We begin with “Let’s Begin” (L. Otto Harbach/ Kern). Marissa Mulder’s sincere, megawatt smile, expressive, personal phrasing, and connection with the audience is immediate. “Tonight we’re celebrating the timeless beauty of Jerome Kern.”
Forced to work for his merchant father, Jerome David Kern (1885-1945) mistakenly placed an order for 200 pianos instead of two. It was apparently a last straw. Henry Kern gave in to his son’s aspirations, sending him to study music here and abroad. When he returned, the young man became a song plugger and rehearsal pianist. Biographical patter is light handed and illuminating.
Full of ardor and sweetness, “jusssssst…my Bill,” emerges a lingering sigh. (“Bill”-P.G. Woodehouse/Oscar Hammerstein II/Kern for Showboat). When Kern was writing with Johnny Mercer, he telephoned 17 year-old Margaret Whiting and invited her to tea (and scones) with his wife in order to get her reputedly savvy take on “I’m Old Fashioned.” She told him that her father (Richard Whiting) would’ve loved it, and that Kern brought out the best in Mercer. Tonight’s version is anything but old fashioned.
Much of Bill Zeffiro’s idiosyncratic, staccato take on material is contrary to Mulder’s phrasing. It runs ahead leading to stressful vocal accents which often loop out and back, centers raw. As the performer has a cottony sound, this goes against accustomed naturalness. “A Fine Romance” (Dorothy Fields/Kern for Swing Time) suffers.
Kern composed 16 musicals between 1915 and 1920 and ten over the following decade. Some of his best songs, however, were for films. “Long Ago and Far Away” (Ira Gershwin/Kern for Cover Girl) embraces gratitude and hope. Mulder controls whether vibrato undulates or hums in accordance with lyrics. “Just one look…” she tilts her head back, closes her eyes, “and then I knew…” “We believe her.
One hand on a jutted hip, “She Didn’t Say Yes” arrives cute and flirty. (Otto Harbach/Kern.) Musician and vocalist are in sync. “I Won’t Dance,” on the other hand, finds them out of sympathy. (Otto Harbach/Jimmy McHugh/ Dorothy Fields/Kern.)
Mulder explains that Kern helped changed musical theater forever both by moving plot along with songs and by writing specific to character. He also introduced 4/4 dance rhythms and syncopated jazz to a genre that was no longer exclusively revue-centric.
She addresses the composer’s rich, professional relationship with Dorothy Fields, which began when the studio asked Fields to put lyrics – overnight – to a Kern tune for Roberta. The number had been staged and filmed by the time its composer heard it. Imagine everyone’s relief when he signaled appreciation.
The show’s title song (B.G. DeSylva/Kern) starts a capella. Piano is delicate. I flash on a WWII Canteen filled with GIs. Signature breathy delivery adds tenderness. “April Fooled Me” (Dorothy Fields/Kern) is lovely and low key. “It was not really spring or really love…” Mulder has a stillness about her when not singing. She holds the mood and our attention. “All Through the Day” (Oscar Hammerstein II/Kern) is like swishing chiffon. “Old Man River” is not itself.
As always, The Beach Café is welcoming/well run, intimate and comfortable.
Photos Courtesy of Dave Goodside
Look For The Silver Lining- Marissa Mulder Sings Jerome Kern
The Beach Café 1326 Second Avenue at 70th