“Everybody’s Doin’ It”
Oak Room at the Algonquin – February 15 – March 12
As the King of Siam is famously alleged to have said, “Is a puzzlement.” The last two shows Maude Maggart did at the Algonquin were very good, indeed. Now we have this new show. How could things have gone so wrong?
The evening gets off to an uncertain start with the show’s title song, Irving Berlin’s “Everybody’s Doin’ It.” At first Maggart adopts the manner of a jolly hayseed, but then she sobers up as she gradually becomes aware of the silliness of the song. But she doesn’t make the intentions of her interpretation clear, so her performance becomes drab rather than pointed and the number doesn’t quite land. It’s right after that, though, that the serious problem begins.
Number after number, she accompanies her singing with an insane amount of “acting,” gesturing, and arm movement, as though she felt the need to illustrate every lyric and punctuate each emotion. It’s like a surrealistic caricature of Andrea Marcovicci. The way Marcovicci uses her hands is certainly distinctive, but it’s never distracting, and whereas Marcovicci’s gestures enhance and expand on her vocal interpretation, Maggart’s have the opposite effect: by stealing focus, they undermine the communication she is trying to establish. She sounds good, and if one were to close one’s eyes, one would discern some intelligent interpretations buried underneath all that stuff. If you’ve read my recent reviews, you know that I consider Marcovicci a master; however, her choices are an integral part of her particular style and of the unique dynamic she establishes with the audience. They should not be copied. During her show, Maggart tells us that when Bing Crosby started out he copied Al Jolson, and when Frank Sinatra began, he copied Bing Crosby. Ironically—or is it perversely?—she comments that when you start out, it’s OK to emulate someone you admire.
Sometimes a look back at a performer’s artistic development over time can provide clues to his or her current state. When Maggart hit the New York cabaret scene seven years ago or so, she made a splash with her program of songs from the 1920s. I and a few others were concerned about two issues: we feared that the high, ’20s-style voice she displayed throughout that show would in time prove limiting and wear out its welcome, and we were bothered by her patent mimicry of Andrea Marcovicci, who had been one of her mentors. With her very next offering, Maggart showed that she was capable of a wider range of vocal coloration, and by a few shows after that, her Marcovicci-isms had dwindled down to a precious few. She seemed to have developed her own artistic voice, and I became an enthusiastic fan. I don’t know whether she’s now reverting to mimicry, or whether this represents a further, but lamentable, step in the development of her artistic voice. Alas, this is not one of those retrospective examinations that yield answers.
In addition to this problem with her musical renditions, her patter is muddled and tries too hard to make the song selections fit her theme. However, since the show is primarily a program of musical material, patter problems are a secondary issue. On the other hand, there is nothing in any way deficient in John Boswell’s piano accompaniment, which is as musically solid and supportive as one could wish.
The dark clouds part around two-thirds of the way into the show, when with Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” she moves behind the piano and stays still while she sings. It’s a relief. When she then does “No One Ever Tells You” (Carroll Coates, Hub Atwood), her torch song gestures are organic, at one with her interpretation. She follows that with a pairing of Rod McKuen’s “A Man Alone” and Mickey Leonard and Herbert Martin’s “Why Did I Choose You?,” which she delivers with heartfelt directness; the night I attended it received the biggest hand of the evening. But I’m afraid the damage had been done.
When I was a kid playing games with other children, if someone did something so off base that it was impossible to rule on it, we would proclaim it a do-over. (That term might actually be used in real sports, but that’s something I wouldn’t know anything about.) I would like to remain a fan of Maggart, so I will consider this show a do-over; when I see her next show, I will pretend that her current show never happened.
About the Author
Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.