Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
Okay, movie music trivia buffs, what do Adriana Caselotti, Evelyn Venable, Ilene Woods, Kathryn Beaumont, and Mary Costa have in common? (Please hum Jeopardy theme song here before answering.) If you said that they all voiced the female lead characters in the early days of Disney animated movies, consider your two-drink minimum waived at any New York cabaret club during November (although you’d need a Fairy Godmother to make them honor that).
I may not have known the names of those glorious Disney singers until I researched the voices of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, et al., but I remember recordings of their angelic sounds carrying me off to sleep as a child. And there were moments last Tuesday night during Marissa Mulder's Metropolitan Room show "Illusions" (her CD release show that was a reprise of her highly-praised March 2012 run) when I'd close my eyes while she was purring songs such as "Never Never Land" and "Disneyland" and "Rainbow Connection" and could have sworn I was a kid again being swept away to the sandman by a sweet and soothing soprano.
Just in her mid-20s, Mulder hit the New York cabaret scene only two years ago and while her ascent hasn't been exactly meteoric, the singer whose voice is as honey-tinged as her hair has become more polished with every performance. There's no doubt her improvement accelerated after she won the grand prize in the 2011 MetroStar Talent Challenge, which earned her the four-show March engagement of "Illusions" at the Met Room. Mulder's vocals—which are as uniquely ethereal as anyone currently in cabaret—were as solid and engaging during the recent show as in the original run, her on-stage confidence is getting stronger by the show, and her self-effacing girlish charm is seducing audiences.
Given her show’s themes of “exploring fantasy, imagination, dreams and reality through song," her set list was inspired. Add that to the artful arrangements from her Music Director/Pianist Bill Zeffiro, smooth band support from Pete Anderson (sax) and John Loehrke (bass), and subtle direction from Karen Oberlin, and Mulder's show was an ideal live commercial for sales of her new CD (produced by Miranda Music with downloads available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/marissamulder). After setting a fairy tale mood with a medley of “Pure Imagination”/”Never Never Land,” Mulder wafted into “They Say It’s Spring” and her light, breathy vocals were somewhat reminiscent of the late Blossom Dearie. But when you least expect it, she’ll reach back for a surprisingly effective belt, as she did on “Day In, Day Out” (Rube Bloom/Johnny Mercer), “Money Tree” (from Kander and Ebb’s 1977 Liza Minnelli vehicle The Act), and Edward Kleban’s “Better."
Tom Hanks' character in the film You Have Mail might have mocked Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," but even he would have loved Mulder's minimalist version of Mitchell’s classic. The singer displayed her sensitive side on a melancholy rendition of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” was wonderfully wistful on “Where is the Wonder,” and became deliciously playful on Dave Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie” (another from the Blossom Dearie repertoire). One of the show's highlights was Mulder's self-deprecating and delightful delivery of a fun new Bill Zeffiro tune (written for Marissa), “My Kind of Guy (Line Up If You’re a Loser),” about being a single female “loser magnet" who usually leaves a bar with a "meth-head or a boozer."
At the end of Mulder’s show, as she cooed and then powered her way through the late Marvin Hamlisch/Howard Ashman song “Disneyland," she became Snow White, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Belle and Arielle, all wrapped up in one adorable cabaret singing package. When she encored with “Rainbow Connection,” Kermit’s song from The Muppet Movie, it was no illusion that Marissa Mulder had became a new cabaret princess. Photo © Mikeal Béland (www.mikealbeland.com)