By Lawrence Budmen

The Great American Songbook and the artistry of Fred Astaire were inseparably intertwined. In a career that spanned five decades, Astaire sang and danced his way through the music of such masters as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, Arthur Schwartz, and Johnny Mercer. (Most of the songs were written for him.) 

On November 7 that beguiling chanteuse Andrea Marcovicci opened a seven performance run of her tribute to Astaire at the Carnival Center’s Studio Theater. What a wonderful performance space this 200 seat venue is! In an intimate cabaret setting, communication between artist and audience is immediate and palpable. Marcovicci, the self styled “chatty chanteuse,” bedazzled the audience with her elegant gowns, her bubbly commentary and anecdotes, and (most importantly) her singing. 

Marcovicci commands the stage and her way with a song is incomparable. While she no longer possesses the vocal purity and exquisite high notes of times past, her peerless sense of style, burnished lower register, and musical taste are in a class by themselves. Few singers manage to truly embrace a song like Marcovicci. Her stylish, sultry version of Porter’s Night and Day was irresistible. An up tempo rendition of I Got My Eye on You had verve and swing. 

Astaire starred in three Gershwin musicals on Broadway and three films with Gershwin music. Marcovicci’s version of A Foggy Day (from Damsel in Distress) was near perfect in its naturalness and simplicity of utterance. Her torchy performance of Nice Work If You Can Get It whizzed by with pizzazz plus.A terrific, jazzy version of Slap That Bass was great fun. S’Wonderful, complete with British accent a la Audrey Hepburn, was a delight.

Turning to the music of Irving Berlin, Marcovicci breezed through Cheek to Cheek and did a virtuosic solo turn with Top Hat/ Stepping out with My Baby. One of the real highlights of the evening was her dusky, beautiful singing of Arthur Schwartz’s Dancing in the Dark. Marcovicci has that unique ability to rekindle a sense of wonder in a lyric.

Johnny Mercer’s Something’s Got to Give was sung with rhythmic zeal. Astaire was a prolific composer in his own right. From his oeuvre Marcovicci offered a vociferous, flashy version of I Want to Hear a Swing Band. Costumed in Astaire style black, Marcovicci sang a beautiful version of Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight - a glowing conclusion to her tribute to Astaire and all things romantic. As an encore she offered I Want to Be a Song and Dance Man (in tribute to Astaire). Shelley Markham, Marcovicci’s music director, was the stylish pianist and idiomatic arranger.

For sheer musical class, there is only one Andrea Marcovicci. Her tribute to a great artist and the immortal composers of the first half of the 20th century was the essence of elegance and joyful artistry.

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