Marissa performed "Illusions"
Valentines Weekend February 14th and February 15th, 2014
The show was so well received the Red House named their Mac and Cheese after her
Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder returns to her hometown for two-night show at Red House
A Little Sweet, a Little Bitter, a Little Broadway
Marissa Mulder Sings of Illusions at the Metropolitan Room
Among singers with light, childlike voices, there is a fine line separating natural buoyancy from an insufferable cuteness. The engagingly sunny cabaret singer Marissa Mulder stayed on the right side of that line in her opening-night show at the Metropolitan Room on Thursday. Her ingenuousness is real and never cloying.
The winner of the club’s annual MetroStar Talent Challenge last August, Ms. Mulder, who comes from Syracuse, has a voice with a bounce and a twinkle that recall that much-missed pop-jazz pixie, Blossom Dearie, who died three years ago. Unlike Dearie, a minimalist to her bones, Ms. Mulder has a Broadway side that reared up now and then. But her best singing was quiet and friendly.
In matters of interpretation, Dearie was a stealth bomber who with the tiniest inflection could insert a note of scathing sarcasm into a performance. Ms. Mulder, whose show, directed by Karen Oberlin, is titled “Illusions,” carries no concealed weapons. The candy she hands out isn’t laced with strychnine. It’s sweet and tart, like a lemon drop.
Some of the illusions she sang about in a program that began with a medley of “Pure Imagination” and “Never Never Land” and ended with “Rainbow Connection” had to do with leaving childhood fantasies behind. Others were romantic. The toughest lyric belonged to E. Y. Harburg, whose cynical observation, “It’s a Barnum & Bailey world, just as phony as it can be,” in “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is camouflaged by Harold Arlen’s irrepressibly upbeat tune.
A trio led by the pianist Bill Zeffiro, with John Loehrke on bass, accompanied Ms. Mulder. Pete Anderson’s rippling reed solos underscored the show’s attitude of wised-up playfulness, which was distilled in a breezy rendition of “Both Sides Now” that understated the song’s disillusionment.
The most touching moment was a bare, unadorned rendition of “Nobody’s Heart.” When the lonely narrator of this Rodgers and Hart standard sang, “I admire the moon, as a moon, just a moon,” you didn’t think of a paper orb sailing over a cardboard sea but of a cold, distant hunk of rock.
By Stephen Holden
Marissa Mulder: A Cabaret Ascent That Is No Illusion
As Marissa Mulder was about a third of the way through her 18-song set of her new show Illusions at the Metropolitan Room, I thought “This is more like it. Now I understand what all the fuss has been about.”
Last June, Mulder staged a Met Room show celebrating the songs of Jimmy Van Heusen (“Swinging on a Star,” “Come Fly With Me,” “All the Way,” among others) and in spite of the raves she received in many circles, I came away unimpressed. While I appreciated the attractive redhead’s sound, style and spunk, I felt the songs weren’t a great fit for her voice and rendered the show fairly uneven. Then at the end of August, in what was a tight vote, Mulder edged out two other singers to win the fourth annual MetroStar Talent Challenge competition (kind of cabaret’s version of American Idol). Among her prizes was a future four-show engagement at the Met Room (which concluded on Sunday night). I didn’t witness the competition, but I wondered if I had been missing something.
Now I can be counted firmly in the Mulder fan column. In fact, during a period when the New York cabaret community is voting on the 2012 MAC Awards for 2011 shows, I’m already casting my mental vote for Mulder as a “best female vocalist” nominee for 2013. Like a young and raw, yet promising athlete with solid tools and obvious potential, Mulder is learning, growing, and improving before the eyes of the New York cabaret world, and the MetroStar competition obviously helped her raise her game. Thanks to an inspired set list— given her show’s themes of “exploring fantasy, imagination, dreams and reality through song”—terrific arrangements from her Music Director/Pianist Bill Zeffiro, and solid direction from Karen Oberlin, Mulder dazzled during a thoroughly engaging and entertaining 70 minutes of cabaret.
After setting an ethereal mood with a medley of “Pure Imagination”/”Never Never Land,” Mulder wafted into “They Say It’s Spring” and her light, breathy vocals were somewhat reminiscent of the late Blossom Dearie, with a touch of Marilyn Monroe thrown in, a sound that is unique among the current crop of female cabaret singers. But just when you think Mulder is a light one note pony, she’ll reach back for a surprisingly effective belt, just strong enough for a cabaret environment without being overpowering. On “Day In, Day Out” (Rube Bloom/Johnny Mercer), “Money Tree” (from Kander and Ebb’s 1977 Liza Minnelli vehicle The Act), and Edward Kleban’s “Better,” Mulder brought the songs home with strength and confidence.
Marissa still needs a bit of work on song interpretation, but she was quite effective on a minimalist version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and on the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic “Old Black Magic,” which featured a fine Zeffiro arrangement, a boffo bass opening from John Loerhke, and Pete Anderson’s cool clarinet (Anderson was also stellar on sax throughout the show). When it was time for the sensitive, personal and poignant moments, Mulder delivered a melancholy “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” in a remembrance of her grandfather and her youth growing up in Syracuse, and a wonderfully wistful “Where is the Wonder,” after relating going ice skating with her Dad on Super Bowl Sundays. She was deliciously playful on Dave Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie” (another from the Blossom Dearie repertoire), and on a funny new Bill Zeffiro tune (written for Mulder), “My Kind of Guy (Line Up If You’re a Loser),” about being a single woman who is a “loser magnet.” Zeffiro is up for a 2012 MAC award for his song “Universal Truth (You’re a Schmuck in Love)” and could have another candidate for next year with this winner:
Line up if you’re a loser, come snuggle with me,
This beggar’s not a chooser, and you’re just my cup of tea.
If you’re a meth head or a boozer, my heart goes ‘thumpy-thump’ it’s true,
And we both know you’re a loser, that’s why I’m talking to you.”
After offering up Fredrick Hollander’s “Illusions,” written for Marlene Dietrich in the film “A Foreign Affair,” Mulder quoted Mark Twain: “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” It got me to remembering that when I was six years old, my mother had to spend two months in Florida recuperating from serious surgery and my younger brother and I were sent to live with relatives in Atlanta. My aunt would put us to sleep by playing a Disney’s greatest hits album and I soon fell in love with those soothing female voices that were seeping into my dreams. Of course, the characters behind the songs were just illusions, but they’ve always been real to me.
At the end of Mulder’s show, as she first cooed, then powered her way through the Marvin Hamlisch/Howard Ashman song “Disneyland” (from the 1986 musical Smile), she became Snow White, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Belle and Arielle, all wrapped up in one adorable cabaret singing package and I was six again and listening to that Disney record. When, after a rousing ovation, she encored with “Rainbow Connection,” Kermit’s song from The Muppet Movie, it was clear that Marissa Mulder was no singing frog, but a new cabaret princess . . . and that is not an illusion.
By: Stephen Hanks
Tuesday, March 20, 2012