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Believe in Spring: Marieann Meringolo Sings Michel Legrand at Feinstein’s
by Sherri Rase     |      Bookmark and Share
photo by Devon Cass
Marieann Meringolo
Ah, Feinstein’s! That beautiful room at the Loew’s Regency Hotel, on Park Avenue, is a premiere intimate venue for cabaret performances that is very different from the Midtown and Village venues where I usually hear the amazing talent New York has to offer. Such a special venue requires special performances, and on Sunday, February 26, a run opened that you simply must experience.
“You Must Believe in Spring” is Marieann Meringolo’s latest cabaret production and it is vital, moving and brilliantly conceived and arranged. The creative team includes director Eric Michael Gillett and musical director and genius arranger Doyle Newmyer, who doubles on piano, along with Brian Woodruff on drums and Boots Maleson on a luscious five string bass. From the very first moment, Ms. Meringolo draws you in and her voice holds you captive till she’s through. The featured composer is Michel Legrand and the pairing of Ms. Meringolo with this music is as natural as breathing.
Fittingly, Ms. Meringolo’s entrance is Norman Gimbel and Legrand’s “Watch What Happens,” as if she’s calling us out. “You think you love Michel Legrand, I’ll show you how Legrand is done!” and the gauntlet is thrown down. In this case, this singer has the goods to back up that challenge. Most of the songs in this program are the work of Legrand with the husband-and-wife writing team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and there is no doubt that we’re on a journey of discovery as well as memory.
The strength of cabaret comes from the story it tells and the intensely personal journey that we take with the artist. Part of that strength relies on the concept and the arrangement. Most cabaret songs, unless they are novelties, are very familiar songs, so how will the artist make them her own? These arrangements, beginning with the mournful cello-like bowed bass line in “On My Way To You” sounds like a contralto singing in a mezzo range–there is still a definable darkness to the voice of the bass, but it is telling us to look for something special. The phrasing is very artful throughout, but on this first song after Ms. Meringolo has taken the stage, we get the first real feeling of what the evening will bring. The thread in this case is relationships and the limerance of establishing that initial connection is delicious.
“After the Rain,” written in 1970, has an atmospheric feel and also a very tangible sense of the luxuriant time after a first, very deep intimacy. The tiger-stretch and power of the vocals are very evocative of those moments when we feel both tender and fierce with someone who has unlocked a heart and tapped into all the energy inside. Followed by the towering “I Was Born in Love With You,” from “Wuthering Heights,” written nearly 10 years later takes us further back in time, where that passionate sense that this is not our first experience with this new love sets up a karmic mirror reflecting itself that goes forward and backward through time–we can see ourselves, like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, loving again and again and again. This sweeping piece is an aria in its capture of the maelstrom of emotion that is the collision of romance for Cathy and Heathcliff.
Such a monumental piece leads to the somber reflection of the next pairing, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing/Summer Me Winter Me” and, though this time there’s a separation of more than a decade between the film “Best Friends,” from the early 1980s, and “Picasso Summer,” from the late 1960s, once again the artful arrangement of elements brings us to greater insight than either piece alone. Alternating between deeply contemplative and frothy fanciful, the lover’s doubts and dreams are on either side of a coin that glimmers as it rolls from one hand to the next, never remaining still. Following closely with the oft-covered “I Will Wait For You,” from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Ms. Meringolo again brings her artful phrasing to a song that we think we know that is now seen in a much more intimate light. Finally, for this section, Ms. Meringolo sings a very heartfelt rendition of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” from “The Happy Ending,” where she seems to taste the words before offering them to this new lover, who is finally the one.
The next portion of the program takes a slightly different arc as it wanders through seasons and dreams. “Once Upon a Summertime” is Legrand’s partnership with Johnny Mercer, which brings bittersweet feelings of memory, love, and a strong sense of the passing of time from one summer to the next, to “The Summer Knows,” from “Summer of ’42,” with the Bergmans. Memory is sweet and most especially so when considering the vast gulf and the tiny steps between innocence and experience. Johnny Mercer’s way of capturing individual moments is nonpareil and the remembered joy in Ms. Meringolo’s eyes as she sings “as if the Mayor had offered me the key to Paris” brings to mind those moments of joy that we all share with a truly memorable someone.
When I was considering the theme of the music for the program, there was one song I was hoping to hear–the iconic “Windmills of Your Mind,” from “The Thomas Crown Affair.” This song has always spoken to something deep inside me and the surreal images call to mind the remake of the movie featuring Magritte’s “The Son of Man” as a plot device. Beautifully done, Ms. Meringolo’s rendition conveyed the sense of falling deeply in love with the person who seems so wrong, but is ever so right, shines through.
The “dream” interlude is next, beginning with the title song from “Pieces of Dreams,” from 1969, then moving to two of the songs that speak directly to my soul as a woman, as well as part of the LGBTI community, the pairing from the movie “Yentl” of “Where Is It Written/A Piece of Sky.” Ms. Meringolo, for whom Barbra Streisand has been an inspiration, sings these songs with such passionate truth. It is a tribute to the Bergmans and Legrand as well that, while people who share my world feel these songs, and the struggles they depict, very personally, the universal appeal of such music makes it truly inspiring in a setting like this program. The two highest points of the program are “Windmills” and this set, where the arrangement is also a star. The bass line is again cello-esque and this piece so big that the trio sounded like an orchestra supporting the passion of the vocal. For me, this could have been the finale, so strong was it … but there was even more to come.
The penultimate piece is the eponymous “You Must Believe in Spring,” from “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” Even when the winter is as mild as this one is, spring, like this program, is such a gift. A composer like Legrand, who is so much at one with his lyricists, each at the pinnacle of their craft, is best served by musicians of the caliber of Ms. Meringolo and her trio. While some may sing, not all have the gift of song. Before sending us out into the balmy Sunday evening, Ms. Meringolo left us with the encore “Something New In My Life,” from “Micki and Maude,” and it felt like coming home. If you’ve never heard this singer live, give yourself this something new and do it quickly! The engagement at Feinstein’s runs every Sunday through March 18. Give something special to someone you love–this gift of song.
Visit www.feinsteinsatloewsregency.com for further information.


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