BWW Review: The Chamlins Are More Aptly Called The Charmings in THE MARVELOUS MR. MERCER at Don't Tell Mama
The cabaret world is growing. There are more shows and more types of acts than ever before. The range of choices available for a night out in a cabaret club are wide and varied, and always interesting, from comedy to music, burlesque to spoken word. A big part of the cabaret-going experience features memoir shows and shows of social consciousness, where the storytelling delivers to the audience a strong message, and patrons of the art love these pieces of theater - they are very popular and leave audiences filled with emotion and profound thoughts. Cabaret is a, happily, continually evolving art form, and that's fantastic.
But sometimes you just need a night of Johnny Mercer
Paul and Rochelle Chamlin have been presenting their show THE MARVELOUS MR. MERCER and it is a most delightful way to spend an hour in a nightclub. There are no demands placed on the brain, indeed no demands placed on any part of you. At this confection, this candy box, this dream cloud of a cabaret show, all you have to do is order your drink, sit back and let the gorgeous music being created by The Chamlins wash over you. Now doesn't that sound relaxing and fun? It should because it is. It isn't just the music, though, it's the entire package. Mr. and Mrs. Chamlin have some fun little factoids, a bit of trivia, a little gossip, a little chat...and they're good at it. Sometimes when you go to see a tribute show you don't get to have a relationship with the artists, there's no rapport between you and them because they read the little known facts off like a news announcer. None of that for Rochelle Chamlin - she's got that stuff memorized and ready to tell you like she's sharing her own stories from her own life, with face and voice and inflection and attitude and humor. It is so refreshing a presentation that you can't help but wish for more, something that rarely happens during the reading of the history in such tribute shows. Indeed, after the audience gasped at one bit of trivia, Rochelle's off the cuff remark was "The things you find out when you read a biography." Heaven in a cabaret room.
Paul gets to talk too but he is doing triple duty behind the piano - playing the songs, singing the songs, saying the script. He contributes to the discussion on Mercer with a fair amount of levity, but most of his rhetoric is used in the pursuit of flirting with his wife who, by the way, flirts right back. This couple has such sweet chemistry that, at times, you just want to giggle at them. They're so in tune with one another, so in sync, that you can't help but think they talk to each other like this at home. If you close your eyes you can visualize them, cooking spaghetti and throwing trivia back and forth across the kitchen before launching into a duet from Texas Li'l Darlin'. Their energy and jubilation is downright contagious, which is probably the biggest reason the show is as much fun as it is - equal parts good music, fun facts, and personal connection is a winning combination in a club act, something that director Teresa Fischer clearly knows because she has seen to it that all the pieces in The Marvelous Mr. Mercer are lined up right where they ought to be so that Rochelle and Paul are able to keep the evening moving at just the right enjoyable pace.
Musically, there isn't a thing about this show to be critiqued, not one factor to revisit, not one suggestion to be made. With a set list of songs both famous and slightly obscure, Paul Chamelin has created arrangements both easygoing and out of the ordinary, some of them fun, some sultry, some riding the fine line where lovely becomes beautiful. No musical phrase is taken for granted, each sentence in every song is craftily orchestrated to provide prime storytelling opportunities for the solos and the duets, all of which are easily enjoyed. The Chamlins have voices that, while not distinctive, are pretty, and well matched. These are good cabaret voices that they have trained to use properly, and that harmonize wonderfully, at times even fantastically, particularly when they and the whole band (Tom Hubbard, Bass; Daniel Glass, Percussion) get going. With jovial numbers like "That Old Black Magic" and "The Yodel Blues" or forgotten songs from Li'l Abner and Saratoga, the wistful "When October Goes" and the sleepy "Blues in the Night," the hour flies by as you relax and have a good time just being in the songs of Johnny Mercer. Then, before you know it, The Chamlins are sweetly bidding you farewell with all the amiable charm with which one suspects they conduct all of their club acts, and some nights out, amiable charm is the ideal way to end the day.
Photos by Stephen Mosher