Michael Ricca Brings ’Still That Boy’ to Scullers
Being of a certain age can bring wisdom, reflection, perspective, and an appreciation of passing time, all wonderful themes for an engaging cabaret evening. Edward Albee explored such themes in his Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Three Tall Women" (1991), where the titular characters were simply named ’A,’ a 92-year old women fearfully facing the end of her life, ’B,’ a 52-year old woman enjoying the security of her middle age, and ’C,’ the smug 26-year old, blindly anticipating her life ahead. At one point, ’B’ declares her superiority, "This must be the happiest time: half of being adult done, the rest ahead of me...it’s the only time you get a 360-degree view-see in all directions. Wow! What a view!"
It is just this notion that has inspired cabaret singer, Michael Ricca. In 2001, he presented his debut cabaret show, "A Boy Like That," a youthful musical romp, upbeat, fun, and carefree. Thirteen years later, after exploring more adult themes in his shows "Beauty Is" (2010) and "On My Way to You: the Songs of Michel Legrand" (2012), Ricca once again explores the child within, this time, with insight sharpened by time in his newest cabaret show, "Still That Boy," at Scullers Jazz Club, Wednesday, Jan. 15.
Was there any life milestone that triggered this urge to reexamine the earlier stages of his life? "Not one that I will ever speak of," insists Ricca. "But the first show I ever did was ’A Boy Like That,’ so it seemed the right time to go over that theme, even though I’m at a different time in my life." Ricca, whose timeless boyish looks have only deepened and become enriched with time, is remarkably sanguine about where he is now.
"As I age, as we all do. I don’t feel any different now than when I was a teenager. Even though I’m forward looking, I always seem interested in where I’ve come from. It seems like a good time to revisit the place where I was 15 years ago, and there are some things I’d look to do differently, using the strengths and experiences and the qualities I had as a youth to help me move forward."
When researching for his Michel Legrand show, Ricca hit upon this perspective when he had the rare opportunity to see Legrand perform in Boston three years ago, providing the seeds of inspiration for this show. "It was almost as if the boy who discovered music for the first time was up there on stage sharing his music with such joy," muses Ricca. "There was just this sense of fun and mischief, even with his music being very sophisticated and mature. He was just turning 80 at the time and he said, ’I want to explore what’s possible in me.’ And that is inspiring."
Both pop and Broadway
Ricca’s program for this show explores the pop music of his earlier life, before he became immersed in the world of theater and cabaret. He will be having fun with such songwriters as Cat Stevens, Burt Bacharach, Brasil 66, Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell. "As the musical soundtrack for the show, they seemed right," Ricca affirms. "So when I was very little, I had heard these songs on the radio, or songs my older sisters would have listened to. And those themes come out in those songs. What it was like to be a kid." But Ricca is not content simply to sing the songs. There is more to it. "One of the things I want to do with this show, with singing these pop songs, is do something that is a little different, informed by how I’ve grown over the years."
Still, you can’t take the theater out of the boy. "We have to have our requisite Sondheim, and a Michel Legrand song. Those help to anchor things, and add musical texture to the evening."
Ricca’s longtime partnership with musical director and piano accompanist Ron Roy also adds musical depth to the program. Having always worked together, even from the early years, Ricca has cultivated an easy collaboration with Roy, one that creates a valuable synergy. And though Roy has a strong background in musical theater, there is more to him than meets the eye (or ear!). "Ron has such a broad ability to do so many different kinds of music," Ricca proclaims. "He has classical training. But when he was younger, he had a band of four, and they toured a lot, and these are songs he probably grew up hearing as well. He brings a real sophisticated palate to these pop songs. He honors them with a cultured and intricate setting for the songs. He’s also a youthful, joyful, person and he is delighted to work with this music."
One example Ricca cites is their gospel-infused arrangement of Cat Stevens’ "Peace Train." "It is an important song. We do it in a joyful way, and it is really fun to sing," effuses Ricca.
Like ’B’ from "Three Tall Women," Ricca is enjoying the panorama from the summit that this stage in life affords him, and wants to share it. "Why is this subject matter important?" he asks. Answering his own question, he proceeds, "I guess it is the process of aging...it’s funny, it’s the dichotomy of noticing the maturing process, and noticing I’m not a guy in his 20s hanging out in the city any more. Maybe there’s just been an inner shift, and I’m recognizing I’m in a different place now. Even though I’ve started to notice those things, I still feel exactly the same. Even my mother once said when she was middle aged, ’I still feel like I’m 18.’"
Elaborating on that theme, he concludes, "You don’t seem to feel any different, but you are noticing the changes around you. It’s what’s around you that changes."
Michael Ricca performs "Still That Boy" on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 8pm at Scullers Jazz Club at the Doubletree Suites Hotel, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA. Tickets: $22. For reservations call 617.562.4111 or visit www.scullersjazz.com.