September 21, 2021
Cabaret Great Marieann Meringolo Salutes the Great Ladies in Song
John Amodeo READ TIME: 10 MIN.
"My mother told me recently that when I was young, she went to my father and said, 'Marieann can really sing, she has a real gift, we have to nurture that,'" recalls Bistro and MAC Award winner and out singer Marieann Meringolo. "Waking up on Sunday mornings, there was always music in the house: Barbra Streisand, Broadway shows, Frank Sinatra." It was that foundation that led Meringolo to become one of the bright lights in the constellation of singers that grace today's vibrant New York cabaret scene. She has played Feinstein's 54 below, Iridium, Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as some of the finest clubs around the country from coast to coast.
In 2019, she celebrated her 30th anniversary in show business with a cabaret show at Manhattan's Don't Tell Mama, with longtime booking director Sidney Myer in attendance, which left a lasting impression on Meringolo. "He's been so supportive. And at the end he was crying," sighs Meringolo. "How do you forget that?"
Her award-winning shows and recordings include "Between Yesterday and Tomorrow," a tribute to lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, which assured her place among the top cabaret performers in New York. Of that show, Sue Matsuki of Cabaret Hotline Online declared,�"Marieann has one of THE most beautiful voices in the business. This voice combined with this program of some of the best songs ever written will go down as one of my favorite shows of all time. I would have stayed for a second show of the same program just to hear this program and this voice again. GO SEE THIS SHOW!"
Kathryn Kitt of TheaterPizzaz.com asserted, "Spot on in pitch ... Her delivery of these songs demonstrated complete understanding of�the lyrics and effortless phrasing. Every time she launched into another song medley like 'How Do You Keep the Music Playing/Summer Me, Winter Me,' the room stood still."�
Time Out New York claimed, "If k.d. lang's DNA were to get whipped together with Barbra Streisand's in a genetics lab specializing in divas, the result might well be Marieann Meringolo." The Streisand comparison is ubiquitous, including from Stephen Holden of the New York Times, who observed that Meringolo bears a "physical and vocal resemblance" to Ms. Streisand. In fact, CD Baby says on the web pages of her recordings that her recordings are "Recommended if You Like: Barbra Streisand, Karen Carpenter, and Nancy LaMott." Meringolo blushes at the now common comparisons, simply exclaiming, "It's pretty amazing since they are all women I think are incredible."
Iconic women singers have always been a source of inspiration for Meringolo as far back as she can remember. Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf. "They were definitely influences when I was growing up," Meringolo explains. "Especially Barbra Streisand, and Rosemary Clooney. I'm Italian, and I loved her cute Italian songs. Edith Piaf, though I'm not doing her in the Boston show, was an important influence. Just her rawness, was inspiration to me to be who you are authentically. I may pick up a song because I love a singer's version, though I'll put my own spin on it after that and do my interpretation. The women I honor are icons because they are truthful, can sell a lyric, can tell a story." Meringolo has put together a show to do just that, "Here's to the Ladies! A Salute to Great Ladies in Song," directed by Will Nunziata, which she will perform at Moonshine/Club Café on Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 PM.
"I've been inspired in some way by each of them throughout my career," Meringolo explains. One of the many women Meringolo was especially inspired by is LaMott. One of the most popular cabaret artists in the '80s and early-mid '90s in San Francisco and New York, LaMott died tragically of uterine cancer in 1995 at 43, just as her career was about to break into mainstream. LaMott's following was and still is legion, and Meringolo feels a special connection with her.
"When I was first on the scene and singing, people would say, 'You remind me of Nancy LaMott,' who was big on the scene, and I wasn't," smirks Meringolo. "I deliberately didn't listen to her because I didn't want to copy her. Years later, I was a waitress at the Marriott Marquis, and someone had Nancy LaMott's CD on the table, and the man said she was joining him. She had a Manhattan, as I recall. I told her I was a big fan and she gave me her CD. Then I took the CD home and listened to it, and I cried. It wasn't long after that, she passed away. Later I had this dream. I was looking into the window of the Algonquin and Nancy was singing, and I thought, 'Heck, why am I not singing there?' I started walking away, and I heard her voice behind me. She said, 'Your time will come,' and then I woke up. I've always felt that Nancy was my guardian angel; it felt like a real visitation from her. That's why I've included her in my show."
Another great actress and singer to whom Meringolo pays tribute is the late Dorothy Loudon, a Tony Award winner for her performance as Miss Hannigan in "Annie," who also appeared in a lesser-known musical, "Ballroom," with music by Billy Goldenberg and lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman. The show didn't last very long, but Loudon's 11 o'clock number, "Fifty Percent," was an instant hit and has become a cabaret staple, though it takes some real acting and vocal chops to pull it off.
Meringolo not only has both, but she brings a personal twist to it as one of a very few out lesbian cabaret singers by singing it about a female partner. "People said, What a brave choice,'" Meringolo recalls, "but in my 30th Anniversary show, Billy Goldenberg was in the audience, and he came up to me afterward and said, 'Thank you for singing that song and thank you for bringing it full circle.' I was so honored. Interviewers, not even for a gay audience, would comment that they love that song. I feel it's important to sing as my authentic self, and that's the way I have to sing that song."
And still, Meringolo had some hand-wringing moments about how to perform this song. "I did a private concert for a high-end club called the University Club in NYC," recalls Meringolo, "and I asked myself, 'What will I do about 'Fifty Percent?'' And then I did it as I always do, and it got the biggest round of applause of the show. People know when you are authentic and when you're not. I like to think that the world is evolving."
The lyricists for "Fifty Percent," Alan & Marilyn Bergman have written a treasure trove of songs from which few singers of the Great American Songbook can resist mining. Meringolo has formed an entire show around their music, and a few weeks after her Club Café appearance, on October 14, Meringolo will be bringing her Bergman show to The Music Room in West Yarmouth, MA. On October 15, Meringolo will be back in Provincetown for Women's Week, performing an all-new show. "I haven't figured it out, but it will be something special for Women's Week," promises Meringolo. After that, it's off to London to appear at the Pheasantry, one of the city's top nightclubs.
Meringolo, like many singers, is on a roll now to make up for lost time when everything was shut down because of the pandemic. "In the beginning, I was a little depressed," admits Meringolo. "I had a whole tour ready that was canceled. We didn't know when this would end."
In fact, this interview was first conducted in early March 2020 for a feature story on what was supposed to be her March 21, 2020, appearance at the Club Café performing "Here's to the Ladies." Of course, lockdown began on March 13, 2020, and that show never happened. Meringolo may have been down, but not out. "I started working virtually," Meringolo says. She and her longtime musical director Doyle Newmyer created a social bubble and began rehearsing just to stay limber, but by June and July, they thought it was time to get back in front of an audience, even if only virtually. Among the many virtual performances was a Pride Concert Series at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, NY, during Pride Month. "This virtual world we all had to be in opened up my audience a bit," marvels Meringolo. "People who normally couldn't attend my performances could attend this. My concert had over a thousand attendants. Silver linings."
Another silver lining was that the extra time enabled Meringolo to record "I Am Blessed" (Mark Mueller/Marsha Malamet) as a single, including making a music video. Malamet was co-writer of "Love Don't Need A Reason" with Peter Allen and Michael Callan. Meringolo even has an "I Am Blessed" Tour coming up.
The time away from live performing allowed for reflection, where Meringolo has even taken a fresh look at her show "Here's to the Ladies," switching out some of the songs with new material. "I added 'Both Sides Now,' by Joni Mitchell," notes Meringolo. "I thought it would be a perfect song for what we've all been through, where we have seen both sides of the world now." Local musical director Tom LaMark will accompany Meringolo in Boston, while Newmyer will join her for The Music Room and Women's Week.
What is most important to Meringolo, however, is what the audience can take away from her shows. "I want them to walk away feeling great," exclaims Meringolo. "I want them to feel that they heard something a little different, perhaps a different interpretation. Maybe this time, they really heard the lyric or are really moved by what they heard, or that they heard something they haven't heard before. I want them to feel that they've been given a gift in song."
Marieann Meringolo will perform "Here's to the Ladies" on Sept. 25, 2021, 7:30 p.m. at Moonshine, Club Café, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston. Tickets $25. For reservations, visit www.clubcafe.com/events/marieann-meringolo.
She will perform "Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan and Marilyn Bergman" on Oct. 14, 2021, 8 p.m. at The Music Room, 541 Main Street, West Yarmouth, MA. Tickets, $25-$65. For reservations, visit: www.musicroomcapecodtickets.com/events/marieann-meringolo-10-14-2021.
She will perform "Shades of Love" on Oct. 15, 2021, 5 p.m. at the Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA. Tickets $25. For reservations, visit: www.onlyatthecrown.com/event/6190-marieann-meringolo-shades-of-love.
John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.