BWW Review: Meg Flather Takes Flight In OUTBOUND PLANE at Don't Tell Mama
There is a famous saying that tells us that the lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud, and that the deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the lotus blooms.
In the final moments of her one-woman musical play OUTBOUND PLANE, Meg Flather compares the process of recovering from pain and failure and loss to being trapped in mud. The analogy immediately conjures images of the saying about the Lotus -- that is when one realizes that Meg Flather is the living, breathing, walking, talking embodiment of that philosophy. All the parts of Meg Flather make up the ideology of the Lotus and the Mud. She is the earth, and she is the water; together she makes the mud. And out of the mud has bloomed the blossom. Meg Flather has, herself, created that which makes her bloom so bright, so fresh, so replete of color, of fragrance, of peace and of tranquility. Meg Flather is everything that she, herself, needs to shine brightly in a world rife with the dingy and the dank.
Meg Flather is everything.
Outbound Plane is a cabaret show born out of the loss of Ms. Flather's mother. Contemplating that loss with her longtime collaborator, director Lennie Watts, Flather gathered up the pearls of wisdom Watts dropped at her feet and created a show about the losses that people suffer, and how they recover, the result being a perfect example of what cabaret should be, and could be, if every person setting foot on a nightclub stage were as brave as Meg Flather. It doesn't take a lot of bravery to do what Ms. Flather is doing in Outbound Plane - just bravery of the right sort; and a little bit of that bravery can go a long way toward entertaining, teaching, learning, and healing. It isn't that Outbound Plane is group therapy set to music, though, as with all perfect endings, the audience goes home healed from whatever ails them, without even knowing it, possibly without even knowing that they required healing. That's the beauty of Outbound Plane - it grabs you with entertainment value and slips in the profundities when you're not looking.
Outbound Plane is not, as some might pre-conceive, a night of Meg Flather songs. Indeed, only one Flather song, the quietly epic "Like a Sunday," appears in the show. For the rest of her tremendous tale, Meg Flather has curated a special collection of songs that feel so personal that they MIGHT be Meg Flather songs...but they aren't. Opening the play with an astonishingly arranged "Open a New Window" and closing it with a heart-stoppingly earnest "Cockeyed Optimist," Ms. Flather fills this musical sandwich with an almost shockingly diverse smorgasbord of songs ranging from Menken & Rice to Joan Armatrading, from Natalie Merchant to Dubin & Warren. The experience is one akin to being in a gallery showroom where, every time you turn a corner, there is a piece of artwork you have loved all your life but had forgotten about until turning that corner, heaven-sent. With this compilation, Flather and Watts have chosen wisely, but they do not work as a duo, for there is the irrefutable necessity in this artistic family that is Tracy Stark.
Tracy Stark has, as of late, appeared rather ubiquitous. One wonders how she does it, but that is a secret, perhaps, best left in the hands and the mind of the prodigy. Having seen several of Ms. Stark's shows this year, I can say, without question, that there is some special connection between she and Meg Flather. Like Sisters from another Mister, the two have a spark of light that illuminates every moment that they spend on the stage together. Never have I heard better arrangements or better piano playing out of Tracy Stark than when she shares a stage with Meg Flather. When Meg sings, Tracy is right beside her, allowing Meg to be right on top of the note the whole time. Flather never falters because she is safe in the knowledge that Stark is the musical wind beneath her wings; and when they sing together in harmony, one is reminded of the inimitable sounds once made by Cass and Michelle, or Agnetha and Anni-Frid. Theirs is one of those musical marriages one reads about in literature or hears about in documentary films about the great musicians throughout history.
As for the show Outbound Plane itself, it is the kind of club act to which cabaret artists should aspire. Perfectly constructed, with prosaic storytelling superbly balanced inside and around the musical tales, Outbound Plane throws open that new window for the audience, and what they see inside is all of Meg Flather, from her history to the future, from the despair to the optimism, and always with an unshakable sense of humor. Flather's acting skills are as enviable as her singing voice is beautiful, and she doesn't ever skimp on either. No self-conscious dishonest modesty for Meg Flather - she is not only willing to go the distance with her performance level, she insists upon it. One can tell that this is an actress that should be given the Mount Everest of acting challenges, Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, because this is an actress willing to go there, where an actor needs to go to tell the story. Whatever the story being told, it can be promised and expected that Meg Flather is in for penny or pound. With Outbound Plane, Flather has created one of the most satisfying, gratifying, personal, professional, open, honest, friendly and loving cabaret plays available for audiences with discerning tastes. At just under an hour it is an exciting and exceptional journey - but this writer wishes, sincerely, that it could be developed into a show long enough to be mounted somewhere as a one-woman play. It is an endeavor worthy of the time and effort that would be required to make it a reality.
Well. Meg Flather's pretty much all we need.
And then some.
Outbound Plane has concluded its' shows for 2019 (well... most shows have, haven't they?) and future performances will be announced on Broadwayworld.
Photos by Stephen Mosher