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Cabaret Review

Maude Maggart

Maude Maggart
Photo Source: Monique Carboni
Maude Maggart could be considered the thinking man's (or thinking woman's) cabaret artist. It's not just that she decides on a theme and follows it through, which nowadays is a standard approach. (This year Johnny Mercer's centennial is getting a going-over, so much so it's beginning to look like the easy way out.) No, Maggart takes it much farther. She's thinking about what constitutes an act far more seriously and in greater depth.

In her earlier days -- just after she was unveiled as an Andrea Marcovicci and Michael Feinstein protégé -- she kept things relatively straightforward, reminiscing about the 1920s and '30s. Recollecting the past in that way was a reflection on the fragility of her voice, on the acknowledgment that beautiful, young, and innocent, she seemed an avatar of an earlier era.

Now that she's in her own 30s, she's grown confident about her interests and proclivities and so wants to plumb them more openly, more trenchantly, more analytically -- as if she's ruminating about herself while the audience eavesdrops. It could be she's concluded there's no reason the nightclub stage can't be regarded not just as an arena for autobiographical intimacy but rather as a confessional.

This posture -- and Maggart, wearing a demurely sexy off-the-shoulder gown that slips farther off the shoulder, has great posture -- raises some questions, of course. For her display of what could be called cabaret artistry and might be more rewardingly presented as a theatre piece, Maggart will gain fervent advocates like me even while risking discouraging patrons who like to hear familiar material or who don't relish listening in on possibly embarrassing revelations. (Karen Akers ran into the same trouble parsing personal problems at her last stint in this room.)

Maggart begins her current Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel stop -- six weeks, no less, which surely indicates management confidence -- with the Loonis McGlohon -- Alec Wilder "Be a Child," the Marshall Barer–Anita Nye "What Is My Name?," and Stephen Sondheim's "Beautiful" from Sunday in the Park With George. She thereby establishes the burden of her message: She is no longer a child but doesn't fully feel she's an adult. Later, she particularly substantiates this contention by reporting she still lives in her father's house. (Her father is the actor Brandon -- known to friends as Buddy -- Maggart; her mother is actor Diane McAfee; Fiona Apple is her sister.)

With John Boswell at the piano and cellist-guitarist Yair Evnine giving ultra-sensitive support, Maggart continues the trip down parent-child lane through mostly obscure tunes, all of them well worth hearing but possibly a test for the unadventurous ringsider. Included are Babbie Green's "No Way, José," a caustic reflection on a troubled upbringing; Maury Yeston's lovely remembrance, "My Grandmother's Love Letters" Robin Williamson's insightful "First Boy I Loved" the Roche Sisters' "Runs in the Family" and Dolly Parton's bright weeper about mother's love and love of mother, "Coat of Many Colors."

Curiously or maybe not curiously, Maggart does her best out-and-out singing on "The Man I Love," one of two George and Ira Gershwin songs she favors. The other is "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Notice these are by siblings, and Maggart points out that Ira wrote the lyric to the latter ballad after George's death. The sentiments are believed to concern fraternal rather than romantic love.

Whether Maggart's theme pleases all parties, she certainly sticks to it.

Presented by and at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel,
59 W. 44th St., NYC.
April 24May 23. Tue.–Thu., 8:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8:30 and 11 p.m.
(212) 419-9331.

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