“BLESSED WITH ONE OF THE FINEST VOICES IN CABARET” GREGG CULLING, CABARET AFICIONADO

 

Reviews

One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point

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November 13, 2013

One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point
Tanya Holt and Marcus Simeone at the Metropolitan Room

Congenial vocal chemistry is where you find it, and sometimes unlikely couples like Tanya Holt, a sultry pop-soul singer, and Marcus Simeone, a hyper-emotional tenor, who performed together at the Metropolitan Room on Saturday evening, have it. The title of their show, "Quiet Storm," refers to the simmering romantic radio format first popularized in the mid-1970s. Adapted for cabaret, it embraces everything from Motown to "West Side Story" to Anita Baker.

Read more: One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point

   

Tanya Holt & Marcus Simeone - Quiet Storm

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April 13, 2013

Tanya Holt and Marcus Simeone are so symbiotic onstage in Quiet Storm, it’s as if they’ve been working together for a decade. Both artists approach material from the inside out, expressing emotion with sincerity and phrasing rather than gesture or volume, communicating even the deepest of these without abrasive vocal stress. Both have polished presence. The two voices weigh in and play off one another with finesse. During a duet, Holt sometimes reacts to what Simeone is singing as if sharing an intimate opinion with the audience. Simeone has a habit of affectionately touching his partner or taking her hand. She’s still, he moves as if music’s coursing through him; she looks into our eyes, he channels his own experience. Holt deftly handles minimal patter. They face one another with warmth, neither angling for the spotlight.

The duo’s latest show at the Metropolitan Room is an appreciative nod to R&B radio station WBLS. “I’m quiet and he’s the storm,” Holt comments, smiling. It might also be construed as reference to the calm at the center of a storm represented by the tenor of the evening. The poetry of Jimmy Webb’s “Beyond Myself”: “Among my demeanors and dark dreams/I stood with hate and bitterness/My pride is like a furnace/Low and light” is rendered grave and feathery, while a tandem “It’s All Right with Me” (an odd choice for its necessary lyric change) and “Them There Eyes” is jaunty. Songs by Ashford & Simpson and Anita Baker provide the smoothest nostalgia.
A terrific version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to seriously thumping piano, is a staccato to satin, sell-it-brother spiritual.

Holt offers a subdued and wrenching “No Plans for the Future” and a simply gorgeous “Black Butterfly,” whose lustrous tone and eloquent phrasing lifts us in hope of open wings. She just keeps getting better. Simeone’s “End of the World” is as delicate as it is strong. His interpretation of “Strange Fruit” unleashes controlled and gripping cadence; lyrics implore with open arms. Upper octaves create visceral frisson.

Arrangements by Musical Director/pianist Tracy Stark offer easy, textural harmony marrying pop to R&B. Lina Koutrakos’s direction is perceptive in its use of each performer’s assets and visually appealing. With Marco Brehm on bass and Donna Kelly on drums.

By Alix Cohen

© Cabaret Scenes / April 13, 2013

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Haunted

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Marcus Simeone

Haunted

Metropolitan Room: New York, NY
After a slightly awkward entrance into the room and on to the stage, Marcus Simeone began to cast his spell on the audience assembled at the Metropolitan Room in a show called Haunted. Appropriately named, given that it was the beginning of the Halloween weekend and costumed ghouls and goblins were already walking the New York streets.

Captivated by the word “haunted,” he explained that all his songs would relate in some fashion to the word’s definition. Although not my favorite premise for choosing a song list, in Simeone’s hands, and with his vocal prowess, it made for a powerful set indeed. The highlights were too numerous to mention them all.

With Tracy Stark at the piano, the ever-versatile Steve Doyle on electric bass and Sean Harkness on acoustic guitar, he opened with Floyd Tillman’s “I Love You So much It Hurts,” sung a cappella in his soulful, husky, sweet and seemingly effortless signature sound, and he coupled it with Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” backed by the band with a fine, bluesy solo by Sean Harkness.

His incredible note-sustaining ability was evident on phrases from Mercer and Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s “Cold Enough to Snow," (from the film Life with Mikey) and Heather Sullivan’s “Somewhere There Lies the Moon.” He allowed his fun side to emerge, in the midst of the heavier laments, with an arrangement of “All of Me” by Harkness, who accompanied Marcus on ukulele.

Given that most people in the room were aware that this has been a particularly difficult year for Simeone personally, several songs took on even greater emotional resonance.  In John Bucchino’s “If I Ever Say I’m Over You,” Rupert Holmes’s “My Father’s Song ” and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “I Have a Love,” he revealed just how painfully vulnerable he’s been in certain close relationships and, by contrast, in Sade’s “Soldier of Love” and “No One Like You” (Bateman/Goldsmith/Soltau/Peterson/Zippel), he showed just how very resilient he is as well.

The encore “Haunted” (Simeone and Tracy Stark) perfectly punctuated the theme of the evening and, by so doing, exposed two, perhaps haunted—but very high-spirited— hearts.

Lynn DiMenna
Cabaret Scenes
October 29, 2010
www.cabaretscenes.org

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EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE - LIVE FROM THE MET

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MARCUS SIMEONE
EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE
LIVE FROM THE MET
Miranda Music

For his recent act recorded live at the Manhattan nightclub The Metropolitan Room, Marcus Simeone chose songs around the theme of "change." Some reflect on and acknowledge how time and experience changes us. And people change people, as referenced in the song from The King and I included here, a very hip and contemporary "Getting to Know You." Most of the material is far more serious, pensive and cathartic—confronting the pain and daunting challenges in life in general and love relationships in particular. For a world view and reality check of perspective realignment, there's "Be Aware." I'm very pleased to see a new recording of this powerful and haunting song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Barbra Streisand, who performed it on television with the composer. She did not release a recording, though the team's main muse Dionne Warwick did. It's a call to action and a reminder that we can become spoiled and myopic, becoming "forgetful" that others have more serious problems. Although act sticks closely to its theme, there's quite a variety of genres R&B, pop, soul, musical theatre, and singer and musicians don't ever seem to be slumming or wearing one more lovingly than another.

I've never been a big fan of the schools of major doses of melisma, melodrama and mannerisms, when the style takes over the substance. That has been a major problem for me over the years with Marcus, who I always knew had a powerful vocal instrument with some gorgeous tones, because he lost me with the way they all this was employed. There were embellishments and very stylized choices that I think can overwhelm songs and he can come off as overwrought in person, when there are accompanying distracting, intense facial expressions, gestures, gasps and such. He's always had his followers and resisters, as performers with strong styles and old choices will. So be it. But maybe, to quote one of the songs here, "A Change Is Gonna Come." This is a powerful listening experience with far, far less of what I'd described above which seemed self-indulgent. Leaner with his styling and cutting to the quick, he's showing genuine gutsy emotion—rather than showboating. There's communication and a delivery of the songs' intents, not just intense performing. He hasn't abandoned some of his favored ways, but seems to have pulled back the attack—as a result, the songs shine. And so does his voice, because we can appreciate the vocal qualities more when it's a laser beam rather than a flashing-lights show.

"Since You Stayed Here" from the Off-Broadway musical Brownstone moves in with Barry Manilow's "I Haven't Changed the Room." These musical roommates get along rather well, crooned attractively with thoughtfulness and some swallowed pain. But it's not just about interior decoration—it's about the people changing themselves on the inside. When someone moves out, we need to move on—that appears to be the message. The album's title song tackles larger issues with grace, embracing the circle of life and the uncertainty of the future and is performed with dignity.

The very accomplished, in-demand Barry Levitt is pianist/ musical director/ arranger and co-producer (with the singer and Kitty Skrobela for Miranda Music). He's in top form here, joined by Jack Cavari on guitar and Morrie Louden on bass, who sound great, and the musicians get some spotlight, especially dazzling on the (rhythm and) blues. Tracy Stark takes the piano seat for the final cool-down track, another Bacharach/ David song, "I Just Have to Breathe," and brings just the right understated, hold-your-breath touch. There's barely any patter on the recording, but the songs say a whole lot and pack a punch.


Rob Lester

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Everything Must Change

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Marcus Simeone—his voice goes so far beyond good, his vocal easeseemingly so naturally produced, his oft times extraordinary sonic indulgences so multiplistic, that one is tempted to suspect him of practicing musical dark arts for his lyrical involvement, with more lyric awareness than ever.

After a double bubble opening of a believer’s gospel, ”Many Rivers to Cross” (Jimmy Cliff), and the impressively amped-up ”A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke), Simeone shape-shifts—with “change” being the magic word—into a coupling of a scatty- sounding ”There’ll Be Some Changes Made Today” (Billy Higgins/W. Benton Overstreet/ Herbert Evans) and a freestyle “Getting to Know You” (Rodgers & Hammerstein), then to a smoothly bluesy “You’ve Changed” (Bill Carey & Carl Fischer). All this alchemy is accom- panied by appropriate shares of a pinch of subtle to a dash of satisfying shoulder-shuddering piano pounding by Barry Levitt (also ar-ranger and co-produ-cer), joined throughout the heady brew (ha ha) by nicely featured Morrie Louden’s bass and Jack Cavari’s guitar.

Presto change-o, for the second half of the hocus-pocus! Two tunes into one twice: “Road Ode”/”Home Again” (Gary Sims & Dan Woodhams/Carole King) and “Since You Stayed Here”/”I Haven’t Changed the Room” (Peter Larson, Josh Rubins/Barry Manilow)—both second songs first rate. Separated by  “Everything Must Change“ (Bernard Ighner) (so all in love is fairish), is “Be Aware” and as epilogue, “I Just Have to Breathe” (both Burt Bacharach & Hal David), might just leave you breathless.

Ladies and gentlemen, Marcus Simeone. Might I remind you this program was recorded live at the Metropolitan Room. Most singers couldn’t sound like this in a recording studio.

To paraphrase Nina Simone: he’ll put a spell on you.

Noah Tree
Cabaret Scenes
November 2010
www.cabaretscenes.org

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Haunted

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January/February 2012
By Noah Tree
 
"... gifted with a gorgeous instrument that begs to wrench your gut ..."
 
When assessing content of a song performed by the person who created it, the listener must be sensitive enough to wisely remember to consider the personal relationship inherent in coupling art and artist: the between-the-lines unwritten emotional text in the interpretation that speaks volumes not annotated on the page. This can either be a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience or easily become a trap, producing a ritualistic adherence to an excruciating level of pathos.

Haunted opens with such a tripwire offering. Marcus Simeone, gifted with a gorgeous instrument that begs to wrench your gut, always keeps it in control just this side of sanity. The eponymous title tune, penned with Tracy Stark (the CD’s musical director—and pianist on this cut) sets the stage for the rest of the album which offers other personal assists: John Bucchino ac-companies with piano on his own ”If I Ever Say I’m Over You” and the multi-talented, lovely Heather Sullivan does the same—with an umbra of additional vocal—for “Somewhere Lies the Moon.”

Otherwise, with new maturity, heft and breadth, Marcus has effortlessly woven 15 songs into a cohesive and conversational soliloquy: a comfortable cuddle of works freshly hewn. The turnabout balladizing of “If I Only Had a Heart” (Harburg/Arlen)—which unexpectedly surprises—appreciates the lyric of what has usually passed as archetypic patter. An almost haiku rendition of the Rodgers and Hart “Nobody’s Heart” proves less is more. Holland/Dozier/Holland’s ”Where Did Our Love Go” from Motown is whipped up as spicey salsa. Mercer/Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” is a passionately contagious purifying rhythm.

The bold spirit of Marcus Simeone abounds, his inner voice surfaces and resounds, making this a deservedly vaunted, undaunted, Haunted.

Noah Tree
Cabaret Scenes
January/February 2012
www.cabaretscenes.org

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Marcus Meets Mathis

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Marcus Meets Mathis

When we heard that award-winning cabaret artist Marcus Simeone was doing a show devoted to Johnny Mathis we knew he was on to something smart. Performing the music made famous by Mathis was a natural fit for Simeone whose singing style already resonates with the master's ethereal high notes. We went to his show with high hopes, and this is what we found ...

If you're coming, in part, for the patter, hoping to learn about the life and art of Johnny Mathis, you won't get it in Simeone's show. It's simply not that kind of act. He throws an occasional factoid your way, and he sets up a few songs with Mathis anecdotes, but these moments are more the exception than the rule. Unfortunately, he doesn't replace patter he might have used to give us insight into Mathis with anything else, but that doesn't stop him from talking. Our best advice; if you haven't got something specifically prepared to say before a song, don't talk, just sing.

And singing, of course, is Simeone's strong suit. We haven't seen all of his shows in recent years but among those that we have seen, this is the best he's done so far. Perhaps the overlay of performing an evening of Mathis hits has given him a vocal discipline he never displayed before. When he performs "It's Not for Me To Say," "There Goes My Heart," and "Wonderful, Wonderful," Simeone isn't adding extra syllables in a vocal riff or soaring to high notes for the sake of proving he can do it. No. Working with musical director Tracy Stark, he's mostly singing the songs straight and true. And he sounds all the better for it because the songs are being served rather than being used as a vocal exercise. Speaking of Stark, one of the most charming numbers in the show is a comic duet between her and Simeone called "I Said No." It was sweet, simple, funny, and entirely real.

Both Mathis and Simeone have a natural cry in their respective voices that suggest emotion. And Simeone, at his best, was able to make us feel when he performed "Yellow Roses on Her Gown" and "Answer Me, My Love." At his worst, he had the poor judgment to cover one of Mathis' more foolish adventures, doing a disco version of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." Everything about this number is wrong, starting with a complete misunderstanding of the lyric. "Begin the Beguine" is a song of romantic torment, not a tune one sings with a big smile on your face and a disco ball swirling overhead. Its bad enough Mathis did it; Simeone hardly needed to remind us of the travesty.

We caught the last of three shows Simeone was doing at Helen's, but it's reasonable to assume that he is not yet finished with Johnny Mathis. This is a show that is easily fixed of its modest flaws and, given the subject matter, could readily be booked in clubs around the country.

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Heart

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Marcus Simeone

Heart

Don't Tell Mama
New York, NY
 
 
 
Marcus Simeone’s emotionally charged show at the Metropolitan Room, Heart, produced by Jason Darrow, should not be missed by those who enjoy real showmanship.  They will have the opportunity to see it when Simeone returns to the Met on November 9 and December 15.   Beginning the act with “Too Shy to Say” immediately reminded me of Stevie Wonder, and, guess what? It is by Wonder.  Simeone hams it up as he sings in his pleasing, reliable voice that changes in tempo and increases in volume.  In addition to using his compelling voice, with his emotionally expressive face, he grabs the audience’s attention and involvement in the act, as evidenced by it’s foot-tapping to the beat and the applause that follows.

Though at first Simeone’s palette seems a bit limited, his singing of  “Somewhere Lies the Moon” disabuses one of this impression.  Here, ironically, his well-trained voice renders a more intelligent, nuanced delivery with more shadings of feeling that appeal to the emotions naturally. We see that trained technique can produce what is intuitively unexpected—smooth, easy-seeming, unaffected results.

Marcus Simeone’s unusual generosity in introducing and handing over the stage to a young singer, Caress, during his October 5th performance was moving and admirable.  He was warm and empathetic as he encouraged her to work up an act and even shared with those present the fear he had to overcome to do so himself.   He even moved among the audience, and gave several amateurs the opportunity to join in the refrain, "Just one kiss.”  An outbreak of smiles and laughs moved contagiously through the room.

Barry Levitt, musical director, and the Barry Levitt Quartet, do a fine job of accompanying the singer.  Marcus Simeone is also assisted by back-up singer, Carol Goodgirl.

Gloria Taplin
Cabaret Scenes
October 5, 2008
www.cabaretscenes.org

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