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BWW Reviews: With Her Intimate, Yet Uneven New Show at the Met Room, One Wonders If Rising Star Marissa Mulder Is Really Trusting Her 'Instincts'

Marissa Mulder, who has been collecting rave reviews and awards in bunches over the past couple of years, debuted her new solo show, Instincts (with musical director Nate Buccieri), to a packed Metropolitan Room on Friday night January 30. It was the first effort in her new "Residency" at the Chelsea club, not a surprising status given her steady climb up the cabaret singer hierarchy. Mulder offered an eclectic program of songs by artists from Cy Coleman to Radiohead, representing "a snapshot of where [her] life is right now, a week away from 30." Her distinctive vocal sound--sincere yet playful and sounding like a combination of a bell and a trumpet--is uniquely expressive, perhaps from "living instinctively for quite a while now," as she said in one her of her rare moments of interstitial patter.

With Mulder's fiery mane juxtaposed against a chic black gown, after a gracefully rocky start with the Ben Folds opener "The Luckiest," she and Buccieri reprised a song performed in her most recent show Living Standards, Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning." As a serious Joni fan, I loved the Mulder/Buccieri arrangement, including a beautiful vocal canon at the end. I secretly wondered: Is she in love? They followed this sunny number with a shadowy interpretation of Elton John's well-loved pop song "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Perhaps Mulder was influenced by Sara Bereilles' similarly grave take on the tune. Mulder sang pointedly and, at times, angrily to some mysterious recipient. I found myself wishing she would offer a hint as to the person she was being so emotional about.

Mulder snuggled into her wheelhouse for a rhythmic and fun "You Fascinate Me So" (Cy Coleman and Carol Leigh), with Buccieri moving from spare punctuating melodies to lush chords. His piano solo after the second verse was laid back and jazzy, part peanuts (Vince Guradi), part speakeasy. The connection and fondness between the two performers was clear. The song was a terrific fit.

Mulder offered "No Surprise" (early Radiohead) and "Fred Jones Part 2" (Ben Folds) without patter, standing center stage against a deep blue backdrop. Singing in "No Surprise" about "A heart that's full up like a land fill," and in "Fred Jones" about and a man who leaves his job after 25 years with "no party and no songs." She sang the songs expressively, but, as a snapshot of her life at present, I couldn't help feeling the program was skewing in a very somber direction.

Before the next tune, Peter Mills' "It's Amazing the Things that Float," from his 2001 musical, The Flood, Mulder read a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. about faith being about taking risks. Following one's instincts does indeed take a lot of faith. There is no prescribed path, and much of the time you may feel like you are wandering in the wilderness. Mulder sang poignantly of losing everything ("My house has become a swimming pool"), yet also being able to find hope--even bemusement--watching unexpected things floating, such as "shoes like tiny canoes." Sometimes things are lighter than we realize, and if we can allow ourselves to let go, we may find a new freedom. Mulder chose these songs thoughtfully. They contain metaphors for a woman on a journey, trying to make sense of her path and she delivers them if they come spontaneously from her own mind and heart, a true gift.

"Turn Me On," a Norah Jones hit from her 2002 debut album Come Away With Me, is one hell of a sexy song, yet Mulder seemed oddly and uncharacteristically disconnected as she performed it. However, Buccieri took us to church with his solo, an R&B arrangement that was welcome as his playing is often quite subdued. Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" was an obsessive, strung out number during which I wondered about the cause of Mulder's apparent disillusionment. Without patter, I am left to my own imagination. Her voice was steely yet forlorn. Mulder then announced she was going "off patter" and told us "Sondheim really gets it." Hmmm. Resuming her regularly-scheduled programming, Mulder read a quote from writer Anne Lamott: "How you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued." The challenge is to "find out the truth of who you are." As she sang Johnny Rodgers' (forgettable) song "Box of Photographs," I wondered, how are you going to spend it? I wished for more than just someone else's quotations; I wanted Marissa's story.

The show hit its stride during the final third of the set, first with the Sara Bareilles song "Chasing the Sun," where Mulder's voice soared, embracing the beautifully jarring high notes that leap up in the chorus. The combination of Bareilles' sharp pop melody and Mulder's honeyed tone was captivating. The song felt like an anthem to those who intend to live life to the fullest: "We can always be chasing the sun! So fill up your lungs and just run!" She followed this wonderful number with a second Sondheim song, "I Remember," preceded by the most personal tale of the evening, a tender story about a snow day spent with her beloved Grandfather, whom she called "Ginka," the person who "saved her life." (See video, above.) Mulder handled the lovely, urbane, melancholy tune with emotional eloquence beaming through her unvarnished yet opulent sound. That peek inside the singer imbued the song with an intimacy that was riveting.

After her finale on Carole King's "Beautiful," Mulder encored on Tom Waits' "Take it With Me," singing "I was never more alive or alone," to a thrilled, supportive audience. As Marissa Mulder enters her next decade, guided by her instincts, I would encourage her to listen deeply, and not allow her effervescence to go flat beneath the weight of overly austere material. Chase that sun, girl! Run and play!

Photo and Video by David Rosen

Marissa Mulder continues her 2015 residency at the Metropolitan Room, 33 West 22nd Street, with shows on: March 20, May 29, September 25, and November 27, all at 7 pm. For reservations call: 212.206.0440

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From This Author Remy Block

Remy Block (performer, writer) is a Brooklyn, NY based singer, writer and educator. Recent cabaret performances include her new solo show On a Lonely Road…Travelin’ (read more...)