Meg Flather: Portraits

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Meg Flather


Metropolitan Room, NYC, December 14, 2015

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes


Meg-Flather-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212About halfway through Portraits, Meg Flather’s 1993 cabaret show revived as part of the New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series, I thought to myself, “Why isn’t this woman a Broadway performer, or at least more well-known in the world of cabaret?” After searching YouTube both for the songs unknown to me before last night (Nanci Griffith’s “Once in a Very Blue Moon” and Richard Maltby Jr.

and  David Shire’s astonishingly beautiful “Life Story”), and songs I haven’t heard in some time (Janis Ian’s “Amsterdam” and Jacques Brel/Will Holt’s “Days of the Waltz”)—and finding that I preferred Flather’s renditions to anything I found online—the question became more insistent. No one really knows why some people achieve fame in this business and others who are equally talented do not; all one can do is try to explain why a given performer deserves more recognition than she’s received.

After opening with the only number in the show I didn’t love, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky,” Flather sang the melancholy Griffith ballad with admirable clarity and simplicity. In reflecting on the show now over two decades old, she conceded that she had “no business” singing most of the songs in her 20s. Now in her early 50s (though she appears a decade younger), the conventionally attractive Flather, a fixture on home shopping networks, has lived much of the material she once sang not from experience, but imagination. And you hear the raw truth in every lyric. One instance: the hilarious and unapologetic “Soliloquy at 5 AM in the Holiday Inn on I-70” (John Kroner/Gary Gardner) about casual sex post-divorce and pre-engagement.

Many singers claim to be drawn to songs that tell a story. What distinguishes Flather from many performers who sing “storytelling songs” (like Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner,” her nuanced rendering of which packed more emotional punch than anyone I’ve heard sing the song except the luminous Laura Benanti), is her ability to evoke the narrative context of the lyrics. Flather brings the depth and presence of a stage actress to her interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell (without whom “no storytelling song would be complete”) like “In France They Kiss on Main Street”) and Muriel Lily and Nicholas Phipps (“Maud”).

“Days of the Waltz,” with its breakneck speed and tongue-twisting lyrics, showed off Flather’s technical prowess, while at the same time providing welcome relief from the show’s most emotional number, “Where’ve You Been” (Jon Vezner)/Don Henry). Dedicated to her parents, who were married 55 years (and for whom she acted as caregiver), the song could not but induce tears, even if one hadn’t, like me, just lost a 90-year-old father for whom I performed that function.

Whether lighthearted or gut-wrenching, Flather’s autobiographical interludes are always authentic and add to, rather than distract from, her material. “The French Song” (Don Tucker/Art Murray), inspired by Flather’s time in the early 1990s as resident makeup artist at Bergdorf (“when Bergdorf was still Bergdorf”) left the audience gasping for air. The song is collection of French phrases imported to English, all the French Flather knew when working at the legendary but pretentious mecca of makeup.

Rarely does lighting impress me, but Jonathan Mercado’s work made a genuine contribution to the show as a whole, as did the superbly talented pianist and Musical Director Paul Greenwood and percussionist/guitarist John Mettam. Under the direction of Lennie Watts, Flather put on a show I will not soon forget.