The opening night of Marissa Mulder’s I’ll Follow the Sun: The John Lennon and Paul McCartney Songbooks at Feinstein’s/54 Below provided a much-needed infusion of brightness in a week full of rain. It’s unusual that sweetness would be such a compelling and interesting quality in a singer, but Mulder knew exactly what to do with her sincerity on stage to connect deeply with her audience and her material.
Well-known repertories like this usually benefit from arrangements that take one of two approaches: quality covers of the original versions or freshly conceived arrangements. Music director/pianist Jon Weber, bassist Ritt Henn, and guitarist Mike Rosengarten delivered both: a mix of well-played, as-remembered versions, with a satisfying number of surprise moments—for example the rock steady opening to “A Day in the Life” (all songs noted were written by Lennon & McCartney), the cello parts on “Eleanor Rigby” being played by the guitar with a fuzz or distortion pedal doubled by the bowed bass, and a swinging jazz arrangement of “All My Loving.” The band supplied standout backing vocals, which served the (mostly) Beatles songs well, and with the addition of Mulder, they often sang four parts instead the original three (Ringo must have been perpetually out for tea when it came time for harmonies).
Mulder’s voice is a clear, pop soprano with a little sandy texture that falls between musical worlds: evoking the knowing-yet-girlish sound of Blossom Dearie, the ethereal pop of Eva Cassidy, and even sometimes the plaintive indie-rock edge of Martha Wainwright. Mulder made this sound mature, genuine, and nuanced. Ballads, such as “She’s Leaving Home” and “Julia,” were so in her wheelhouse that it sounded as if she were writing the words as they left her mouth. Up-tempo songs, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” were spirited and rhythmic. Her occasional brief patter did exactly what it’s supposed to do: give us a small window into what drew her to the song choice and freshened the meaning of the song with a story of the songwriter’s process. A few off-the-cuff moments—such as following a reminder to tip our waitstaff with an impromptu story about her being such a bad waiter that she once locked herself inside a freezer—were enough to keep her sunny presence grounded and authentic.
All of these elements together would make this a good show. What makes it a great one is that Mulder sings as if she felt that every moment on stage were a gift—a gift that she is honored to share with us. You could think that what she does as a performer is easy to do because it comes across as so spontaneous and from-the-heart, but it’s a craft, and Mulder has honed it.
I’ll Follow the Sun: The John Lennon and Paul McCartney Songbooks
Feinstein’s/54 Below – May 30, June 13
About the Author
From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.