CABARET LIFE NYC: Marissa Mulder's 'Breakout Year' Culminates With Classy, Compelling Shows at the Café Carlyle
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
Having written a plethora of words about Marissa Mulder over the past couple of years, I had planned on relegating a review of her mid-November, two-show run at the Café Carlyle to a relatively short critique in my seasonal compilation column (due to post a day or two or three before Santa arrives, for those keeping score at home). But once I got started I went way over my self-imposed word count for such things and decided it should be broken out into this stand-alone review. Speaking of "breakout," although the first known use of the phrase "breakout year" came 35 years ago, it has become the standard expression in sports or entertainment when referring to someone who has become a sudden or smashing success, especially in comparison to past efforts. If anyone in the world of New York cabaret could be said to have had a "breakout year" in 2013, it would have to be Marissa Mulder. And this angelic young woman--in voice, looks, and personality--hasn't even hit 30 yet.
Mulder established her presence with some authority in 2011 when she won that summer's Metrostar Talent Challenge at the Metropolitan Room, and followed that up in 2012 with very positive reviews for her show Illusions. But what Mulder did during this past year was no illusion. After staging one of the best cabaret shows of the year with her mesmerizing Tom Waits Tribute Show in March (directed by 2012 "breakout year" singer Lauren Fox), she won the Mabel Mercer Foundation's Noel Coward Competition in June, and in October was named winner of the Julie Wilson Award at the annual Cabaret Convention. You would think that would be enough for one year, but what really took Marissa Mulder to breakout status was being booked for two late-night November shows at the prestigious Café Carlyle. During her delightful and appropriately titled show, "It's Magic," Mulder performed an eclectic set of standards that she admitted, "speak to me." Well, if these are the tunes that capture her heart and mind, she's got a magical musical muse and very good taste, especially for someone from the Millennial Generation.
When I caught Mulder's show on the 15th, Bill Zeffiro (her musical director for Illusions and her 2011 Jimmy Van Heusen Tribute Show) was filling in for her Tom Waits Musical Director Jon Weber (who helmed the November 7 show and wrote superb arrangements), and by all accounts her performance was equally superb. It may be my imagination, but this lovely lass keeps raising her personal bar with every show. If Mulder was intimidated standing on the Carlyle stage or by having three cabaret divas like Andrea Marcovicci (with Marissa in photo next page), KT Sullivan, and Jessica Molaskey in the audience she certainly didn't show it. With her usually curly auburn locks straightened, and looking more elegant and sophisticated than ever in a black sequined top over a black skirt, Mulder coolly opened with "Zing! Went the Strings Of My Heart," as Zeffiro inserted some jazzy Gershwin riffs.
You can't blame anyone's heart from going "Zing!" when they hear Mulder sing. Her voice has been described as being girlish and bubbly, reminiscent of the legendary Blossom Dearie's sound. While it does have a retro '30s and '40s band front singer quality, it also ranges from ethereal to unselfconsciously coquettish, and can make any guy feel paternal and protective towards her, but a bit like a dirty old man at the same time. Mulder's unaffected mezzo soprano sound is like sweet tupelo honey (also the color of her flowing locks) dripping slowly off a spoon into a hot cup of tea. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)