She's devoted to singing the praises of Jerome Kern

POPULAAR MUSIC

June 11, 1993|By J. D. Considine

Andrea Marcovicci

When: Two shows nightly, at 8 and 10 p.m., tonight and tomorrow night

Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.

Tickets: $27 ($25 for Center Stage subscribers)

Call: (410) 332-0033

What sort of singer is Andrea Marcovicci?

Don't ask her. "I've never invented a real moniker for myself," she says. "Because I'm not a stylist, I could never be considered a jazz singer. Although I have a legitimate love for the music I sing, I wouldn't say that I have a legitimately pure voice. And in terms of being a saloon singer, there's too much drama involved [in my show] to be one of those.

"If anything, I'm an actress-singer who is devoted to Kern," she concludes. And if that designation seems a tad open-ended, well, that's pretty much the idea. Because as Marcovicci sees it, the music of Jerome Kern is suited to almost any musical situation.

"Practically, you could stand up at a party and do them," she says, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Los Angeles. "Most of the time, I do it with just piano. But when I was in Chicago with the Kern show, we had five instruments, and we will do it with a symphony this summer at the San Francisco Pops. A hundred pieces.

"Sometimes the performance is very formal. Sometimes it's so informal that somebody said I reminded them of Rita Rudner, they were laughing so hard at every little nuance."

It helps, of course, to have good material, and that's almost always the case with Kern. Although Kern's best remembered for having written the score to "Showboat," his long and prolific career produced literally hundreds of songs, including such classics as "The Way You Look Tonight," "All the Things You Are" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Virtually all were written for the stage, but as Marcovicci points out, "Except for 'Showboat,' they're from obscure shows that we've all but forgotten about, like 'Sweet Adeline' and 'The Girl From Utah' and the Princess Theater shows. They're more remembered for the movies, I would think: 'Swing Time' and 'You Were Never Lovelier.' And 'Roberta.' That was done in 1934, and Fred and Ginger were in it."

Kern wrote with a wide range of lyricists -- Oscar Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and P. G. Wodehouse, to name a few -- but rarely worked from a lyric, preferring instead to have his collaborators fit their words to his music. As a result, says Marcovicci, Kern's songs are quite "pleasant in the throat.

"I think there's something incredibly healthy about the way the songs are laid about -- about the way they soar, and the way they use your entire range throughout the course of a song," she adds. "I believe that it's retrained my voice -- I've been in better vocal health singing Kern than singing any other composer."

But what Marcovicci most enjoys about Kern's music is that it's so enduring. Despite the fact that the most recent material in her Kern show is half a century old, Marcovicci's shows hardly qualify as pure nostalgia.

"I'm lucky enough to have an audience that includes a cross-section of ages," she says. "I'll have in the front row somebody who sighs the minute I start 'You Were Never Lovelier' and remembers it from World War II, and right next to this person, there'll be a kid who is discovering the music for the very first time. And I want to be able to provide for both.

"Whether I'm doing a complete program of Kern, or a mixed program of different composers, I always try to provide something that is a nostalgic, and at the same time provide something very new. I try to make the music so accessible that younger people who come don't feel that they've been left on the outside. They're embraced, and brought in. Because I am not of the generation of this music, either. I discovered it because of my mother."

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