Written by Kevin Scott Hall
Metropolitan Room - May 31-June 2, July 7, August 2
Over the years, Marieann Meringolo has built a solid reputation around town and beyond for the high quality of her work in cabaret rooms, putting together well-researched and polished shows on a variety of themes. Always, her remarkable vocal ability has stood out: it's big enough for Broadway but she has pop sensibilities. She brings to mind some of the great ladies of popular music, such as Melissa Manchester, Linda Rondstadt, Celine Dion, and her acknowledged idol, Barbra Streisand. Meringolo never waivers in her vocal abilities and can stand up to comparison with any of these celebrated artists.
At her most recent offering, "Orchestrated!," Meringolo explained to her audience that when she and her musical director, Doyle Newmyer, put a show together, Newmyer creates fully orchestrated arrangements so that she can perform the songs with bands of all sizes on cruise ships and in concert venues outside of New York. Until now, she had never been able to bring these orchestrations to her fans in New York clubs. This time out, however, she chose a number of selections from her past shows, added a couple of new ones, and performed them, orchestrated, with a 7-piece band. The musicians filled up the entire stage and a section of tables to the left of it, and the resulting surround-sound was a pleasure to hear.
Although most of the songs in this 90-minute show were very familiar, she compensated by singing the hell out of them. "La Vie en Rose" (Edith Piaf, Louiguy, Mack David) was especially satisfying, building from a slow sensuality to an impassioned declaration. In Meringolo's hands, "Windmills of Your Mind" (Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman), a difficult song to sing because of its complex key structure and dizzying lyrical content, was spellbinding. And speaking of hands, her gestures are both elegant and meaningful, a pleasure to watch.
Meringolo's facial features not only resemble Streisand's, but she also sounds like her in speech and, sometimes, in her singing voice, so it's no surprise that she did well with songs that Streisand has tackled. A pairing of "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" and "Summer Me, Winter Me" (Michel Legrand, the Bergmans) had an intense beauty, as did "Where Is It Written?" (Legrand, the Bergmans, from Yentl), paired with "I'm the Greatest Star" (Bob Merrill, Jule Styne, from Funny Girl). The latter two were presented as a tribute to her idol. I might caution her to ease up on using too much of the Streisand songbook; Meringolo has the vocal chops to do them justice, but we do already have Streisand. The pleasures in her tribute to Dionne Warwick, were, therefore, more surprising, although the medley could probably have been cut by a couple of minutes. Their voices are not at all alike, so Meringolo was able to bring a fresh take to Warwick's '60s hits.
She had some fun with up-tempo numbers. Explaining her heritage, she playfully delivered the bullet-fast lyrics to "Italian Menu" (Nicole Paone), basically a listing of favorite Italian foods. "I'm a Woman" (Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller) gave her the opportunity to give attitude directly to audience members, and allowed her band members to solo on their instruments. "Fever" (Eddie Cooley, John Davenport) did not play to her strongest suit; it seemed she acted it the way it has almost always been done—a kind of put-on sexiness—without authentic heat.
Alas, a cabaret room is not a concert hall or a cruise ship. The arrangements all seemed to grow to a pull-out-all-the-stops, whiz-bang ending, with Meringolo holding those glorious, robust notes for impossibly long measures. Her vocal feat is remarkable for its seeming effortlessness and for the absence of any sign of tiring, even at the end of the show—and it got her applause, as if for a touchdown at a football game. This approach is better suited to a generic, perhaps less sophisticated, audience than to an intimate New York club. Subtle, it ain't. So, when Meringolo introduced a song she was working on, hoping it would come to be as good as the rest, well, it turned out to be better. "Crazy Love" (Marsha Malamet, David Lasley, Robin Lerner, Allan Rich), accompanied by only piano, had a rawness and a longing that allowed us a peak into her soul.
Therein lies the lesson for Meringolo. She deserves kudos for her work and her abilities; however, her desire to polish to perfection (a trait she shares with her idol, Streisand, or so the story goes) may put one in awe of her talent, but may leave one wanting to see a little more honest emotion. Beauty is formidable, but there's also something to be said for the added beauty of a tear, a laugh, a moan, or a growl.
Nevertheless, "Orchestrated!" was an ambitious and thrilling accomplishment on many levels. The musicianship of all concerned, and Meringolo's grace and poise throughout, bespoke the highest professionalism. In addition to Newmyer on piano, her band consisted of John Loehrke (bass), Ayodele Maakheru (guitar), Sipho Kunene (drums), Richie Vitale (trumpet), Jonathan Kantor (alto sax), and Danny Hall (trombone). Eric Michael Gillett directed.