to enjoy what's being sung. I remember the show about the sailor who leaves or the World War II show as well. I think the songs are more moving because they are woven into a story.
Marcovicci: It all started because I came from the actress' perspective, and I needed a play. As an actress who sings, I really felt that I wanted structure. I wanted a beginning, a middle and an end. Throughout the years, I wanted to write myself these little stories that made me feel more comfortable on the stage. I never dreamed that 25 years ago I would have created so many of them. It's really something, and many of them have endured to the extent that I tour with maybe as many as five at a time in a given year. I don't have access immediately to the ones from 15 years ago, but I do have at least five of them on the front burner at any given time. And, it is all due to the fact that I have a home at the Algonquin to return to and that being invited back every year, it demands this fresh creativity, and what a thrill. I'm very, very grateful for that. And, grateful for these faces—these wonderful audiences who return to me every year with, not only, "What are you doing this year?" but "What's up for next year?" [Laughs.] After seeing the show, they're like, "Okay, what's on for next year" and I usually know. That's the other thing. I know! I have it already in my mind.


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