Marissa returns to her hometown for two-night show at Red House


 The show was so well received the Red House named their Mac and Cheese after her 


A Little Sweet, a Little Bitter, a Little Broadway

By Stephen Holden

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.  

Album Available here