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BWW Review: Singing (and Writing) Like Her Life Depends On It, MAC Winner Meg Flather Brings 'Carly & Me' to Don't Tell Mama

BWW Review: Singing (and Writing) Like Her Life Depends On It, MAC Winner Meg Flather Brings 'Carly & Me' to Don't Tell Mama
Paul Greenwood, Meg Flather, and John Mettam pay tribute to Carly Simon in Flather's Carly & Me at Don't Tell Mama. Photo: Stephen Hanks.

Fresh off her 2016 MAC Award for best original song after a successful revival of Portraits (1993) for Stephen Hanks' New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits series, Meg Flather paid tribute in Carly & Me to the "artist who gave [her] her voice." With her longtime musical director Paul Greenwood on piano and the versatile John Mettam on guitar and drums both singing backup, Flather performed hits and lesser-known songs alike from Carly Simon's oeuvre, along with a handful of original songs influenced by her musical heroine.

Opening with "Let the River Run" (from the 1987 film Working Girl) was reasonable given that Simon won the Oscar, the Grammy, and the Golden Globe for the ballad which captured the zeitgeist of late 1980s aspiration. Unfortunately, Flather's voice got lost amidst the piano and drums, which tried to "go big," that is, to reproduce the song's expansive feel. The whispered lyrics at the beginning and end didn't work. But a spirited and nicely arranged "Anticipation" (with excellent vocals by Greenwood and Mettam) and a deeply moving performance of her award-winning "Hold On Tight" made up for the shaky start.

It is unusual to begin a show with three consecutive songs and not a word of introduction. But when the performer finally explained that the show plots her personal and artistic evolution alongside milestones in her idol's career, the choice made sense. Carly & Me is roughly two-thirds Carly and one-third Flather.

As always, Flather is charming and intelligent, projecting warmth from the stage of a venue she calls her "church" for nearly thirty years (going back to Don't Tell Mama's original location on 55 Grove Street). Having worked in the field of retail cosmetics, both on QVC as brand ambassador and at Bergdorf Goodman circa 1993 ("when Bergdorf was Bergdorf"), she knows how to sell a point, in this case, the magnitude of Simon's achievement: thirteen top 40 Billboard hits, three Grammys, one Hall of Fame induction, numerous television and film soundtracks, multiple lifetime achievement awards, nine compilations, and an astonishing twenty-three studio albums.

BWW Review: Singing (and Writing) Like Her Life Depends On It, MAC Winner Meg Flather Brings 'Carly & Me' to Don't Tell Mama
Meg Flather. Photo: Hanks

But Flather's attachment to Simon's music runs deeper than accolades and record sales, stretching back to 1974, when she received a small clock radio from her parents. Defying her mother, she biked to the nearest record store to buy "Mockingbird," Simon's duet with James Taylor, on a 45 record.

Even then, Flather picked up on an urgency in the singer's voice. Simon sang, she recalls, as if "her life depended on it." Much later, Simon disclosed that she was a childhood stutterer and that her mother proposed singing as remedy for a condition fraught with anxiety and social stigma. From the beginning, then, Flather understood Simon's music on a deeply intuitive level, and that comes through in her singing.

Simon's music also spoke to Flather because not every song is about how to get a guy, keep a guy, get a guy back, or recover from a guy. She writes about the full range of human relationship. The wistful and reflective "Boys In The Trees" drew this out nicely. Simon also took risks, in one case, a gloriously unsuccessful one which resulted in the loss of a record contract. One of the evening's highlights was "My New Boyfriend" from Spoiled Girl, a 1985 techno-funk experiment which called to mind the old acting joke about forgotten lines: "If you're going to flub a line, make it big and loud!" It's so awful, it's fabulous. I kept thinking about the hilarious scene in Starting Over, when Candice Bergen sings for Burt Reynolds. Flather's acting chops come to the fore in this number and the audience could barely breathe through the laughter.

Another highlight was the original song, "Like Me," a jazzy, sarcastic song about Facebook, whose entire purpose, Flather joked, "was to make ex-boyfriends miserable." The song provided a good segue to a beautifully rendered "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" from the 1987 album, Coming Around Again. This marked the beginning of a great comeback, which emboldened Simon to take another artistic leap in 1993's Romulus Hunt: A Family Opera. Flather sang a heartrending "Voulez-Vous Danser," drawing a parallel between the death of Simon's father when the singer was just 15 ("He missed it all," she says with tears in her eyes) and her own father's passing not long ago.

"'Cause I Do," the least interesting original material in the show, broke the mood, but "Life Is Eternal," constructed around a prayer by a pastor friend of Simon's at the height of the AIDS epidemic, picked up where "Voulez-Vous Danser" left off. Flather's exquisite "The Secret, a parallel but in no way derivative take on death and immortality, followed seamlessly.

Coming full circle, Flather finished with an energetic, playful "Mockingbird." Carly & Me, ably directed by Lennie Watts, lacks the polish and range of Portraits (perhaps because the material is so personal and the performer so identifies with her subject). Flather seemed somewhat tentative, particularly in the first third of the show, but still delivers an entertaining performance.

Meg Flather's Carly and Me will return to Don't Tell Mama on August 28 and September 27.

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