Andrea Sings Astaire: Andrea Marcovicci at Le Chat Noir
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Fred Astaire was one of the most elegant entertainers of the last century: working his way up from Vaudeville, on Broadway, and into the permanent memory of moviegoers worldwide: Astaire was the epitome of cool. He taught us that tap dance was sexy, that a Gershwin song was much more than a throwaway tune, and that a guy can get a girl with a smart glance, a top hat and cane.
Andrea Marcovicci is a perennial favorite in midtown Manhattan’s Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, at the Plush Room in San Francisco, and at chic boites spanning the globe. She shimmers brighter than any sequins on a Ginger Rogers dress in her return engagement at Le Chat Noir entitled “Andrea Sings Astaire.” Accompanied by her longtime music director and arranger Shelly Markham (who authored several songs in the upcoming Naked Boys Singing at the Marigny Theatre) and bass player Daniel Fabricant, this smooth new show delights in the essence of Fred Astaire and the many songs he made famous. Composers such as George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern all wrote songs especially for Astaire, and there’s no doubt why: Astaire was in a class by himself. Although people remember Fred best for his dancing, he was an excellent singer, with a natural quality to his voice that, along with his dancing, made everything seem effortless. Far from it, Astaire was a task-master, choreographing his own dances, rehearsing at every possible moment, and never settling for anything less than perfection.
I am happy to report that Ms. Marcovicci has captured what made Mr. Astaire so special in this buoyant new show. Opening with the Cole Porter standard “Night and Day,” a deliciously rich and harmonically complex song, it is expertly delivered by Ms. Marcovicci. Fred Astaire introduced the song on Broadway in 1932 in the musical The Gay Divorce, and inspired legions of recording artists to record it by performing it in the hit film (of similar title) The Gay Divorcee two years later. There are many Cole Porter standards, but this is one is definitely in the upper echelon. Imagine hearing it for the first time, and you’ll know why Mr. Astaire’s contributions are immeasurable to American Popular Culture. She follows it with the lesser known “Something’s Gotta Give,” a Johnny Mercer tune from the 1955 film Daddy Long Legs.
Early on in the show, Ms. Marcovicci stops to reflect upon the handsome black and white framed picture of Astaire on the top of the piano. Known as “the chatty chanteuse,” Marcovicci shares with us her most prized possession, something one can’t purchase on eBay. The photograph is signed by Astaire to Cole and Linda Porter! She already had the audience at the gilded frame: the photo inspires affectionate “awwws” from the crowd. She also shares a bit of gossip about the final years of Astaire’s life, and reminds audiences about the importance of cabaret in New Orleans. It’s never more true, with Le Chat proprietress Barbra Motley securing Marcovicci (again) for a three-week engagement, and with upcoming big name cabaret stars like Billy Stritch and Steve Ross appearing next month, plus a fall appearance by the Merman-like Klea Blackhurst. She doesn’t have to do much arm twisting, as talent of her caliber and others, including our emerging local cabaret scene make Le Chat one of the hottest nightspots in the city. Also worth mentioning, the special summer drink menu introduced during Ms. Marcovicci’s run by Le Chat bartender Frank. By the way, Frank’s NOLA Sunset, although it tastes like a coconutty fruit punch, really packs a wallop, so sip slowly!
Marcovicci continues with a trio of songs penned by the Gershwins (“A Foggy Day in London Town”), Irving Berlin (“Isn’t This a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain”), and “This Heart of Mine” by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed.
Marcovicci, in one of the show’s many witty asides, explains the mystique of a Fred Astaire song: “he sings a little before the beat, a little after the beat, but never on the beat.” It is clear when she sings that she has studied Astaire’s mannerisms, and the same effortless grace in delivering a lyric is heard throughout her show. Her glowing soprano, full of rich tones and infinite versatility, is perfectly suited for the odd Irving Berlin “ethnic” number “The Piccolino” to the melancholy “He Loves and She Loves” and lesser known (but not less worthy) songs like “Looking for a Needle in a Haystack”, “The Blue in Your Eyes”, and “Let’s Kiss and Make Up”, the latter introduced by Fred Astaire in 1927’s Funny Face on Broadway, which more than 25 years later would be made into a glorious Technicolor fantasy on the life of photographer Richard Avedon starring Astaire and Audrey Hepburn (Ms. Marcovicci affectionately calls her “the twig!”)
Marcovicci first remembers seeing Fred Astaire on film when she was five years old. Her parents were avid ballroom dancers, and they only enhanced her love affair of Astaire’s work. Although the tiny stage at Le Chat Noir does not equal the scope of the RKO soundstages, she manages to capture a few soft-shoe, stylized movements suggesting Astaire’s hoofing prowess. She continues with other indelible classics like “Cheek to Cheek”, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, and “Dancing in the Dark”. With this roster of incredible songs made famous by Fred Astaire, one gets the sense that this show could easily be twice as long and still have barely skimmed the surface.
In a stylish costume change, she is revealed in black tails, a real bowtie (no clips to found anywhere) and an expandable top hat from New Orleans’ own Meyer the Hatter. Only then could she sing the formal wear appropriate “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” and “Let’s Change Partners and Dance.” The enjoyable evening came to a close with two Jerome Kern gems: “You Were Never Lovelier” with a lyric by Johnny Mercer, from the film of the same name (with Rita Hayworth) and the Kern/Dorothy Fields collaboration “The Way You Look Tonight.” There’s no better way to end one of the most delightful, sophisticated evenings one can spend out on the town, reminiscing about Fred Astaire and an era that has long past us by, but is certainly not forgotten on the boards at Le Chat Noir.