BWW Reviews: You'll Be Crazy in Love With MARIEANN MERINGOLO'S New Monthly Show at the Metropolitan Room
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
As a young veteran of the New York cabaret scene and someone who rests comfortably in that performer's purgatory between "Celebrity" and what the folks at the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) calls "Major Artist," Marieann Meringolo certainly doesn't need validation from a Stevie-come-lately reviewer like me. But nobody bats 1.000--in baseball, life, or cabaret--and, frankly, I didn't cheer in print for her slightly pretentious 2013 show Orchestrated, which seemed to feature a band big enough to bust through the far wall of the Metropolitan Room and arrangements that were more than a tad overblown. But in 2011, I loved her annual holiday show, In The Spirit, and had heard nothing but great things about her 2012 tribute to the music of Michael Legrand, so I was willing to consider Orchestrated a mere hiccup--depending on what she came up with next.
Well, next arrived on the afternoon of Saturday, April 5 with Meringolo's new show, Crazy Love, which she had sneak previewed during Orchestrated by singing the Marsha Malamet title song in that set. In fact, Crazy Love (directed by Eric Michael Gillett, and which Meringolo will be performing monthly until November as part of her "residency" at the Metropolitan Room that began with the show's February launch) was a bit like "Marieann's Greatest Hits-Plus." In addition to two other songs from Orchestrated, she sang two from the Legrand show, but reprising those numbers was keeping in the spirit and the theme of this new show, one that works for those who have recently fallen in love--like Meringolo herself--or have ended an intense romantic relationship. "There are two rules about love," the singer explained early in the set. "When love is good, it's really, really good. But when it's not, it's a little like death. You vow to yourself you'll never ever do it again, but we almost always do because, well, see rule number one." Ain't it the truth.
With her very solid and, numbers wise, more than adequate three-piece band of Musical Director/pianist Doyle Newmyer, Boots Maleson on bass, and Brian Woodruff on drums in tow, Meringolo entered looking sporty yet classy, wearing a sparkly black blouse over black slacks. She opened with Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin's lush ballad "Wild Is the Wind," leading into a jazzy arrangement of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Newmyer's chart built the number's tempo before some dissonant chords at the end seemed a musical metaphor for the vagaries of obsessive love. Meringolo is one of many female Baby Boomer singers greatly influenced by The Great Streisand and she can sometimes sound eerily like Barbra, even on a contemporary pop ballad like Sara Bareilles' "Once Upon Another Time." She segued into Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark" from the musical The Baker's Wife, another one of those songs I've heard so often in cabaret shows I feel like flying out of the room on the first few bars. But after a conventional opening verse, Newmyer transitioned into a cool rhythmic arrangement that gave it a mid-'70s Burt Bacharach feel and Meringolo's voice sounded like it was gliding along on the wings of the notes.
With three Marsha Malamet songs in her set (including her soulful, uplifting finale "I Am Blessed" from Orchestrated), Meringolo is clearly a fan of the songwriter who was also greatly influenced by Streisand and who has worked with Barbra's son Jason Gould. Meringolo set up the nice mid-tempo pop ballad "Love Decides" by poetically reminding her audience that, "You can't control who'll touch your soul." She amplified on that notion later on the show's title song (written by Malamet with David Lasley, Robin Lerner and Allan Rich), an intense ballad about "How love puts you through the wringer but always sucks you in." [See video, above.] Newmyer's piano pulsated with passion on this one. With her musical director providing nifty backing vocals on "Falling Slowly" from the musical Once, Meringolo showed off her range and produced a delicious button right before fade out. The long-time duo revealed their great chemistry on Newmyer's original song, "Head Over Heels," an infectious mid-tempo with a 1970s pop song feel, and brought some comic relief (if a bit of over-staging with a cell phone serving as a prop) to the 1967 Vicki Carr hit "It Must Be Him" without sacrificing the quality of the vocal. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
One of Meringolo's go-to numbers has become "The Windmills of Your Mind," the Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman classic from the film The Thomas Crown Affair, and it's easy to hear why. She urged the audience to decide where the song would lead them before delivering a hypnotic Antonio Carlos Jobim-like vocal arrangement. In Meringolo's definition, the windmills of the mind might be yet another metaphor--this time for succumbing to the trance of self-destructive obsessive love. Of course, there's always the tender and hopelessly romantic flip side to such a notion, which Meringolo provided in her finale with a rich rendition of Legrand and the Bergman's "On My Way To You." The singer produced her unmistakable echoes of Streisand as she musically mused, "If I had changed a single day . . . What went amiss or went astray . . . I may have never found my way to you . . . I wouldn't change a thing that happened on my way to you."
Whether Crazy Love can bring in a representative audience for seven more shows this year remains to be seen, but Marieann Meringolo delivers such an engaging, musically satisfying, and polished performance, any cabaret lover would be crazy not to check it out and enjoy this totally professional singer.
Marieann Meringolo will be performing Crazy Love at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd St), on May 1, June 8, July 19, Aug. 15, Sept. 19, Oct. 18 & Nov. 9. All shows at 7PM. For reservations, call 212-206-0440 or go to: www.metropolitanroom.com