Nearly two dozen years ago, new to Hollywood, I stepped into the Gardenia supper club and discovered that one of the great loves of my life was standing before a piano and singing sad songs. Actress Andrea Marcovicci, who’d stolen my teenage heart, along with that of Kojak, Magnum P.I. and countless other TV lugs, had turned cabaret singer, and that Saturday night I sat at the bar for “Marcovicci at Midnight”, enraptured, and suddenly secure in my decision to move to Los Angeles. I kept going back, week after week, year after year, and gradually, Andrea and I began talking, about movies and Barbra Streisand songs and about love and heartache. These days, Andrea is the long-standing “queen of cabaret”, singing around the country—and every holiday season, at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel—with orchestras and dance companies, and for intimate rooms of 100. She sings the standards, but her real gift is for finding forgotten gems and wrapping them in stories about the people who sang them—Fred, Bing, Judy, Frank—and those who wrote them—Rodgers & Hart, Frank Loesser, Kurt Weill. She reads from letters; she recites poems. Andrea, at heart, is a storyteller. This weekend, for two weeks, she returns to the Gardenia with a sequel to “Marcovicci Sings Movies”, the show that put on her the map 23 years ago. As we took seats in the living room of her gorgeous Studio City home a couple of days ago, she sang to me the lyrics that open her new show, which just happen to be the opening lyrics to Streisand’s 1983 film, Yentl: “There’s not a morning I begin without a thousand questions running through my mind…”
It’s amazing to me that you’re still doing all-new shows. You don’t have to. You certainly have a full repertoire of songs.
Andrea Marcovicci: Oh, but I want to create new shows. There are a lot of singers who are content to sing a similar show, maybe adding a couple of new songs here and there. But I just couldn’t. And there’s the responsibility of performing once a year at the Algonquin. They expect something new each time. That’s why I have such a loyal following—they know it’s not going to be the same show. And I’ve wanted to get back to movie night for a really long time. I’m discovering richness in matching songs like “Days of Wine & Roses”, with “Call Me Irresponsible” [from Papa’s Delicate Condition, 1963]. I’m dedicating that medlette—we don’t use the dreaded word, ‘medley’—to the lovable drunk in movies. A dangerous thing, the lovable drunk. Movies taught us that drinking could be so romantic, so glamorous, when the reality is…well…Going back and forth between those two songs, one ends up enriching the other. “Call Me Irresponsible” becomes unbelievably sad. It becomes a cry.
Does a singer’s relationship to her voice change?
Sure. Sometimes you want to throw your voice across the room! [laughing] You can get very combative with your voice. But I try to create shows for the voice I have now as opposed to a voice I had 10 or 20 years ago. And right now, with this movie show, my voice sounds very mellow, very legato, very tuneful. It’s sounding very pretty. It’s bright. It’s got a lot of ping. What I call ping. [She bursts into song, punching the air with her index finger.] “Good mornin’, good mornin’!”
What I loved about coming to all those midnights was that I was allowed to enter the story you were telling. In listening to you, I could go inside myself. Your audience really gets to explore their own history and their own depths.
That’s definitely what it’s about. I want to bring you along through what I’ve been thinking about that year. I see you. The kind of work I do, I see my audience. I know what they’re thinking and feeling and I love them. I don’t mean that in some schmaltzy, California way. People have come back to me year after year after year. They come if they’re well, when they’re not feeling well, when they’re feeling emotionally…challenged. I really treasure that position I have in their lives. It’s a warm feeling. It’s a little beyond singing for me.
I often think of your subtitle for the first movie night: “Songs from Movies that Fucked Us Up.” Do movies still fuck us up?
[laughing] That title may not make it to the Algonquin. They definitely do though, don’t you think? I don’t know if they’d be much fun if they didn’t. Movies give you an unrealistic notion of which way you ought to turn in life. And they always will.
Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd
March 6-8, 13-15, 9 p.m.