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.