The thing I hate about cabaret singers is that you can’t critique them. Cabaret is communicating your humanity – good cabaret singers make you care about them and disarm critics. They sing/speak like you’re hanging out in the kitchen over homemade chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of wine, perhaps occasionally and casually remembering that you paid to be there.
Marcy Heisler, Zina Goldrich and Scott Coulter “hung out in my kitchen” on Saturday night in the first performance of the 2013-2014 Performing Arts Series at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Goldrich and Heisler have been writing songs together since 1993, and were the first female recipients of the Fred Ebb Award for Musical Theatre Songwriting. Scott Coulter, who also tours with Stephen Schwartz, the four-time Grammy Award winning composer of Wicked, is a brave soul, performing songs with clarity, “oomf” and impeccable diction in front of their composers – composers who also happen to sing remarkably well.
Goldrich and Heisler contrast well: Marcy is more of a traditional “performer,” singing by the mic with show and pizzazz. Zina Goldrich, who also plays the piano, makes you fall more inquisitively in love. There is something about Zina that makes her performances more like conversations than songs. She sang their hit “Taylor the Latte Boy” to great effect.
Marcy nailed “Alto’s Lament,” their “homage to auditioning friends,” with musical and lyrical references to “Oklahoma,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats” and “The Mikado.” I wasn’t the only audience member laughing out loud, and amazed at the brilliant high C that came out of nowhere.
Coulter’s best performances were “Welcome the Rain,” his favorite song by Goldrich and Heisler, and a hauntingly beautiful and melodically unpredictable ballad that repeats, “You are the kind of magic I could never understand.”
Worth the price of admission alone was the three-song sneak peek at the score for Ever After, a musical adaption of the 1998 movie starring Drew Barrymore, and set to premiere in the spring of 2014. Sample lyrics: “Love is just another word for bored in pairs,” and “Prince Charming is just another thing to dust.” Goldrich and Heisler’s score is catchy without being cliché, heartwarming without being gag-inducing. Michael Feinstein has already recorded the title song.
As Coulter noted, songwriters who perform their own material well are rare. This is a more common phenomenon in cabaret, where the feelings come first and vocal technique comes fourth or fifth. There were a few notes that weren’t quite right on Saturday night, but who cares?
After almost an hour and a half of musical chatting, I know Goldrich and Heisler too well to do anything other than smile, laugh and applaud. We’re BFFs, haven’t you heard? But taking a step back: The encore from Dear Edwina was vastly inferior to their newest compositions for Ever After, which show tremendous growth and potential. They’re moving in the right direction and writing for the right reasons. The outcome looks good for Ever After. And Marcy and Zina already have an entire audience on their side.
The Marcy and Zina Show was performed October 19 and 20 at the The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, VA.