BWW Reviews: Broadway's Marin Mazzie is AMAZingly Sexy and Nostalgic in 54 Below Show

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012; 06:09 AM - by Stephen Hanks

Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks

There may be a pattern developing when it comes to Broadway stars staging cabaret/nightclub shows at 54 Below. In late June, Brian d’Arcy James performed an energetic and entertaining concert at the new venue that was built largely around the songs he loved growing up in Saginaw, Michigan in the 1980s. Last night, Marin Mazzie, who has starred in Passion, Ragtime, Kiss Me Kate, Man of La Mancha, Spamalot and—like James—Next to Normal, paid homage to her childhood and teenage years in Rockford, Illinois, to the songs her parents loved, and to some of the 1960s and 1970s hits that fed Mazzie’s passion to be a singer. (“These songs were the foundation for what was to come.”) And man, was she sexy doing it.

Wearing a form-fitting, white cocktail dress with a wash of sparkly gold beads, Mazzie sensuously sashayed onto the stage before singing a cool, swinging arrangement of the Rosemary Clooney hit “Come on-a My House,” a song that she watched her martini-infused parents dance to when she was a kid. She followed that with delicious renditions of “That’s All” and another Clooney hit, “Tenderly,” the latter delivered in such a sultry style (thanks to an arrangement from her bass player Peter Donovan), that it sounded as if it came from a classic film noir soundtrack.

Mazzie kept stoking the seductive flame on a sublime percussion-only rendition of “Begin the Beguine,” featuring fabulous drumming from Larry Lelli. When she followed that with a playful, yet sincere “I Think I Love You” (of course she loved David Cassidy), it was likely the first time in cabaret history that a Cole Porter classic was followed by a Partridge Family tune. The audience ate it up. If anyone was disappointed that the three-time Tony Award nominee didn’t structure her show around a boat load of Broadway show tunes, you’d never know.

Cabaret show scripts filled with reminiscences of why the performer grew up with a passion for certain songs or entertainers can often be cloying and cliché, but Mazzie’s director Scott Burkell kept her to just the right amount of charming snippets about her past that were both funny and relatable (like dreaming of being a long, lost Partridge Family member and making a “huge commitment to pop music” through buying 13 albums for a penny from the Columbia Record Club). These cute anecdotes worked very well around her sweetness on the 1969 Cass Elliot hit “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” her power on the 1963 Dionne Warwick song “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (written by Burt Bacharach and the just deceased Hal David), and her teasing, come-hither sexiness on the 1974 Maria Muldaur hit “Midnight at the Oasis” (featuring Larry Saltzman on guitar). Mazzie was given solid support on all these classics from her musical director/pianist Joseph Thalken, who also provided nice, non-intrusive background vocals.

Mazzie then brought all her emotion and musical theater acting chops to bear on the 1971 Carly Simon hit “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be,” and even came up with a cabaret 11 o’clock number, building slowly on Barry Manilow’s 1974 hit “Weekend in New England” (written by Randy Edelman) until hitting a power ballad climax. The only thing left on the Amazing Mazzie’s agenda was fitting in a tribute to another of her teenage musical crushes, Davey Jones of The Monkees, and when she swished her lovely blonde tresses, boogied like a 1960s Go-Go dancer, and banged a tambourine against every party of her body on “I’m a Believer,” the 54 Below audience had definitely become believers.

MUSIC REVIEW

Songs of Innocence, à la the Monkees

Marin Mazzie’s Cabaret Show at 54 Below

What sweet, silly dreams we have as naïve adolescents soaking up popular culture and mooning over the teen idols of the moment. When the Broadway singer Marin Mazzie (“Kiss Me, Kate,” “Passion”) was growing up in Rockford, Ill., she recalled on Wednesday evening at 54 Below, she was in the thrall of the Monkees Davy Jones and of David Cassidy and fantasized about being “the long-lost Partridge” on “The Partridge Family.”

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Marin Mazzie, the singer and actress, performing nostalgic tunes in her show at 54 Below.

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Today Ms. Mazzie, now 51, embodies the description “all woman” more completely than almost anyone else on Broadway. With the director Scott Burkell she has conceived an amusing, savvy show around her formative years. Its musical leader and pianist Joseph Thalken, who recently served as Patti LuPone’s arranger and accompanist, leads a band that includes Peter Donovan on bass, Larry Lelli on percussion and Larry Saltzman on guitar. The arrangements lean toward Latin-flavored pop-jazz.

The selections make up a running dialogue between the grown-up Ms. Mazzie and her inner adolescent. Another Broadway star, Brian d’Arcy James recently presented a similarly nostalgic show at this club but with a harder rock emphasis.

Strutting onto the stage in a clinging, beaded white cocktail dress, Ms. Mazzie set off sparks from the opening number, a sultry, heated rendition of the Rosemary Clooney standard “Come on-a My House,” delivered with maximum provocation. The song set the scene for an elaborate description of Ms. Mazzie’s childhood home with its stereo console and turntable stacked with LPs.

The roughly chronological program followed the development of Ms. Mazzie’s musical tastes from bubble gum to growling guitar heroes, with an occasional flashback (an insinuating voice-and-percussion rendition of “Begin the Beguine”). The intensity of the desert heat in her version of “Midnight at the Oasis” matched that of Maria Muldaur’s original recording. Her theatrical interpretation of Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” sharpened its dramatic focus. For Barry Manilow’s 1978 hit “Weekend in New England,” she pulled out the stops and declaimed it with a full-force commitment.

For all its humor, Ms. Mazzie’s show revealed her youthful romanticism to be essentially intact. The title phrase of the final number, the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” seemed to speak for her.

Marin Mazzie performs through Saturday at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan; (646) 476-3551, 54below.com.

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