This Week in Cabaret–It’s All About the “M” Word: Marni, Marissa, Miss Cast, My Island Home, and More

By ROB LESTER***Cabaret in NYC always offers many choices. Here are some to consider that are happening this week. To narrow it down, I’ve just picked ones that all can be filed under the letter “M.” Here’s the story about Bedtime Stories with Marni Klar (rhymes with “star” and “raise the bar” and “her best show so far”). I caught it recently and recommend it as a solid show; it’s back for two more airings at Don’t Tell Mama on Monday night, January 22 and then Saturday, February 17 at 4 PM. Early in the show, her remarks about this remarkable set’s intention got a big burst of appreciation! She explained that her previous diva dives into the cabaret waters were very personal and themed shows, covering various autobiographical agendas and life chapters, such as her reaction to and recovery from a major automobile accident, and other life tragedies and dramas, such as romance. When she pointedly announced that the songs this time would NOT reflect her life at all, that the people populating the lyrics, whether in first person or third person, would have no connection to her life or feelings, it was like she was granting herself and her audience a vacation from angsty, cathartic cabaret-as-therapy. Patter must walk a fine line between the set-up that is FYI and TMI over-the-top over-sharing. But here we could just enjoy the collection of story songs, guilt-free, simply sitting back and letting this Klar-ification assure us that we didn’t have to sympathize with the storyteller because she wasn’t baring HER soul. Unburdened by thoughts of “She must be so sad to be connecting to this piece,” we didn’t need to consider using the beverage napkins to wipe away tears or to cry into our beers (if beer is the beverage of choice to meet the two-drink minimum).     

With performers less skilled, and without savvy guiding hands and minds, this “It’s not about me!” could be a dangerous decision and result in an hour that’s merely pleasant but dispassionate and ultimately not very compelling. No worries. Being an actress and instantly appealing personality, Marni Klar knows how to inhabit a character to make a selection a vignette. Case in point: the rarely approached once-upon-a-time big pop hit from the 1960s, “Ode to Billie Joe,” a chart-topper for Bobbie Gentry, the woman who sang and wrote it. As directed by Tanya Moberly, her longtime shepherdess, and Steven Ray Watkins, collaboratively painting the scenes at the piano, the team is bringing us into that “sleepy, dusty Delta day” wherein a family hears of a shocking tragedy involving an apparently troubled soul of a neighbor, cloaked in mystery and unanswered questions, while life goes on between tears and shock, and please pass “another piece of apple pie.” The plot thickens, and so does the mood created so well. Another memorably haunting entry from the same rich decade comes to cloak the room with the bleak glimpse of “all the the lonely people,” courtesy of one of the more literate Beatles souvenirs, “Eleanor Rigby.” The words about the “words of a sermon that no one will hear” echo in a hollow way, but linger in the air, recalling the adage about that tree that falls in the forest in nobody’s earshot, definitely making a sound––a sad one.  

The bossa nova parody “The Boy from…” by Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, also from the 1960s, is a popular if overdone choice. And arguably Billy Barnes’s “Something Cool” could get deeper into the desperation and deception redolent of the pathetic, fragile nature of the character who inspired it: Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. But there’s no question that Marni Klar CAN bite off something demanding and detailed, as evidenced by her fine in-the-moment work with Adam Gwon’s “I’ll Be Here,” a contemporary and heartbreaking saga. In this eclectic song stack, sitting comfortably side by side are today’s tunesmiths (Sara Bareilles, represented smartly by her “Fairytale” perspective) and the writers of the Great American Songbook (Rodgers & Hart’s longing nicely belonging with “Why Can’t I” and cute comic relief via Cole Porter’s light jab at high society in “The Tale of the Oyster”).

If you are a singer yourself, you might want to book a private coaching session with the ultimate “M,” cabaret queen, The Marvelous Miss Marilyn Maye. Follow another Master Class this weekend; she’s sticking around and doing private sessions. There were slots open on Tuesday and Wednesday, as of a recent update.  Inquire at this E-mail: deb550@gmail.com.

Your Thursday “M” idea is the Miss Cast Pageant, a multi-performer concert headed by Lisa Datz (on Broadway in Titanic, off-Broadway in Sondheim’s Saturday Night and on screen with such notables as Sponge Bob, before he himself was a Broadway baby). That’s at the very cool venue Green Room 42 in the Yotel on West 42 Street and Tenth Avenue. Miss Cast is full of CAP 21 grads strutting their stuff, showing in cabaret what they likely won’t get to do in the context of a stage role, thus the show title. But they get to “try on” their fantasy roles and “backwards Broadway.” And y’all know we’re all about being where Broadway meets cabaret and where cabaret meets Broadway, so why not meet there? It’s only a $20 per ticket and––don’t faint––there is no food/drink minimum. And P.S., one important other reason to go: It’s a benefit for the Ullman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

For Friday, January 26, a new “M” surname to me, Aimee Marcoux, has a very familiar name on her lips and on the tip of her tongue––she’s singing the melodies of Kurt Weill. That’s at The Triad on West 72 Street. She returns on February 8.    

On Saturday night, January 27,  at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, you can find Marissa Mulder with her new show called The Faces of Eve. Any time this award-winner appears it is time to feel like a winner yourself for making the right, rewarding choice. She’s reliably engaging and takes the task of culling material and immersing herself in it seriously. Disarming and with smart and interesting selections for material, she is a totally captivating vocalist and has been from the early days when she was competing in the annual MetroStar Talent Challenge, a singing contest she did nicely in the first time around and won first place in the next year. Her work over the following years has shown her digging deeper, but without abandoning the bubbly, fizzy and slightly off-center girlish charm that first drew attention. Past Marissa Mulder acts concentrated on the worlds of another M.M.––Marilyn Monroe, and on songwriter Tom Waits, imposing legends both, to give you an idea of the range and diversity she’s willing to explore. Sondra Lee (quite a legend in her own right) reunites with the songbird as her director for this survey of strong women of all stripes; the musical director is Dennis Buck, who can boast of a long and impressive list of starry entertainers he’s worked with. Just to name two who share Miss Mulder’s initials, I’ll name-drop Mary Martin and Melba Moore. After all the ideas Mulder mulled over in the past, this one-woman woman’s march through history sounds like a worthy successor and likely success. I’d bet on it.

And on Sunday, January 28, the “M” moment is a cabaret act at The Duplex entitled My Island Home, with singer-actress Analisa Bell. If Bell’s name doesn’t ring a bell (although she has appeared alone or in group shows at this same Greenwich Village spot before, as well as the Metropolitan Room), plus, she, too, was a contender in MetroStar one year, at Feinstein’/54 Below), it’s because her “island home” is not the isle of Manhattan, but that big island that is also a country and a continent. That’s right––Australia. And she’ll be crooning/belting/cooing material associated with “down under” stars in this downtown trip, including Peter Allen and Kylie Mingue. And one name that also grabs my attention that’s the big plus: her musical director is the superb Alex Rybeck. She (and we) probably can’t go wrong there.

All in all, these “M” choices should add up to spell this review: mmmmm.