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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Andrea Marcovicci – Come to the Cabaret

Also see David's review of Andrea Sings Astaire

Andrea Marcovicci
Andrea Marcovicci
Seattle's cabaret scene has fallen on hard times. Local talents can no longer find a venue, and nationally known cabaret stars rarely venture near the city; when they do, it is usually for a one-night special event. But help appears to be on the way, with the imminent arrival of Andrea Marcovicci, whose body of cabaret shows and recordings over the years have led many to dub her the Queen of Cabaret, and who will be setting a precedent here by bringing her lauded Andrea Sings Astaire show to ACT Theatre's Bullitt Cabaret for a three week run beginning September 21.

I spoke to the eloquent and witty Andrea by phone recently. Everyone should be so lucky to start their weekend on such a high note.

David-Edward Hughes: Good morning Andrea, how are you?

Andrea Marcovicci: I'm so great David, how are you?

DEH:  Couldn't be better. I was just looking over your performance schedule, and I think you must be one of the busiest performers in show business.

AM:  I am, and I love all of it. I'm very lucky. I love the traveling, and I love what I'm doing, and I like being busy. And I love Seattle. Glad to be coming there again. In Seattle, between the coffee and the rain, everyone is all hyped up and moist at the same time.

DEH:  Exactly. And where are you at the moment?

AM:  At my home in Studio City, so (she sings) "Good morning, good morning! It's great to stay up late." I'm obviously getting ready to try my voice. I only have two weeks now so I have to get back in shape. I was in Colorado teaching, which I do every summer. Using my voice as a teacher is nice but it's obviously not the same as getting it together to do seven shows a week at the Algonquin. She averages per week while here in Seattle.)

DEH:  And two shows a night on Saturdays.

AM:  Two shows a night is tough. Especially one of my shows where I do ninety minutes, with a costume change and a lot of dialogue. And this show is one of best I've ever had the luck to do. The Fred Astaire show is intensely romantic, and the songs are a dream. We have let ourselves forget that Fred Astaire was the one for whom these songs were written. "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "The Way You Look Tonight," "You Were Never Lovelier." "One for My Baby " was written for Fred Astaire, not for Frank Sinatra. The original movies, the original recordings, they were all done for him. It's easy to think of an entire night, and then to structure it, and give it to Fred. It's just so beautiful. The story of his life is intertwined throughout these songs, from vaudeville to Broadway to the movies. And I get to wear a gorgeous dress, with feathers and everything, and then with the costume change I end up in tails!

DEH:  The show sounds like a Turner Classic Movies fan's dream. How did you come to do this particular show?

AM:  I have been pretty crazy about Fred Astaire since I was a child, and my theme shows progressed from my WWII show to Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin and so on. Then I started to do biography shows. I did one on Gertrude Lawrence, one on Mabel Mercer and one about Ruth Etting. I had long wanted to do one about Fred Astaire because it just fits with me. My father was a wonderful ballroom dancer, and I had been passionate about dancing my entire life. I looked at the repertoire and I saw that if I did Fred Astaire I'd also get to do Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Berlin - so many songs that I do in my repertoire that I adore. I could link up all my passions within the heart of one man. So it really, really made sense to me. Not to mention that there is so much of a romantic thread. And in with everything else are all those wonderful women. And you get Audrey Hepburn! You get this incredible sundae with Audrey Hepburn on top.

DEH:  What is the process you follow in creating a biographical show?

AM:  I start with the biographies themselves, read every single book there is. Then I see every single movie there is. And it takes years. Then I go to (veteran music collector) Bob Grimes in San Francisco and get every piece of music there is, that I don't all ready have. I get some of the more obscure things from him, like "I'm Building Up to an Awful Let Down," "The Half of It, Dearie' Blues," or "Let's Kiss and Make Up" which is from the vaudeville days. I start with about 70 pieces of music, then winnow that down to 50, and eventually down to about 30, and then I start creating medleys to get in everything I want to get in. If it's two songs we call it a "medlet," if it's three it's a medley. Eventually I get storylines going, and then in the middle of the show there's one love story, where I stop talking and let the songs talk for themselves. And then I start walking around the house, telling the story, and when I hear something I really like, and I write that down, but all of this is done by improvising.

Then I go to the Gardenia in L.A and start to tell the story. Then I start to travel with it to the Plush Room (in SF), the Algonquin (in Manhattan), or to Florida. This show is very well seasoned by now, and it's been done in a lot of different shapes. We just recently took it to New Orleans, and so it's very ready to go. I think, of all the shows that I do, it's become my favorite. It's an homage, my love affair with Fred. These shows are a process I do it with Shelly (Markham, her musical director), but a lot of it is just hard sweat, creative sweat, and I do it a lot by myself. Thank goodness for the Gardenia and the Plush room workshops, and the audiences who are there for me. I'm the luckiest person on the planet.

DEH:  Hearing that ACT Theatre was bringing you to Seattle, my heart leapt up, because you are such a major force and star in the cabaret world. It gave me hope that it could mean a high profile rebooting of not just ACT's Bullitt cabaret, but maybe a chance to help reignite Seattle's waning cabaret scene in general, bringing audiences back to classic cabaret and rejuvenating the ambitions of our own Seattle cabaret performers.

AM:  The idea would be that if this takes off, which I am knockin' wood that it will, and you keep bringing in national artists who do these kind of shows ... I mean even if people don't know who I am they will want to see a show about Fred Astaire. I teach my students this in Steamboat Springs. Come up with a very good idea and maybe people will come. I can go somewhere people don't know me at all, and I take my WWII show, because I know that people will come to see a show featuring the love songs of WWII, no matter what. There are many people who could follow me with these kind of shows. Klea Blackhurst with her Ethel Merman show "Everything the Traffic Will Allow" is fantastic. Then if the local talent can do the Mondays and Tuesdays, with the "name" talents doing Wednesday through Saturday, it can keep building and building, and it becomes second nature.

People will be hanging out at the Bullitt, and it doesn't matter who's appearing, they will come. Cabaret is the best medium in the world, the most intimate, direct, honest, and you feel related to it. When I sing to someone's eyes they know they're being sung to. I'm not singing to the wall. I am thrilled to be the one to really give it a shot in the arm. We're there! For three weeks. I love Seattle. I can go to the Market, and get my flowers, and get my crabs. I don't know what I'll do with them. They can just throw them at me, I don't care. I'll just throw them right back again!

DEH:  What do you feel about the overall state of cabaret today in this country?

AM:  It's a constant re-education process. It has its ups and downs. It will never be gone. It's a gentle ebb and flow. Cabaret in New York is doing very well. For every room that closes another opens. Every time a Danny's goes down, a Metropolitan Room suddenly is cookin' and it's hot. The Algonquin, The Café Carlyle and Feinstein's are doing fabulously. The Plush Room is doing wonderfully well under new management. The L.A. scene lost the Cinegrill, but now it's got the Catalina. In New Orleans there's a club now called the Chat Noir. I went down and trained a girl to be a local act, and she got the reviews of a lifetime and she sold out every night. They had a woman there who had the presence of my mind to have me do master classes while I was there doing my shows. The same as I do in Colorado in the summer. We so need to educate people, younger people about cabaret. A lot of them think it is just background music. They need to know that it is just theatre and movie music, but done in a more personal way. It's the nicest night out in the world, full of laughs, music and intimacy. I really feel [cabaret] is back on the upswing.

DEH:  I think Broadway really lost out in not getting to see you come into town in a big hit musical. I saw you do Daisy in 42nd Street Moon's On A Clear Day and I was blown away.

AM:  Oh, thank you. I'm doing Coco with them this season.

DEH:  And that is a legendary lost show.

AM:  They worked for so long to get the rights for me to do this thing. My god, I thought it would never happen, but now I'll be doing (she intones ala Katharine Hepburn) "Coco, Coco!" I'm going to wreck my voice shouting that. I think I'll get to sing it, not just shout it. "Coco, Coco!"

DEH:  Lerner wrote some wonderful lyrics for both of those shows.

AM:  Oh! He's one of the best, and I'm going to have a ball. As far as opening on Broadway, I wish Chaplin had opened, Nefertiti had opened ... we have so many ifs in my career. If The Front had made money, if The Hand had made money ... if Berrenger's hadn't been canceled, I wouldn't be talking to you now! (She guffaws) Who am I kidding, I'd be talking to you twice as long, and I'd have had it easy! I would have loved to have come to Broadway, but it didn't happen for me. But I have Coco, a staged reading thing, but who knows, maybe someone will pick it up and we'll bring it into New York.

DEH:  But when would you have time to be in your warm and cozy home in California?

AM:  With my warm and cozy 12-year-old daughter, Alice Reichert.

DEH:  Does she travel with you?

AM:  Sometimes, but not during school. I thought of bringing her to Seattle while I'm there, but her Dad's here doing The Misanthrope, and I think I'll just have her stay home with her friends and her play dates, and not uproot her in her first few months of 7th grade.

DEH:  Before I let you go, may I ask, did you ever meet Fred Astaire?

AM:  Only once, very briefly on the set of The Towering Inferno and I got to shake his hand.

DEH:  Do you think he's looking down on you when you do this show, and giving you a thumbs up?

AM:  Oh, I hope so.

DEH:  Seattle's thumbs will be way up for you when you get here, Andrea. Thank you so much for chatting with me.

AM:  My pleasure. See you soon!


Andrea Sings Astaire runs September 21 – October 7 at ACT Theatre's Bullitt Cabaret, 7th Avenue and Union Street in downtown Seattle. For more information and reservations, visit www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Heather Smith



- David Edward Hughes



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