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Meg Flather: Press/Blogs

Meg Flather & Friends

A Cabaret Sisterhood

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, September 14, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

A concert of songs written by the witty and wise Meg Flather (pictured), involving a group of extraordinary women (including music director Tracy Stark, who adjusted to each of the varied singers’ styles with no apparent effort), made for quite a remarkable show. Usually in such events a few of the performers will seem to be not on the same level as the others; here, there wasn’t a single weak link in the ensemble. Flather, beyond her obvious talents, displayed a knack for pairing the singers and the songs, basing her choices on personality and voice to express the theme of each number. The evening was made richer by the wide variety of performers: “the most important fact about this show is my intent to be inclusive. I wanted women of different levels of cabaret success to come other and support each together through song.” Mission accomplished.

Creative consultant Lennie Watts’ light hand helped to shape the program into a smoothly running flow of compositions built around specific themes, ranging from “love in secret” to “mothers and daughters.” Kicking off the program was earth mother Sally Darling, who offered the very positive “Only See You.” Among the highlights that followed were Heather Villaescusa and Lisa Viggiano blending their voices beautifully on “It’s About Time”; Laurie Krauz revealing operatic passion and a voice to match with “What Only We Can Know”; and Those Girls offering a hysterically desperate and sour “Like Me,” including a clever reference to a well-known Broadway quintet (the last two had additional music by John Mettam).

Some of the most moving songs were in the section dealing with Flather’s relationship with her mother. “On the Second Floor” and “Like a Sunday” gave a chance for Corinna Sowers Adler, Elizabeth Nucci, Sue Matsuki, and Deborah Stone (who provided lovely support on guitar), to pay tribute to maternal love. Also adding a glow to the program were Celia Berk, Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Helane Blumfeld, Mary Sue Daniels, Kathy Kaefer, Becca Kidwell, Lina Koutrakas, Rosemary Loar, and Deborah Zecher. Bringing the show to a climax, appropriately, was the other earth mother of the day, Natalie Douglas, who led the company in “We Are as Strong,” a celebration of the theme of the day—sisterhood.

 

My Mother taught me to respect women, to value their strength, their intelligence and the immense value of their contribution to the world, and I've spent five decades watching the ongoing rise of female power, and one of the beautiful sights in the world is women bonding together, offering one another the sisterly hand of support. It is a description that evades, but a force that pervades, that of the Sisterhood of women, and a lucky full house of cabaret-goers caught a fine example of it over the weekend at Don't Tell Mama, when some of the great female artists of their community gathered to showcase the works of one of the preeminent songwriters of the industry, Meg Flather.
For a long time people have sung the music of Ms. Flather, a winner of multiple awards for her work as a singer/songwriter, and, like those awards, Flather had amassed a collection of friends who will do anything for her, and who will do anything to sing a Flather song. So, when Sally Darling insisted that there be a show of Meg Flather songs performed by the Cabaret Sisterhood, 25 women said YES(!) to the suggestion and the show Meg Flather Songs: A Cabaret Sisterhood was born.
When you hear the phrase Standing Room Only, it's usually a slight exaggeration - there can usually be found a lone chair, a stool at the back of the room, a 4x4 space of floor where you can plant your feet. This was not the case at Don't Tell Mama on Saturday: this show was authentically Standing Room Only, as members of the cabaret world packed The Original Room to hear the likes of Lina Koutrakos, Karen Oberlin and Lisa Viggiano raise their strong female voices in strong female songs. The afternoon was, admittedly, ballad-heavy, but Ms. Flather is a musical storyteller, and the art of telling a story through song frequently relies on the ballad format, particularly when dealing with emotions and extremely personal stories like the decline of a loved ones' health due to dementia. It was, therefore, entirely acceptable that much of the entertainment was slower and quieter in nature. The key to not losing your audience to an unexpected nap in situations such as this is the perfect arranged marriage of artist to material, and Ms. Flather (assisted greatly by Lennie Watts, the creative consultant on this performance, and musical director Tracy Stark) meticulously positioned the participating musical artists to ensure that every match was one made in heaven. When Sally Darling opened the show with "Only See You" it was a performance of such powerful presence that all in the room ignored their food and drink until she was finished, and when Karen Oberlin dropped into the emotional pocket to sing "Mistress Waltz", it was pure musical monologuing. Duets from Heather Villaescusa & Lisa Viggiano ("It's About Time") and Helane Blumfield & Mary Sue Daniels ("Downstream") abounded with chemistry and pure joy, while three-part harmonies and an amazing connection made Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Rosemary Loar and Tracy Stark's "My Heaven" a little bit of paradise.. Out and out comedy came from Becca Kidwell with "Too Intense for You" and THOSE GIRLS with an extremely topical "Like Me", while Deborah Zecher gave open vulnerability with "He Shares Me With a Lot" and Kathy Kaefer enchanted with the modern-day lullaby "Cause I Do".
Particularly exciting were Laurie Krauz's deep, rich, emotional ranges during "What Only We Can Know" and Lina Koutrakos' sly, sexy and sleek stylings on "September Man" - both women plunge to the depths in different ways and break the surface, sufficiently bringing home the power of Flather's lyrics, and everyone felt all the feels when Celia Berk delivered a lovely "Hold On Tight", Corinna Sowers Adler & Elizabeth Nucci sang "On The Second Floor", and Deborah Stone and Sue Matsuki performed "Like a Sunday" -- all songs about Flather's journey with her mother's dementia. Ending the show on a strong and optimistic note, Ms. Flather was joined onstage by Earth Mother, Godmother, Activist, Leader, Champion, Warrior and best friend to everybody in the cabaret community, Natalie Douglas, for "We Are As Strong", which featured every woman's voice, as they gathered in the audience, singing along with the twosome onstage to announce something that this writer has known, all along: that the women are here, that they are unified, effective, and powerful, that there is hope, and that they are going to change the world.
In the days following this show, I had questions for Meg Flather about her work, so I reached out to her with some questions.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Meg, was this the first time that this set was performed by these women?
On July 14th, the same set was performed but the cast slightly changes. So what's great is there's a chunk cast and then, depending on other peoples' availability, I've given other women an opportunity.
This concert was Sally Darling's idea, is that right?
What happened is I would love to give Lisa Viggiano credit, too. Lisa and I became very, very close the year of 2017. Josephine Sanges, Lisa Viggiano, Celia Berk, Sally Darling and I (all MAC award nominees in the same category that year) formed a show called "Together", and because of that show, we really bonded and became very close friends. And she volunteered that she was a fan of my writing and I was so blown away by that because my writing is primarily for folk-pop, folk-rock music. She said "You really need to incorporate it more in the cabaret world" and I volunteered to her that one of my dreams has always been to create an evening of women and Inclusiveness - of different ranges, different levels of experience, and different levels of success in the cabaret community, coming together and supporting each other and singing from where they were. She was at me to do something like this, but it was Sally Darling... this spring she said to me "You REALLY need to do it!" and when SHE says you REALLY need to do it, and you need to do it NOW... I basically went home and that night emailed Sidney Myer and channeled the right women.
Will there be an encore?
Oh YES! October 6th at 4. And November 2nd at 5.
I know that there are some songs on here that deal with your mother's dementia...
Yes. There's a lot of isolation and silent suffering that goes on, and I think that's why I write about it so much. In my case, I was very lucky because my mother's dementia manifested in a way... At different stages she had different moods, of course, the early stages she was a little more feisty and I had to work harder at giving her the help, and helping her to receive the help. Ultimately what happened to my mother, Becky, is she became so emotionally and physically available and it was a tremendous opportunity for me -- intimacy and healing with her... she's always been the love of my life, even my husband understands that. And in many ways I feel like I was born to do the last eight years of care ... it was 2009 when we started seeing signs, and then I moved her into my building in 2010, and she passed away in 2018. She became the sweetest, happiest, most calm little girl, and was so grateful for the bubble we created for her. It was interesting to see that through the dementia she no longer remembered that she was a widow, she no longer realized she had a daughter with special needs, she didn't know Trump had been elected (much laughter), she didn't know that her two dearest friends and her brother and her maid of honor had all passed away. So there was this interesting...I saw the beauty in the disease because of who my mother was in her life - she was that woman who carried everyone on her back. She was the Type A personality, workaholic, putting herself through school at night, giving and giving and giving and giving, had tremendous deprivation issues, and then through the dementia, all that turned around. She was eating and she was loving and she was receiving. And as long as she had her Turner Classic Movies she was happy. So I had her down the hall in a studio apartment with wonderful caregivers that cared for her the way they wished they cared for their own mothers, cause they were from all over the world - an extraordinary melting pot of women. So mom had lots of different foods and traditions, caregiving from India to Mexico to Poland to Jamaica. The best thing is I got to get part of her daily life, and as someone who didn't have children, it was the ultimate healing because I had a daughter. I had a daughter for eight years and that was my mother.
So I wrote the songs about what she taught me. The final song, that Celia performed, "Hold On Tight" was based on a moment when I went in and I was all worked up about something, and I was trying to conceal it. And she had a moment of clarity. She just put her hand on my face and gave me a look like "What's wrong?" and when she did that, the caregiver, Grace from Poland, said "Oh, Meggie! Window open! Window open!" and I knew in that moment to cancel my day and to stay put and be with her because the window was open, and she was available. She taught me to stretch time. She taught me to stay in the moment. I was that person with the three-year plan, the six-year plan, the ten-year plan. I have no friggin' plan now. I have learned the art of staying in the moment because she taught me, she demanded that I learn that. So that song is about going to THEIR world, and how, when you go to their world, you deepen your world.
"On the Second Floor" is all about the early stages, when she first moved on the second floor of our building - and the panic attack of "what have I done?" I remember when I moved her in, she was pretty independent in her old apartment, but by moving her into my building, she completely changed. She turned to me and I said "Ok Mom, enjoy your new apartment and enjoy your day" and she said, "You can't leave me alone." That's when I realized "Oh my god, what have I done?" When you move them, they drop. That was all about the first year of moving her in, but then again, what she taught me. It's all about how her dementia, even in the early stages, gave me this purpose. What's ironic is that within weeks of moving her in, I got the biggest job of my career, and having to care for her and be on top of her care, neutralized the anxiety of the job, the pressure of the job, and it was a sort of a gift because I considered the real job was her. So it helped me have more confidence at work and be less desperate for affirmation and attention. Because I almost treated my work with Mom as my job, and then my career as my survival job.
"Like a Sunday" is my song about losing her and my experience with grief. It's interesting when you lose somebody who's gone through a very long hard disease and they're ready to go. Because it is a blessing. But it's still your mother, and it's still your favorite person, and you are left behind. And so I wanted to write her a song because she deserves it and I talk about how the missing of her feels like a Sunday. That melancholy day before school starts, that melancholy day before vacation ends. And how I'm willing to feel that feeling for her all the time; and I want to feel it all the time. Because that's how we stay connected.
Meg Flather Songs: A Cabaret Sisterhood plays Don't Tell Mama October 6th at 4. And November 2nd at 5. For tickets visit the Don't Tell Mama Cabaret Calendar at Website
Learn more about Meg Flather by visiting her Website

BWW Review: MEG FLATHER SONGS A CABARET SISTERHOOD Brings Powerful Women to Don't Tell Mama

My Mother taught me to respect women, to value their strength, their intelligence and the immense value of their contribution to the world, and I've spent five decades watching the ongoing rise of female power, and one of the beautiful sights in the world is women bonding together, offering one another the sisterly hand of support. It is a description that evades, but a force that pervades, that of the Sisterhood of women, and a lucky full house of cabaret-goers caught a fine example of it over the weekend at Don't Tell Mama, when some of the great female artists of their community gathered to showcase the works of one of the preeminent songwriters of the industry, Meg Flather.


For a long time people have sung the music of Ms. Flather, a winner of multiple awards for her work as a singer/songwriter, and, like those awards, Flather had amassed a collection of friends who will do anything for her, and who will do anything to sing a Flather song. So, when Sally Darling insisted that there be a show of Meg Flather songs performed by the Cabaret Sisterhood, 25 women said YES(!) to the suggestion and the show Meg Flather Songs: A Cabaret Sisterhood was born.

When you hear the phrase Standing Room Only, it's usually a slight exaggeration - there can usually be found a lone chair, a stool at the back of the room, a 4x4 space of floor where you can plant your feet. This was not the case at Don't Tell Mama on Saturday: this show was authentically Standing Room Only, as members of the cabaret world packed The Original Room to hear the likes of Lina Koutrakos, Karen Oberlin and Lisa Viggiano raise their strong female voices in strong female songs. The afternoon was, admittedly, ballad-heavy, but Ms. Flather is a musical storyteller, and the art of telling a story through song frequently relies on the ballad format, particularly when dealing with emotions and extremely personal stories like the decline of a loved ones' health due to dementia. It was, therefore, entirely acceptable that much of the entertainment was slower and quieter in nature. The key to not losing your audience to an unexpected nap in situations such as this is the perfect arranged marriage of artist to material, and Ms. Flather (assisted greatly by Lennie Watts, the creative consultant on this performance, and musical director Tracy Stark) meticulously positioned the participating musical artists to ensure that every match was one made in heaven. When Sally Darling opened the show with "Only See You" it was a performance of such powerful presence that all in the room ignored their food and drink until she was finished, and when Karen Oberlin dropped into the emotional pocket to sing "Mistress Waltz", it was pure musical monologuing. Duets from Heather Villaescusa & Lisa Viggiano ("It's About Time") and Helane Blumfield & Mary Sue Daniels ("Downstream") abounded with chemistry and pure joy, while three-part harmonies and an amazing connection made Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Rosemary Loar and Tracy Stark's "My Heaven" a little bit of paradise.. Out and out comedy came from Becca Kidwell with "Too Intense for You" and THOSE GIRLS with an extremely topical "Like Me", while Deborah Zecher gave open vulnerability with "He Shares Me With a Lot" and Kathy Kaefer enchanted with the modern-day lullaby "Cause I Do".

Particularly exciting were Laurie Krauz's deep, rich, emotional ranges during "What Only We Can Know" and Lina Koutrakos' sly, sexy and sleek stylings on "September Man" - both women plunge to the depths in different ways and break the surface, sufficiently bringing home the power of Flather's lyrics, and everyone felt all the feels when Celia Berk delivered a lovely "Hold On Tight", Corinna Sowers Adler & Elizabeth Nucci sang "On The Second Floor", and Deborah Stone and Sue Matsuki performed "Like a Sunday" -- all songs about Flather's journey with her mother's dementia. Ending the show on a strong and optimistic note, Ms. Flather was joined onstage by Earth Mother, Godmother, Activist, Leader, Champion, Warrior and best friend to everybody in the cabaret community, Natalie Douglas, for "We Are As Strong", which featured every woman's voice, as they gathered in the audience, singing along with the twosome onstage to announce something that this writer has known, all along: that the women are here, that they are unified, effective, and powerful, that there is hope, and that they are going to change the world.

In the days following this show, I had questions for Meg Flather about her work, so I reached out to her with some questions.

This interview has been edited for space and content.
Meg, was this the first time that this set was performed by these women?
On July 14th, the same set was performed but the cast slightly changes. So what's great is there's a chunk cast and then, depending on other peoples' availability, I've given other women an opportunity.
This concert was Sally Darling's idea, is that right?
What happened is I would love to give Lisa Viggiano credit, too. Lisa and I became very, very close the year of 2017. Josephine Sanges, Lisa Viggiano, Celia Berk, Sally Darling and I (all MAC award nominees in the same category that year) formed a show called "Together", and because of that show, we really bonded and became very close friends. And she volunteered that she was a fan of my writing and I was so blown away by that because my writing is primarily for folk-pop, folk-rock music. She said "You really need to incorporate it more in the cabaret world" and I volunteered to her that one of my dreams has always been to create an evening of women and Inclusiveness - of different ranges, different levels of experience, and different levels of success in the cabaret community, coming together and supporting each other and singing from where they were. She was at me to do something like this, but it was Sally Darling... this spring she said to me "You REALLY need to do it!" and when SHE says you REALLY need to do it, and you need to do it NOW... I basically went home and that night emailed Sidney Myer and channeled the right women.

Will there be an encore?
Oh YES! October 6th at 4. And November 2nd at 5.
I know that there are some songs on here that deal with your mother's dementia...
Yes. There's a lot of isolation and silent suffering that goes on, and I think that's why I write about it so much. In my case, I was very lucky because my mother's dementia manifested in a way... At different stages she had different moods, of course, the early stages she was a little more feisty and I had to work harder at giving her the help, and helping her to receive the help. Ultimately what happened to my mother, Becky, is she became so emotionally and physically available and it was a tremendous opportunity for me -- intimacy and healing with her... she's always been the love of my life, even my husband understands that. And in many ways I feel like I was born to do the last eight years of care ... it was 2009 when we started seeing signs, and then I moved her into my building in 2010, and she passed away in 2018. She became the sweetest, happiest, most calm little girl, and was so grateful for the bubble we created for her. It was interesting to see that through the dementia she no longer remembered that she was a widow, she no longer realized she had a daughter with special needs, she didn't know Trump had been elected (much laughter), she didn't know that her two dearest friends and her brother and her maid of honor had all passed away. So there was this interesting...I saw the beauty in the disease because of who my mother was in her life - she was that woman who carried everyone on her back. She was the Type A personality, workaholic, putting herself through school at night, giving and giving and giving and giving, had tremendous deprivation issues, and then through the dementia, all that turned around. She was eating and she was loving and she was receiving. And as long as she had her Turner Classic Movies she was happy. So I had her down the hall in a studio apartment with wonderful caregivers that cared for her the way they wished they cared for their own mothers, cause they were from all over the world - an extraordinary melting pot of women. So mom had lots of different foods and traditions, caregiving from India to Mexico to Poland to Jamaica. The best thing is I got to get part of her daily life, and as someone who didn't have children, it was the ultimate healing because I had a daughter. I had a daughter for eight years and that was my mother.

So I wrote the songs about what she taught me. The final song, that Celia performed, "Hold On Tight" was based on a moment when I went in and I was all worked up about something, and I was trying to conceal it. And she had a moment of clarity. She just put her hand on my face and gave me a look like "What's wrong?" and when she did that, the caregiver, Grace from Poland, said "Oh, Meggie! Window open! Window open!" and I knew in that moment to cancel my day and to stay put and be with her because the window was open, and she was available. She taught me to stretch time. She taught me to stay in the moment. I was that person with the three-year plan, the six-year plan, the ten-year plan. I have no friggin' plan now. I have learned the art of staying in the moment because she taught me, she demanded that I learn that. So that song is about going to THEIR world, and how, when you go to their world, you deepen your world.

"On the Second Floor" is all about the early stages, when she first moved on the second floor of our building - and the panic attack of "what have I done?" I remember when I moved her in, she was pretty independent in her old apartment, but by moving her into my building, she completely changed. She turned to me and I said "Ok Mom, enjoy your new apartment and enjoy your day" and she said, "You can't leave me alone." That's when I realized "Oh my god, what have I done?" When you move them, they drop. That was all about the first year of moving her in, but then again, what she taught me. It's all about how her dementia, even in the early stages, gave me this purpose. What's ironic is that within weeks of moving her in, I got the biggest job of my career, and having to care for her and be on top of her care, neutralized the anxiety of the job, the pressure of the job, and it was a sort of a gift because I considered the real job was her. So it helped me have more confidence at work and be less desperate for affirmation and attention. Because I almost treated my work with Mom as my job, and then my career as my survival job.

"Like a Sunday" is my song about losing her and my experience with grief. It's interesting when you lose somebody who's gone through a very long hard disease and they're ready to go. Because it is a blessing. But it's still your mother, and it's still your favorite person, and you are left behind. And so I wanted to write her a song because she deserves it and I talk about how the missing of her feels like a Sunday. That melancholy day before school starts, that melancholy day before vacation ends. And how I'm willing to feel that feeling for her all the time; and I want to feel it all the time. Because that's how we stay connected.
Meg Flather Songs: A Cabaret Sisterhood plays Don't Tell Mama October 6th at 4. And November 2nd at 5. For tickets visit the Don't Tell Mama Cabaret Calendar at Website
Learn more about Meg Flather by visiting her Website

At this time of her life (“now post-menopausal and proud of it”), Meg Flather is clearly reassessing her past mistakes and triumphs along with her current and future options. In her dazzling recent (and future) show at Don’t Tell Mama, Outbound Plane (directed by Lennie Watts), she not only repurposed 14 songs of wide variety and from different eras—with the considerable help of music director Tracy Stark–to tell us her story, she allowed and encouraged us in the audience to think lovingly about our own timelines and life events, both good and not so great.
Her opening number, Jerry Herman’s “Open a New Window,” was in more ways than one a case in point. Beautifully sung with a drastically slowed-down tempo (and a deliberately different note here and there, but no switch in lyrics), Flather fleshed out her comedic opening anecdote. In 1998 she had left a marriage, with three antiques, two cats and one portrait, to land in a walkup “litter box” of an apartment without a proper window, determined not to live alone. In drastic need of an attitude adjustment, she put ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” on her boom-box and proceeded to dance around her tiny flat. She didn’t replicate the dancing in this show, nor did she sing the song, but instead offered a wilder arm-waving suggestion of dance than would be good for most cabaret acts, but was entirely effective here in conveying a brushing away of past doubts and cobwebs, as well as her fear of flying solo for the first time.
The show’s title song, “Outbound Plane” (Nanci Griffith, Tom Russell), similarly set up the inevitability of involuntary separation throughout our lives, with its lyric “If love won’t fly on its own free will/It’s gonna catch that outbound plane.” Flather’s caramel-warm encore, the very familiar “Cockeyed Optimist” (Rodgers & Hammerstein), in a statelier tempo than the more usual near-jingle rendition, gave us the sense of the inner strength that allowed her to successfully reposition herself in the first place. Flather’s flawlessly chosen set drew on thirteen composers or teams. Only Maltby & Shire got two outings here: “Patterns” and “I’m a Little Bit Off.” the titles alone self-descriptions of the moods the songs convey. Other standouts included a profoundly felt version of Joan Armatrading’s “Me Myself I” and a solid offering of the most apropos “A Change in Me” (Alan Menken, Tim Rice). Throughout her set, Flather plumbed lyrics even more intensely than she had before, most especially on “Why Can’t I Forget?” (Jeffrey D. Harris, Judy Barron).
Yet, “the purpose of the whole show,” she said, was her new song, “Like a Sunday,” which she had composed especially for it. Her mother’s recent death occasioned this most thoughtful rumination on those “necessary endings and failures that in time will take you where you need to go.” These lyrics also again made us aware of the limitations of our own seasons on earth, and of how we stay connected—or disconnect—while we’re here.
Outbound Plane
Don’t Tell Mama – July 28, August 25, December 29
Urban Stages Winter Rhythms — December 15

At this time of her life (“now post-menopausal and proud of it”), Meg Flather is clearly reassessing her past mistakes and triumphs along with her current and future options. In her dazzling recent (and future) show at Don’t Tell Mama, Outbound Plane (directed by Lennie Watts), she not only repurposed 14 songs of wide variety and from different eras—with the considerable help of music director Tracy Stark–to tell us her story, she allowed and encouraged us in the audience to think lovingly about our own timelines and life events, both good and not so great.

Her opening number, Jerry Herman’s “Open a New Window,” was in more ways than one a case in point. Beautifully sung with a drastically slowed-down tempo (and a deliberately different note here and there, but no switch in lyrics), Flather fleshed out her comedic opening anecdote. In 1998 she had left a marriage, with three antiques, two cats and one portrait, to land in a walkup “litter box” of an apartment without a proper window, determined not to live alone. In drastic need of an attitude adjustment, she put ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” on her boom-box and proceeded to dance around her tiny flat. She didn’t replicate the dancing in this show, nor did she sing the song, but instead offered a wilder arm-waving suggestion of dance than would be good for most cabaret acts, but was entirely effective here in conveying a brushing away of past doubts and cobwebs, as well as her fear of flying solo for the first time.

The show’s title song, “Outbound Plane” (Nanci Griffith, Tom Russell), similarly set up the inevitability of involuntary separation throughout our lives, with its lyric “If love won’t fly on its own free will/It’s gonna catch that outbound plane.” Flather’s caramel-warm encore, the very familiar “Cockeyed Optimist” (Rodgers & Hammerstein), in a statelier tempo than the more usual near-jingle rendition, gave us the sense of the inner strength that allowed her to successfully reposition herself in the first place. Flather’s flawlessly chosen set drew on thirteen composers or teams. Only Maltby & Shire got two outings here: “Patterns” and “I’m a Little Bit Off.” the titles alone self-descriptions of the moods the songs convey. Other standouts included a profoundly felt version of Joan Armatrading’s “Me Myself I” and a solid offering of the most apropos “A Change in Me” (Alan Menken, Tim Rice). Throughout her set, Flather plumbed lyrics even more intensely than she had before, most especially on “Why Can’t I Forget?” (Jeffrey D. Harris, Judy Barron).

Yet, “the purpose of the whole show,” she said, was her new song, “Like a Sunday,” which she had composed especially for it. Her mother’s recent death occasioned this most thoughtful rumination on those “necessary endings and failures that in time will take you where you need to go.” These lyrics also again made us aware of the limitations of our own seasons on earth, and of how we stay connected—or disconnect—while we’re here.

Outbound PlaneDon’t Tell Mama – July 28, August 25, December 29

Urban Stages Winter Rhythms — December 15

Meg Flather SONGS: A CABARET SISTERHOOD will perform at Don't Tell Mama on July 14 and September 14.
Design: Helane Blumfield

Over early-evening drinks at Don't Tell Mama, three-time MAC Award winner Meg Flather and I are deep into a two-hour conversation when she suddenly recalls watching TNT's tribute to Joni Mitchell several years ago, presented at the Hammerstein Ballroom and featuring performers such as Cyndi Lauper (who was playing over the radio in the restaurant during this story), k.d. lang, Wynonna JuddJames TaylorElton John, and many other major names. According to Flather, Mitchell was in the audience, beaming and grateful, everyone revelling in each other's work and individual styles.

We are there to discuss Meg Flather SONGS: A CABARET SISTERHOOD, so the story feels at home, just as Flather feels at Don't Tell Mama, and just as SISTERHOOD feels at home in this moment in time, especially. The Joni Mitchell tribute was not the impetus to SISTERHOOD, of course, but as I watch Flather beam and gush over the course of two hours talking about the list of women who will be performing her work across the next few months, it's impossible not to feel that joy with her.

SISTERHOOD is a sister show and an extension to TOGETHER, 2017's cabaret featuring all five MAC Female Vocalist nominees (Celia BerkSally Darling, Flather,Josephine Sanges, and Lisa Viggiano). "I think TOGETHER proved that you could be on the same award ballot and emerge as friends and admirers," Berk says when I ask her about these collaborations' importance. "A CABARET SISTERHOOD takes that to a whole new level."

Where TOGETHER united five women to sing songs from their own individual shows and with one another, SISTERHOOD unites 27 women to share in each other's talent and company as they celebrate Flather's work. The list of performers is impressive in its variety: Corinna Sowers-Adler, Amorika Amoroso, Berk, Helane Blumfield, Mary Sue Daniels, Darling, Natalie Douglas, Those Girls (Eve EatonRachel HanserKaren Mack, Wendy Russell), Kathy Kaefer, Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Becca Kidwell, Lina KoutrakosLaurie KrauzRosemary LoarSue MatsukiTanya Moberly,Elizabeth NucciKaren Oberlin, Sanges, Deborah Stone, Viggiano, Heather Villaescusa,Lisa Yaeger, and Deborah Zecher.

The group of cabaret newcomers and veterans alike will join Flather on July 14 and September 14 at the beloved cabaret venue not only because of their shared love for cabaret but mainly because of their shared love of Flather. There are few performers as dedicated to the craft as Flather, and fewer still so dedicated to uplifting and celebrating those around her. A MAC and Bistro-winning and BWW Cabaret Award-nominated multihyphenate, she breeds an environment of inclusion and joy. She is career-oriented and the first to take feedback; criticism, she says, has changed her life.

Her history with cabaret goes deep--- gratifyingly so. She first fell in love with the artform at NYU Tisch School of the Arts back in the mid-1980s, when Christian Daizey, a fellow classmate, approached her and asked if she wanted to work on a cabaret act together. They formed a musical comedy duo act called Leather and Flather, covering everything from Rickie Lee Jones and The Roches to Gilda Radner, standards, and showtunes.

Leather and Flather won a Bistro Award, and the experience turned Flather onto her love of songwriters like Suzanne VegaJoni Mitchell, and especially Carly Simon, pulling her away from a singing style she thought she was obligated to and into the one that fit.

"I had an epiphany and a real meltdown of, who do I want to be when I grow up because, all of a sudden, my voice was much happier singing folk rock than it ever was singing musical theatre," Flather recalls.

Daizey challenged her to write her own music, and her "humble" songs of the '90s and her first album, WAKE-UP CALL, played Don't Tell Mama's old theater where they didn't quite belong and which weren't quite yet where they should be.

"They were so trying-to-figure-out-who-the-hell-I-was songs. There are the songs that you write for the world, and then there are your journal entries that shouldn't really be songs (laughs). Nobody cares, but you have to start somewhere."

Flather, then, left the cabaret world for a while, playing The Bitter End, Baby Jupiter, and extensively---from 1992 to 2008---the SideWalk Cafe. But another friend told her she was beginning to sound like she missed cabaret and how those singer-songwriter shows at the SideWalk were delving back into that cabaret feel. Flather bridged the gap by playing The Metropolitan Room with her VIEWPOINT, bringing in both her own songs and covers.

Decidedly, that was where she belonged, in an art that breeds intimacy and connects people. "Nothing feels better than having an artist look you in the eye and sing a random lyric," she says, continuing with feedback she, Jeff Harnar, and Lennie Watts had been given throughout their careers: "You will fall on a face that's a stranger and it will be the exact lyric they need to hear and [that] you need to hear."

Since her return to cabaret, Flather has moved audiences and won several awards for PORTRAITS, BACK WHEN WE WERE BEAUTIFUL, and CARLY & ME. In March, she was ready for her new show, OUTBOUND PLANE, which she was scheduled to perform on the anniversary of her mother's death. Much of Flather's recent work has been tangled in the death of her parents, her heart laying bare for Don't Tell Mama's audiences.

But ahead of the first show of OUTBOUND PLANE, Flather lost her voice and ended up on vocal rest, having to cancel the show. Instead of performing, she gave herself a task: writing "Only See You," a love song for the people in the cabaret community who are seemingly unaware of their talents. "I wrote that song for all the conversations I've had in this bar with people saying that they're invisible, that they're not interesting, that they don't sound good, that their shows aren't potent."

When her voice had healed, she performed "Only See You" at Natasha Castillo's SPOTLIGHT ON YOU OPEN MIC at 53 Above, and walking home with friend and TOGETHER companion Darling, Flather confided in her a quiet dream of putting together an evening of cabaret women to sing her songs from their points of view.

"She said, in perfect Sally Darling style, 'Well, you should do it! You need to go home right now and call Sidney Myer and set the date because I would love to see such an evening!'" Flather laughs.

"When Meg mentioned the idea of an evening of her songs, all she needed was a good push. I'd just heard her sing a song of hers, so I didn't hesitate!" Darling recalls.

Flather, intentional from the start, sent out one email to 30 different female performers in the cabaret community; twenty-seven said yes and three had scheduling conflicts but gave their blessings. Within 48 hours, she had the performers, the dates, the songs assigned, the creative team, and the posters designed.

"I have a whole new way at looking at bad luck now, that it's just the universe putting you right where you're supposed to be," Flather says.

***

Viggiano, Sanges, Darling, Flather, and Berk in TOGETHER.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

May brought the first of the rehearsals for SISTERHOOD, taking place over two days--- one, fittingly, on her mother's birthday. Flather says she wept and basked over those first days (and many subsequent ones), hearing these personalized interpretations of songs she'd written over the past couple decades.

The way the show was arranged, 27 performers would perform her 15 songs over two different dates--- one in July and one in September. In the interim between first email and first rehearsal, performers worked on their own (or also with their own arrangers). Rehearsals would consist of a musical rehearsal with musical director and regular collaborator Tracy Stark.

"Being the music director for this type of project, gives me an interesting point of view, because I get to see how enthusiastic and focused each of the performers are, and how appreciative they are to be included," Stark says. "Barring none, they all came in prepared and had obviously put a lot of thought into their songs."

Following that would be a theatrical rehearsal with Watts, her creative consultant for the show, plus a day-of rehearsal. Flather would occasionally step in throughout the show to narrate, but mostly, it would be in the hands of the other women. The connecting thread of this mosaic or "Christmas tree of ornaments" were Flather's songs, and the only song she, personally, would sing would be the encore.

For Flather, it has been a trust exercise but one that has only brought benefits.

"They made my songs better. The songwriter in me was just like, this is why you write music. To hear them through these voices made them real [and] made them legitimate."

***

For Flather, like many, songwriting comes out of a desperate need to express herself. Her means of working has pretty much stayed the same over the years: the lyrics generally come first, and then the 3:00 A.M. wake-up to the melody in her head, the demo recording on her phone, and the playback.

"I say to myself, for one precious moment, 'I like it,' before the world has heard it. Before the well-meaning friends [and] family have heard it, I say, 'That's the song I heard in my head. That's the song I want to sing.'" And then, in self-actualization, "'I like it. I like it. I like it.'"

Some songs come all at once, like "Hold On Tight." Others are climbs that come from lists of words and metaphors. Those early days of writing at SideWalk Cafe were all about telling people what she wanted them to hear and not showing them; now, she's just showing people, just as she's doing in SISTERHOOD by letting everyone else take on her work.

And sometimes, new songs come from old parts. Flather doesn't so much kill her darlings as save them for later. She has a folder of half-written songs from over 20 years of work. Her new "Only See You" has a chorus that was written for a dear friend having a hard time... back in 1998. "Each [song] is a complicated child...so some songs come organically, some are labored, some are recycled from other songs I started, [and] songs I think I've stolen (laughs)."

In all forms, she's in no rush. At 55, Flather may be the only person to ever tell you she was Equity or SAG too soon. There is joy in slowing down and taking your time, she says. "It's so hard when I go back to my early songs and they start out really good, and then, I'm lazy and I finish them too soon," she sighs. "It was the insecurity [and] anxiety to finish; it was this need to check off a list."

For her, now, it's just multiple dimensions coinciding and colliding.

"The Meg writing in 1998 is the Meg writing in 2019. It's just the song wasn't here yet."

***

Out of her entire catalog, the songs she chose for SISTERHOOD are those that extend past the underbelly of those early-morning feelings. They touch on a variety of themes, some broad, some parochial: dementia, autism, observations of society, social media, politics, mothers and daughters, intimacy in secret, 9/11, and, of course, the last presidential election. There's a common theme in all her songs, she says: necessary loss and leaving one thing to go toward something bigger. Simply put, "Am I living my life?"

This contributed, of course, to her selection of performers, those who would most be comfortable taking risks and taking on certain subject matters (and, occasionally, making an ass out of themselves). And also, comfortable taking Flather's themes and applying them to something they could connect to.

Sowers-Adler and her student Nucci, for instance, will be performing "On The Second Floor," a song about Flather's mother's dementia and needing to have her move in with her to take care of her; Sowers-Adler and Nucci connected it to the first-time insecurity of teachers and students working together for the first time.

"When I sing it [with Sowers-Adler], I think about where my love for music and passion for singing began," Nucci says. "Meg has the ability to allow everyone to personally connect to her songs in a different way, and I'm excited to share my connections with her on stage."

Similarly, Zecher sings "He Shares Me With A Lot," a song about a husband sharing his wife who is preoccupied caring for someone with Alzheimer's. Zecher's interpretation tells it from her own point of view as a congregational rabbi of the past three decades who knew that her work meant her husband and children often felt like they had to share her with the congregation.

"I was smart enough to be general in the writing," Flather says. "That's the difference between 2012 and 1992, because in 1992, it was literally my journal vomitted to music, and so, hopefully, you related. You're throwing out a narrow net, going, 'I hope you get it.'"

Stark, Flather, and Watts at the 2017 MAC Awards.
Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Performers range from Nucci, a newcomer, to Darling, "the grande dame" and everyone in between. "What I wanted was a range of styles, a range of experience in the cabaret world. I wanted to create an afternoon where no matter who you were, you belonged on that stage and you were invited by me," Flather explained.

All the songs in the show were originally written for only Flather to sing them, but in SISTERHOOD, they're arranged as solos, duets, and beyond. Not only that, many are songs that had been sung by the performers before, even in their own shows in the case of Sowers-Adler and Kidwell.

"When I first heard 'Too Intense For You,' I felt like it was written for me," Kidwell says. "Most of my favorite songs are the ones that feel like they were written just for me."

So much of that comes down to who Flather assigned to each song. "Meg did an incredible job of assigning these tunes to us (and I've heard that from others)," Krauz says. "She knows [us] oh so well."

"Her choices of which songs would go to which person fit hand in glove, almost as if they were tailored for each vocalist," Stark continues. "This not only speaks to her abilities as a songwriter who can channel numerous styles but also as an observer of the subtle qualities in all of the vocalists' personalities."

Having each performer take on each of her songs in their own specific way is unquestionably moving to Flather; you can see it on her face as she talks about a song's creation and where it will lie in the show, who is singing it, and how they've transformed it.

"You just weep because you can't believe this little thing that you made in your small apartment has any weight," Flather beams.

Little.

***

Back in those May rehearsals, the first person she heard sing was Josephine Sanges on Flather's MAC-winning "Hold on Tight."

"That voice took---" she starts but catches herself. "Isn't that funny? I just caught myself saying 'my little melody and my little lyrics.' That's what women do: we go 'my little...'"

Much of the process of this show, as well as TOGETHER and the time we are living in, has led to a series of revelations. Flather is the first person to tell you now she has a tendency to minimize her work as a form of humility. That humility, by the way, is one of the biggest reasons she is so loved by the community; the words "generous," "kind," and "warm" come up time and time again when talking to the performers in the show and those around her. Watts calls her "smart, passionate, and full of creativity" and says working with her "is always a fulfilling experience." All of her other collaborators echo that sentiment.

"I hit the jackpot when I first met Meg," Yaeger says. "She is a true champion to our cabaret community."

"Her warmth, heart, talent, and kindness wash over you before she even utters a word," Amoroso adds. "She has this innate ability to see the good and special talents in everyone. She just makes you feel valued and that you belong."

"One of Meg's gifts, as the stellar, thoughtful, pro-female woman she is, is that she brings people together," Stark says. "When she came to me with this idea, I was not surprised that it involved dozens of women. Actually, her biggest concern was that there were women in the community who might feel left out."

The list of compliments goes on: Viggiano calls her "a true artist" with a "pure heart." Zecher says "she speaks profoundly to our experience as women, but more than that, she acknowledges our common humanity." The show truly is, as Matsuki puts it, "a gathering of amazing ladies who all love Meg and her work."

And Flather has nothing but remarkable things to say about her collaborators, in turn, as well as their bodies of work. But in putting together a show of her own work, with support, time, and accolades to show, she's also had to process a lot of internalized sexism and envy.

"There's something about being a woman and thinking, 'Are my songs enough and am Ienough?' It's really interesting how we are taught, based on our gender, how to compete. And women do compete, but we put all this junk in the way--- that you have to be nice and you have to be self-effacing and you have to put yourself down. It was amazing that all these women said yes. Then, I got really scared: 'Are these songs good enough for them?'"

She is unwaveringly proud of her work over the years, as she should be. But again, a realization as she says it out loud for the first time, surprising herself: "I wanted them to be better than me. I wanted them to be so much better than me as they sang my songs. And that's how I know I've let these songs go and set these songs free."

It even fits into the structure of the show, especially figuring out where she should speak and where she should allow for silence. She met with Watts, who advised her to let the work speak for itself instead of needing to explain each song individually. "If it wasn't for Lennie, I would probably set up every song. That's actually putting myself down, because it's saying you can't imagine these songs without me [explaining them]. I would diminish it. I would make it too casual. I would apologize. If I had a moment that was powerful on stage, I would immediately destroy it with the patter that followed and take it all back."

Flather and I talk about that idea of being threatening versus being powerful as women, being labeled as a "bitch" or, in what has become a rallying call for many women, "nasty." She asks, thinking out loud, if she were a man, would feel the same way? In putting together a show of her own work, would she feel so guilty?

And how, in that scenario, would she reckon with working with this large group? Again, if women are told to compete against each other by default, then Flather is breaking the system. For her, "the envy goes out the door about their instruments" (of which she isenvious about in different ways) when they open their mouths to sing a song she wrote. "That envy is transformed into gratitude. The singer-performer about me [is] checked at the door and the writer [is] like, wow, I am so lucky to have these voices."

The gratitude is mutual, of course, not just for Meg but for the show, as well.

"As I spend more time in the cabaret community I realize how lucky I am to have found a place where I can share common experiences with people who really know what it's like to put yourself out there time and time again," Sanges says.

"It's incredible to be surrounded and supported and encouraged by all these strong, talented women, to learn from them and to support them," Kidwell says. "It's important for women to lift up each other so that they can be a force of good in the world."

"I have found, as I have gotten older, women supporting women makes life so much richer," Villaescusa adds. "For Meg to pull all these women into a sisterhood is a brilliant outreach...to let us know we aren't alone [and] we are here for each other."

Just like TOGETHER, SISTERHOOD feels so much bigger than its initial intent. The "little" thing Flather has created is, in a word, "profound," Krauz says.

"This has turned out to be quite visionary on Meg's part. I believe this sisterhood illuminates the political times we're living in. In this "time of the woman" in our country (and our world) we get to represent this progress in our cabaret sisterhood. We are a huge part of the cabaret community and, as a group, a driving force. It feels like an incredibly powerful and positive way to represent, not just within our community but the sisterhood of the world, as well."

"To get to be included in a show that spreads a message of compassion, love, and optimism is an honor," Nucci adds. "I don't think there is a better or more important time to be spreading these messages into our world. Cabaret is a platform that is meant to express oneself and share their vision of the world, and what better vision than women empowerment and strength?"


MEG FLATHER SONGS: A CABARET SISTERHOOD will play at Don't Tell Mama on July 14 and September 14 at 4:00 P.M. For tickets and information, visitwww.donttellmamanyc.com.

Ashley Steves is BroadwayWorld's Cabaret Editor-in-Chief, the co-host of BroadwayRadio's TODAY ON BROADWAY, and a freelance arts and culture writer. You can find her on Twitter at @NoThisIsAshley.

 

A Conversation with Meg Flather
and her Cabaret Sisterhood

July 7, 2019

Meg Flather

Meg Flather has made a name for herself in cabaret as a performer and songwriter. On July 14 and September 14 at 4:00 pm at NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama, she gathers fellow singers in a performance of her sings for A Cabaret SisterhoodTracy Stark is MD and Lennie Watts is creative consultant.

We have asked the singers to tell us what it means to them to be a part of this show and what drew them to the song they will be presenting.

Before we get to that, here’s a bit about Meg and our conversation with her.

Meg Flather is a two-time Bistro Award winner, three-time MAC Award Winner, and five-time Broadway World nominee. As a singer/songwriter, she has released seven CDs of her original music and has written and recorded songs for independent films, Off Broadway, and on behalf of HIV/AIDS, 9/11, Alzheimer’s, Autism, and suicide awareness. She has also been a featured performer for The Gay Men’s Health Crisis at New York’s historic Webster Hall, the Vermont Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, and to benefit the 2013 victims of Typhoon Yolanda at the Philippine Consulate in NYC. Meg made her Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on October 9, 2018. She is a member of SAG/AFTRA & AEA, and after years serving as a Brand Ambassador for five International skincare brands on all home shopping networks in North America and Australia, Meg released her autobiography, Home Shopping Diva…Lessons, Lyrics and Lipstick available on Amazon. Her new show, Outbound Plane opens at Don’t Tell Mama on July 28 at 5 pm.

What was the spark that brought this show to life?
I have had this quiet dream of sitting in a dark theater and hearing my cabaret “sisters” sing my songs for some time now. While walking Sally Darling to a taxi, I shared this quiet dream with her. She basically made me do it. “You go home and email Sidney Myer for show dates right now!” (Who doesn’t do what Sally Darling says?) I did it. In 48 hours I had two dates, my musical director (Tracy Stark), my creative consultant (Lennie Watts), a cast of 27 women, and a beautiful postcard designed by Helane Blumfield. A perfect example of when something is “right” it flows and comes easily. (I must add that Lisa Viggiano has been pushing me to do this since we became friends in November, 2016! It took our Sally to make me do it!)

How did you select the singers?
Several of the singers had already covered my songs in their shows. (The greatest compliment of all. Thank you!) The other singers were artists that I had worked closely with in group shows and who have expressed personal interest in my songs. Each choice was very personal. The hard part of this project was dealing with the fact that I could not ask every woman I love in cabaret to sing my songs. These “firsts” were already fans of my tunes and made that fact clear. That is why they were chosen for this maiden voyage.

How did you decide who should sing what?
This was completely channeled. I think the Sally Darling “fairy dust” was still at work. I came home from her strong instruction and created a list on my phone. I could not type fast enough. I heard the songs and the specific voices in my head. It really was that easy.  At a rehearsal, Lennie Watts turned to me and basically said, “Great casting, Meg.” I am most proud of this fact. Each song fits each singer like a custom-sewn gown.

What to you hope a show like this does for songwriters?
I hope this show inspires others to create opportunities that are inclusive. Blending a cast of those who are “well known” and “award-winning” with those who should be well known was my intent. The goal of this effort was to create community through my songs—a sisterhood. (Hence the title.)

What do you hope the lasting effect of such a show has?
In addition to creating community, I hope to expand the boundaries of cabaret. As a female contemporary songwriter, I believe if songs tell a story they are part of the American Songbook; relatives. Why not? Isn’t it always evolving?

And now, a few words from the Cabaret Sisterhood!

Corinna Sowers Adler
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Corinna Sowers Adler
I am thrilled to be part of the Cabaret Sisterhood! My student, Elizabeth Nucci and I have been singing Meg’s song “On the Second Floor” for about a year and a half. It is part of my Second Stories show. I know that Meg wrote this song in tribute to her mother and what she was suffering through. But this song has taken on a new meaning for me as I connect it to my students and our voice studio, which happens to be on the second floor of the Oakside Bloomfield Cultural Center. I was alone in the studio, listening to Meg’s album, when I found myself so moved by the lyric about role reversals. I saw myself as a young singer walking into a beautiful old mansion (one that is incredibly similar to the one I now spend my days in teaching) to find the teacher that changed my life. I was struck by how the cycles and lessons of life seem to sometimes repeat themselves in such a beautiful serendipitous way. It is a joy to get to sing this song with Liz. Every time we perform it I am grateful to have been part of her life and her development as a performer and person. I don’t take lightly that responsibility, and Meg’s song reminds me that “her laughter let me in.”

Celia Berk
Photo: John Rogers

Celia Berk
The obvious thing that makes A Cabaret Sisterhood so special is that it’s an all-female cast singing the music of a female songwriter.  But anyone who knows Meg knows that what makes it so special is Meg herself. She honestly takes pleasure in seeing (and hearing) others shine. What better way to do that than by entrusting us with her songs? Josephine Sanges and I are each doing “Hold On Tight” on different days. It’s an anthem about moving forward and—as Michelle Obama would say—going high. Now doesn’t that sound like Meg??

 

Helane Blumfield

Helane Blumfield
Being a part of this show is a cabaret dream come true. To perform a Meg Flather song with my friend dear Mary Sue Daniels and to share the stage with so many women that inspire me is more than I could even image. Our song “Downstream” is about creating your own path and not listening to talk around you—a lesson we can all be reminded of. When thinking about what to write I looked up the definition of “sisterhood”: an association, society, or community of women linked by a common interest.”  I am so grateful for this community and to be a part of our sisterhood. Thank you Meg Flather for including me in your journey.

Lucille Carr-Kaffashan

Lucille Carr-Kaffashan
I first met Meg in March, 2017 at the Bistro Awards show where we were both recognized for our work. As I left the stage and walked past her that evening, she whispered her congratulations along with a quick “you should check out my songs!” What an honor to have a songwriter immediately imagine you singing one of her beautiful songs!

And, the rest is history. We became fast friends, and my admiration for her songwriting and performance skills have continued to grow. I was thrilled when she asked me to participate in the Cabaret Sisterhood showcase. Amazing songs and such accomplished women singers—what’s not to love?

Meg asked me to sing “My Heaven (a song for Bonnie).” She described the event that triggered the idea for the song, and explained that Bonnie was a beloved caregiver for her mother during the final years of her life. For me, the song conveys a powerful message: that while others interpret heaven as a place to aspire to after death, heaven exists every day in our lives, especially in the kindness and care-taking of others. This song is an expression of Meg’s take on spirituality and a reminder to be grateful and in the moment. But, like all really good songs, there are layers and layers to be discovered over time. I find this song to be particularly poignant in our current socio-political environment as we consider the value of all lives, and the contributions, large and small, that all humans make. I am so happy to be singing it in this very special show.

Mary Sue Daniels

Mary Sue Daniels
Meg Flather is such a beacon of light in the cabaret community, incredibly supportive of her colleagues and a powerful performer/songwriter. By offering her music and bringing us together in a creative nurturing environment, Meg is continuing to set a positive example for all of us to follow. I am singing a duet with Helane Blumfield. The song, “Downstream,” is about a time, even just a moment, when you realize that you can stop struggling and enjoy some peace and contentment in what you have already accomplished. The metaphor of swimming downstream, instead of fighting the current, is a great lesson. I am beyond grateful to be “in the ‘hood” with these excellent women.

Sally Darling

Sally Darling
Meg Flather is beautiful person, singer, songwriter. To be in a program of her songs with such a stellar company of singers seems incredible. And I have the joy of singing her appreciation and affirmation for all cabaret singers. It’s very special and I’m honored.

Becca Kidwell
Photo: Natasha Castillo

Becca Kidwell
I’m singing “Too Intense For You.” I’m a very passionate person. I can spend hours talking about my favorite celebrities, TV shows, or philosophy, and not everyone is comfortable with that. What I like about the song is that it says, “this is who I am, if you can’t take it, just keep walking.”

Lina Koutrakos

Lina Koutrakos
First of all, it’s Meg. Meg Flather. If there ever was a purer female heart I have yet to meet her. She is an Aquarian female so she is also a team player, a human’s human, and a woman. Put that all together and it screams SISTERHOOD. Bringing women together to sing her compositions is perfect and I can’t believe she hasn’t done it before this. (I do think she is on to something now, tho!) I am singing a song that is not really in my wheelhouse and I choose it for that reason. As Meg and her music always seem to inspire the best in us, I thought I should say “thank you” to this lady by stepping a bit out of my comfort zone and doing…well…better. I’m thrilled to be in the company of good women. Thanks, Meg, for gathering us!

Laurie Krauz

Laurie Krauz
We always say how thrilled we are to be part of a group show, but there is something extra special about this one. The Sisterhood we experience in cabaret for me is real and has become more so as the years have passed. I’m so honored to be part of this amazing cast of female vocalists. And SO privileged to have been asked to be in the “delivery room” when Meg births the babies of all of her creations. I know how personal these songs are for her—that’s what makes them so brilliant; they literally live and breathe life, every one of them.

When Meg assigned “What Only We Can Know” to me she hit a home run. I’ve heard Meg sing a zillion times but I’d never heard “What Only We Can Know” and I fell instantly in love with the song. Meg is also the only human being to have sung this previously, so it’s pretty exciting to be the first non-Meg to sing it. The song is so brilliantly crafted. It allows me the opportunity to do what I love most when I sing: dig down deep to my soul and express through both lyric and music. The first time I had the opportunity to rehearse with Tracy Stark, it just took us to a musical/artistic/emotional place that I yearn for as an artist.

I’ve heard a couple of the other numbers in rehearsal. Folks, this show will be one for the ages as both art and community.

Sue Matsuki
Photo: Eric Stephen Jacobs

Sue Matsuki
I’ve known Meg for over 30 years and have always adored her. I also love her music. She writes from a place of an open heart and always moves me. The song Deborah Stone and I were assigned is “Like a Sunday” and it could not be a more perfect song for the two of us or for the blend of our voices (Who knew? We’ve never sung together before!) We decided to perform it with Deborah on guitar and vocals only (as Meg originally recorded it) because we felt it was how this song should be presented—purely. I’ll let Deborah speak for herself, but I think that we both “get” this song and are grateful that Meg asked us to be a part of what is going to be an extraordinary event. The singers on this bill are all family and yes, part of a huge sisterhood, so I could not be more proud and honored to be a part of this show.

Tanya Moberly

Tanya Moberly
Meg and I have been friends since 1991 when we did Company together (she was Marta, I was April), and I am thrilled to finally be performing one of her songs. It is going to be a spectacular event.

Elizabeth Nucci

Elizabeth Nucci
Being part of A Cabaret Sisterhood means more than anyone can possibly know. Meg’s music has brought to light some of the most humbling, heartwarming, and loving messages that the world needs to hear. Her song “On the Second Floor,” written about a personal experience with her mother, speaks to me as a song of hope and love. The song tells the story of new beginnings and, for me, brings out my love of music. Getting to perform with my role model Corinna [Sowers Adler] is an added bonus, as we reminisce about our beginning together, and how we look forward to continue our journey.

 

Karen Oberlin
Photo: Bill Westmoreland

Karen Oberlin
The moment I first got to have a full conversation with Meg Flather, I loved her. Plain and simple. She has a passion for women and a humanity she fearlessly shares with endless enthusiasm, and I think many people have a similar experience with her. She is also a constant, bottomless creative force. Just being in her company is inspiring!

I LOVE her songs, and I’ve happily sung backup for a song of hers in the Stephen Hanks democratic fundraising events. I felt honored to be asked to find a song that I felt suited me, and the harmonic complexity of the song I chose perfectly, and organically, suited the lyrics. It was impossible to resist. There’s so much strength, bravery and TRUTH in her songs, just as there is in her singing. I’m very happy to say Tanya Moberly and I will be performing this special song on alternating nights, and I love sharing it with her.

Josephine Sanges

Josephine Sanges
Meg and I have often spoken about what life caring for an ailing parent is like. Worrying about what tomorrow will bring only serves to trouble our minds and hearts, making us fearful of what is to come. It can be a struggle to let go of all that fear and learn to live in the present moment. Meg wrote “Hold On Tight” as a reaction to a beautiful moment of clarity that she was able to experience with her mother, a moment when the “window had opened” just long enough so that she could receive her mother’s fullest expression of love. I’m honored to sing “Hold On Tight” for this special showcase of Meg’s songwriting and to share its inspiring message with all of you.

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone
I love Meg as a person and a talented and unique singer/songwriter. Her passion and warmth always come through—in her life and in her music. My first reaction to being invited to sing in this show was feeling deeply honored and validated as a performer. To have Meg really see me means a great deal. As for the song, Meg actually “assigned” our songs to us. I trusted her to know who should take on which of her songs, and did so with joy and enthusiasm. Sue Matsuki and I have become close friends, much to my delight, so doing a song together is the proverbial icing on the cake. I’m very happy about this whole experience.

Heather Villaescusa
Photo: Greg Mills

Heather Villaescusa
I am so thrilled to be a part of this show. Meg is such an intricate part of the cabaret world and the heartbeat of what I find I love about cabaret. She is a constant supporter and to be a part of this show giving her songs a voice that is other than her own is truly a remarkable gift she has given us. Meg has called it “A Cabaret Sisterhood.” The cabaret community is filled with incredibly talented women from all walks of life, and I think it’s important that we embrace and support each other. By Meg pulling this together, embracing us, leads to a stronger sisterhood and support of each of our crafts. When she asked if I wanted to participate, it was an easy, “Yes.” And when she told me that it was a duet with Lisa Viggiano, it was a booming, “YES!” And when she told us the song she picked for us to share, I thought, “Of course that’s the one she chose for us.” Meg has an innate ability to see you for who you really are.

Deborah Zecher

Deborah Zecher
I am thrilled to be part of this show for so many reasons. It means a great deal to be invited to sing one of Meg’s beautiful songs and to do so in company with singers I admire for their artistry and treasure for their friendship. I feel that Meg’s songs speak to our experiences as women but even more so, to our common humanity. Her gift is to give expression to the commonplace things we do and feel, and then raise those things to the extraordinary by the way she crafts words and melody together. I think that hearing Meg’s songbook in so many different voices will be amazing. I’ll be singing “He Shares Me with a Lot” which I also sang in my debut show a year ago. When I heard the song for the first time, I was instantly drawn to it because it spoke to me of how as a congregational rabbi for 32 years, my family—my husband and my children—had to share me with the demands of a growing and active synagogue. Meg addressed that reality so beautifully in the song. Since my circumstances were unique, she gave me permission to write several new verses that were specific to my life, which my phenomenal music director Tracy Stark masterfully crafted. For this show, I am honored to sing all of the original verses.

A Cabaret Sisterhood
July 14 at 4:00 pm
Don’t Tell Mama
343 W. 46th St., NYC
212.757.0788
www.donttellmamanyc.com

- Cabaret Scenes (Jul 7, 2019)

Meg Flather and Lisa Viggiano

#realjoy

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, December 30, 2018

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Lisa Viggiano (L) & Meg Flather

Meg Flather, Lisa Viggiano, and music director Tracy Stark united to offer a delightful holiday show with an emphasis on the joy of the season. Under the skillful direction of Lennie Watts, the three ladies demonstrated a lovely chemistry as they moved through a well-chosen list of songs, both well-known and newly minted, that covered a wide range of moods and emotions. Both singers brought a marvelous specificity to their lyrics, shining new meanings on old songs such as Flather’s version of “My Favorite Things,” which featured some fresh phrasing that made the words seem very personal and full of discovery.

Adding to the freshness of the show was the curious and surprising mix of one song with another, such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Hard Candy Christmas” or “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Stop Time,” which created new short stories for the audience to explore. Also adding a touch of uniqueness to the show were songs by two of the participants, Flather’s “Like a Sunday” and “Powder Blue” (written with Vicki Genfan), and Stark’s “Perfect Christmas”; about the latter saying she was “following in the tradition of Jews who write Christmas carols.”

Individual shining moments included Viggiano’s comic highlight, “A Miracle for Christmas” (Ron Kaehler and David Friedman) about the more medicinal way of getting through the season, and Flather’s medley of songs from Mame, a moment of pure joy leading into an audience sing-along of “We Need a Little Christmas.” But then the entire evening was joy unrestrained.

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Last year vocalist Meg Flather wasn’t feeling festive around the holidays. “…and I texted this one (Lisa Viggiano) and she was feeling the same way.” Still, despite commercialism, domestic chaos, and a death in one family, the two were able to find joy and decided to do a show about it. Warm, full voices open with the title song (minus hashtag). We must be all right, they sing facing one another.

Flather performs “My Favorite Things” like she means it. (Richard Rogers/Oscar Hammerstein; Rick Jensen-excellent arrangement.) The number takes on different meaning when delivered by a mature woman. Despite experience, simple pleasures achieve importance. The artist imbues it with substance.

Meg Flather

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Kim Gannon/Walter Kent) oddly sandwiches “Hard Candy Christmas” (Carol Hall). Viggiano’s voice effectively breaks during the first well known lyric epitomizing Norman Rockwell warmth. Flather credibly follows on its tail with a dark point of view… Fine and dandy/Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas/I’m barely getting through tomorrow…Explain pairing those two.

“A Miracle for Christmas” finds Viggiano extolling the emotional health benefits of Welbutrin, Lexipro, and Xanax during the holidays while removing pill bottles from a giant stocking hung at the side of the stage. Appearing bouncy and increasingly stoned, the performer (purposefully) misses a cue. “Hello! Lisa, you’re on stage,” Stark calls out. Droll.

Flather offers “my own medication, a Jerry Herman medley” (from Mame). An exuberant “It’s Today!” soars through the room like a Disney wind. To the barricades! she seems to exhort, We can make this a happy time. Gestures are infectiously on point. “You all know this,” she declares, encouraging a sing-along “We Need a Little Christmas.” Most of us do, of course.

Lisa Viggiano

“Christmas Time is Here” is sweetly performed by Viggiano, hands at her sides, channeling feeling into the lyric. (Lee Mendelson/Vince Guaraldi from A Charlie Brown Christmas.) Richard Maltby/David Shire’s “Stop Time” from Big is invested with so much maternal emotion we know the artist has children.

“I was born a wasp, raised by two very liberal Unitarians, Flather tells us. “ We really didn’t give the Virgin Mary much thought.” At 37, one of her mentors gifted the singer a rosary and image of Mary in classic powder blue. “You can talk to her about anything,” she was told. “Even boys.” Viggiano, on the other hand, grew up “surrounded by rosary beads.” The mother of a young boyfriend first gave her a Rosary, “….then told me where to find condoms.” Each to her own experience.

“Powder Blue” (Meg Flather/Vicki Genfan) and “Meet Me at Mary’s Place” (Bruce Springsteen) follow. Tracy Stark weaves traditional carols into accompaniment making it a bit dense. During the second song, Viggiano’s vocal sounds like Lesley Gore, while Flather’s sustains her own robust alto with neatly vacillating octave. Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up…the collaborators gleefully sing. Stark’s own “Perfect Christmas” doesn’t hold up to previous efforts.

Tracy Stark

“During holiday season, we can’t help being aware of those no longer with us. This is the first Christmas without my mom,” Flather shares. “I got to thinking about things and missing her, so I wrote this.” In essence, “Like a Sunday” says, I don’t mind being melancholy for awhile if it means feeling closer to you. It’s respectful, loving, tender, grave. Dona nobis pacem, pacem…

Shawn Colvin’s “Climb On” denotes the partners’ friendship, in fact, good will to men. Vocal arrangement is swell. The show closes with Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels” and Adolphe Adam’s’s classic “Holy Night.” Both arrive earnest.

Lennie Watts’ direction is expressive without overtaking.

Photos by Stephen Hanks
Opening: Lisa Viggiano, Meg Flather

#Real Joy
Meg Flather, Lisa Viggiano
Tracy Stark- MD/Piano/Vocals
Director-Lennie Watts
Don’t Tell Mama   December 2, 2018

I’ve been a fan of Meg Flather for many years.  I first encountered her as part of a duo called Leather & Flather, where she sang with singer/pianist Christian Daizey.  During my days as a technical director, I designed the lighting and sound for Four-te, a close-harmony vocal group with which she performed, and I worked on a couple of her solo shows at the Metropolitan Room.  But nothing could’ve prepared me for the sheer cabaret bliss of her most recent show, Back When We Were Beautiful, at Don’t Tell Mama

Born in the Philippines, Flather eventually moved to New York City where she studied at the High School of Music and Art, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY.  She is a MAC and Backstage Bistro Award winner and a three-time nominee for the Broadway World Award.  In addition to her musical accomplishments, she’s also a Brand Ambassador for skincare lines sold on QVC, HSN, Shop NBC and more.  She’s known as the “Home Shopping Diva” and her 2001 show of the same name was called one of the Top Ten Cabaret Shows of the Year by critic Stephen Hanks.

Back When We Were Beautiful is an exploration of women’s lives—story songs about women as they navigate the years.  Flather’s opening number, “Somewhere Only We Know” (Keane), contained a double message of sorts; on one hand, she seemed to be saying that these were stories women were uniquely qualified to tell, but on a deeper level, however, the song was about memory and the loss of youth.  Flather delivered lyrics like “I came across a fallen tree/I felt the branches of it looking at me/Is this the place we used to love?/Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?” very simply, her crystal clear alto unclouded by artifice.  Her tone was wistful and very real, setting the stage for an evening of beautiful honesty. With Suzanne Vega’s “Gypsy,” we delved into the subject of young love.  Flather’s emotional connection to the material was evident and it allowed her to dig deeply into the song and paint strong, visual pictures with the lyric and her vocals. 

Flather is, of course, a wonderful singer, but also a tremendous actor.  Her renditions of songs like “Love at the Five and Dime” (Nanci Griffith), “Back to Before,” from Broadway’s Ragtime (Flaherty/Ahrens) and her devastating version of “Another Winter in a Summer Town,” from Scott Frankel and Micheal Korie’sGrey Gardens were imbued with such depth of feeling, it was clear that Flather was not just singing these songs, she was inhabiting them, and we, the audience, were transported into the worlds she was describing.  These were stunningly dramatic moments from a masterful performer!

On the lighter side, Melanie’s classic “Brand New Key” was given a brand new interpretation.  In Flather’s hands it became a stalkerish song filled with mischievous mock anger and frustration.  We also heard “Dear Mr. Sellack” (Terre Roche), an amusing ditty about a woman asking for her waitressing job back after her dreams of fame have fallen through.  Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “Keep Young and Beautiful” became a tongue-in-cheek, outdated tutorial, ending with Flather—ever the skincare pitch person—reminding us to “Exfoliate!”   And then there was the sardonic “I Love It When You Call Me Names” (Joan Armatrading), about a masochistic relationship between a “big woman and a short, short man/and he loves it when she beats his brains out.”  Each of these numbers showcased Flather’s ease with comedic moments, giving the evening a nice sense of balance.

Flather was not alone onstage, of course.  She was accompanied beautifully by Musical Director Tracy Stark, who collaborated with her on many of the arrangements.  Something of a wonderful paradox, those arrangements were spare and focused, so as not to detract from Flather’s performance, yet occasionally clever and lush.  One of my favorite numbers was a fresh new take on Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” arranged as a ballad by Flather and John Mettam.  As adapted by Stark, the disco trappings were stripped away and the slower tempo revealed a poignancy in the lyric that made the song more powerful than the original.  In addition, Stark contributed lovely harmonies on several songs, adding yet more layers of color and texture.  And though he was not onstage physically, Director Lennie Watts’ presence was impressive.  He not only gave Flather fun bits of business, like her aggressive, stalky skating during “Brand New Key,” but he showed a subtle hand with the ballads as well.  During the more melancholy, introspective numbers he had Flather simply stand and look off into the distance, as if seeing the memories she was describing.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a show as raw, honest and engrossing as Back When We Were Beautiful.  Through song, Meg Flather showed us her heart—her romantic heart, her playful heart, her broken heart and a heart that’s grown stronger with age and loss.  There was no dishonesty or pretense at all, and Flather wasn’t just singing these songs, she was living them!

Meg Flather

Back When We Were Beautiful

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, February 17, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Meg Flather’s Back When We Were Beautiful is one of the most creative, well-crafted, and courageously personal shows I’ve seen in some time. Her subject—women, pointedly including herself—is once again highly topical, the performer’s perspective piercingly lucid.

Some songs familiar in other contexts arrive with radically reinterpreted meaning. What could spell disaster works to surprise and compels. Signature wry humor supports the piece like vertebrae. Wrenching parentheses catch one unaware. Flather’s attractive alto has gained tensile strength without losing an ounce of warmth or nuance. Key changes are fluid.

Opening with young love, the vocalist shares Suzanne Vega’s “Gypsy,” apparently written when Vega was 18 as a gift to a young man with whom she was infatuated. In return, she received his bandana. Music rises and falls in waves. Flather sounds like ’60s folk—unfussy and authentic. The first of many appealing harmonies with music director/pianist Tracy Stark enhances.

“For some of us, first love wasn’t mutual. Restraining orders were necessary.” Melanie’s “Brand New Key,” originally bubble-pop, is decidedly dark: “Well, I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates/You’ve got a brand new key/I think that we should get together/And try them on to see…” could dramatically fit into Sweeney Todd. Flather mimes skating (with a vengeance) between verses. She refers to this as a stalker song. Stark’s echoing vocal back-up is cautionary. Speaking of which, wait till you hear what she’s done with “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” (Joan Armatrading).

A charming anecdote about the performer’s (inadvertent) early career in cosmetics prefaces Nanci Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime,” a plainspoken, iconically Middle-American tale. From innocence to middle age, the show’s title song (Matraca Berg) contains part wistful, part bitter musings of a woman who unearths old photos of her greatest love. Like most of us, she doesn’t like aging at all. Flather seamlessly speaks some lyrics, inhabiting the role. Later, 1933’s frothy “Keep Young and Beautiful” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) erupts as an aggressive-verging-on-manic sales pitch. Listen carefully. Seductive advertising, she notes, contains implicit threat.

Acting chops grow expansive for “Mr. Selleck” (Terre Roche) in which a feisty, failed performer desperately wants her waitressing job back. Flather dances in a circle, waving her arms as if a willing marionette, with spoken reference to glass ceilings bridges.

A heart-wrenching “Back to Before” (Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty) is preceded by a candid and distressing story about her parents and grandparents. Flather palpably empties herself into the song, soaring without rasp or volume. Lavish piano underpins, but doesn’t overwhelm. This also occurs down the line with “Another Winter in a Summer Town” (Scott Frankel/Michael Korie) whose accompaniment might make you shudder: “…Yesterday’s dreams/ A faded bouquet/ Roses that died on the vine/ Yesterday seems more real than today/ It’s difficult drawing the line/ My season ended/ A long time ago…/ Longing increases when trees are bare, streets all but deserted, neighbors gone/ When there’s nothing to soften and distract.” Flather briefly IS that woman.

“Out of all the great loves in a woman’s life, the most complicated, rich, and rewarding is the bond between mother and daughter…” Unexpectedly, the song chosen to express the artist’s feelings is Jerry Herman’s “My Best Girl,” sung by young Patrick to reassure his Auntie Mame at a low point. Its tender performance evokes tenderness, intimacy, and history.

We close with one of Flather’s parents’ favorites, “Moon River” (Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini), which she now perceives as the ever-flowing continuity of life. It arrives a song of hard-won faith.

This has got to be one of music director/accompanist/vocalist Tracy Stark’s best efforts to date. Both musical and vocal arrangements are imaginative and collaborative. Back-up works splendidly.

Director Lennie Watts—“Mr. Grant to my Mary Tyler Moore”—has encouraged Flather to loosen up and express herself more demonstrably without intruding on the minimalist approach that channels focus into lyrics. My single caveat is that Flather almost never looks at us. When she’s addressing the unseen or herself, this works, but there are at least two numbers that would benefit greatly from inescapable empathy.

The show is extraordinary.

The show is reprised at Don’t Tell Mama on March 15 at 7 pm.

Josephine SangesCelia BerkSally DarlingLisa Viggiano, and Meg Flather united to createTOGETHER: THE 2017 CABARET AWARD-NOMINATED VOCALISTS. Photos courtesy of the artists.

"No fits, no fights, no feuds and no egos..."

-"Together, Wherever We Go" from GYPSY

There is a certain expectation when an awards season in any genre or medium ends and the trophies have been sent off and collected. Worst-case scenario, the competition makes monsters out of men. More realistically, the season plays out as the nominees, wide smiles in tact, repeat ad finitum, "I'm just happy to be nominated."

This past March, at 2017's MAC Awards, honoring the best of cabaret in New York over the past season, as in most years, there were five nominees for Female Vocalist: Celia Berk,Sally DarlingMeg FlatherJosephine Sanges, and Lisa Viggiano. It's not particularly important, in this case, who won. (Flather did.) If their shared story met the usual expectations, it would've ended there and each nominee would've gone on her own way to do her next big thing.

You'll be happy to hear their story defies those expectations.

Instead, when this year's MAC Awards officially wrapped, in Sanges' mind, there was still a door open. Months of comments from the cabaret community about how they had never seen such talent in the Female Vocalist category played back and, as someone not particularly interested in the competition aspect of the Awards, the opportunity was too good to let slip by.

Sanges admits she initially was afraid to think out loud but was encouraged by the talent of her four co-nominees, as well a a continuing desire to collaborate. That night, everything---and everyone---came together. "I approached Meg and Lisa after her show and timidly said, 'I have this idea.'"

"It felt completely natural when I saw Jo's face when she first brought it up," Flather said. "She did not have to finish the question. I just said yes."

"Josephine said, 'I need to ask you a question,' and I said, 'Yes!'" Viggiano said. "[She] said something like, 'But I didn't even ask you yet!' But I could feel the connection and had an inkling."

TOGETHER: THE 2017 CABARET AWARD-NOMINATED VOCALISTS, a show featuring all five Female Vocalist nominees together on one stage, was born and in motion.

If it got off the ground, the show would be the first of its kind. For the performers themselves, it would be their first time working with one another, with the exception of Sanges and Berk, who had previously worked together on a duet during the 2016 Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention, a beautifully sung and arranged medley ofStephen Sondheim's "The Road You Didn't Take"/"Growing Up"/"Move On" on the night honoring the composer.

Sanges and Berk at the 2016 Cabaret Convention.

From there, the two had seen Darling perform on her own at an open mic. Other collaborations were not quite yet formed, but the bones were already in place due to long-standing mutual admiration. Everybody was performing their respective shows on the circuit, or finishing up their runs, and as the performers were able to bounce from one show to the next, the idea to unite the five for a single show became increasingly well-founded.

"We would run into the other and wish the other luck. That was really special," Flather said. "When the awards were over, there was this empty space; we filled it withTOGETHER."


The idea was sound, but it had to, quite literally, come together beyond the general spark of "MAC Award nominees." Each performer had five distinct styles, voices, and shows, each with massively-varied oeuvre. And, of course, what's the point of having a show called TOGETHER if each performer is singing solely on her own, without the rest of the group a part of the number?

Jeff Harnar, who had served as the director on Berk's MANHATTAN SERENADE, as well as her previous YOU CAN'T RUSH SPRING, became an obvious directorial choice for the group, an outside set of eyes who could cut through the noise of five to create a serendipitous, harmonious one.

"I was immediately enchanted by the concept: the mutual-admiration-societal celebration of each other's talents--- and all in the service of a worthy charity," Harnar explained of his reason to come onboard. "It reflects so attractively on the hearts of these women."

Harnar describes working with the nominees as "the dream:" an environment where everyone was open to suggestions, willing to try out new ideas, wanting to collaborate, and was "present with HUGE joy." On the other side, the vocalists saw Harnar, at the bare minimum, as a trusted and trusting third party. He became the first person to see the show in its infancy.

"[He] saw immediately how to do the opening, and it was exciting from then on," Darling said.

The vocalists had put a medley in place of back-to-back solos that would, with an introduction, bring each of them to the stage. Harnar brought it into focus as "an opener of opening numbers," making sure each performer had the right song in the cycle to greet the audience.

Additionally, the show's original running order was a string of individual solos with one duet (the Sanges/Berk Sondheim medley). That quickly turned into groups of songs with each performer getting a two-song "set," with backup vocals added as possible. For example, that Sondheim duet became a part of a grouping of a series of Sondheim songs. And, ultimately, it allowed for each performer to get at least one strong stand-alone moment.

"I wanted a sense of surprise along the way so it would never be obvious who might be singing next," Harnar recalls, "and, of course, aspiring for a sense of balance so that each artist would have her equal turn in the spotlight."

"Jeff came in and, within 15 minutes, had taken all these pieces and made them into a whole," Berk said. "[He] saw a potential that we couldn't see after being so immersed in things."

"We knew we had a show after Jeff saw it," Flather added. "It became real."

The obvious missing piece for a show of music is the musical director. John M. Cook, frequent collaborator of Sanges, was the quick recommendation and the one that stuck.

"John is such a creative force for me," Sanges explained. "I was so happy when [they all] agreed to work with him."

Cook, who was moved to do the project in the first place by what he describes as Sanges' "instantly contagious" enthusiasm, found the prospect of working with the five women "an irresistible prospect."

"The part of it that was attractive for me was the idea of all this talent 'rowing the boat together,' so to speak."

"For a while, John could not get a word in edgewise," Berk recalls. "But he has spoken to us musically and with his group arrangements."

It is, unsurprisingly, not necessarily an easy task for a performer to take their set list from their own solo show and whittle it down to the signature numbers that not only best suit them individually but also work on this larger, universal scale.

"That was the hardest step for me," Berk said. "Wanting to show range, wanting to help round out the overall program, wanting to pick material that made sense in this context. I feel that the performances of those numbers in the context of TOGETHER are slightly different...because of where they're positioned in the program and because of the sounds and personas they are surrounded by."

The set, which runs approximately 65 minutes, consists of 18 numbers, most individual with the showcase opener and the grand finale. Cook ran with the idea of the "opening number of opening numbers" and arranged and balanced the showcase in terms of timing. It begins with Carly Simon's "Let The River Run" and wraps with Ira and George Gershwin's "By Strauss." That, in itself, is a perfect summation of the evening, as each performer has her say with an eclectic mix of the Great American Songbook, musical theater, and original, modern numbers, such as Flather's own "Hold On Tight," winner of the 2016 MAC Award for Best Original Song. Regardless of who wrote which number and when it was written, all of it served the greater good.

The cast of TOGETHER at Don't Tell Mama, the home for the series.

"It was more about the complete piece than our individual moments in the piece," Flather said. "Our songs took on new meaning. I loved seeing songs I had done change before my eyes and ears with TOGETHER in mind."

TOGETHER wraps with two telling pieces. The first is the titular number to Viggiano'sTHREE'S A CHARM, written by her collaborator and musical director Tim Di Pasqua. One of the founding members of Third Eye Theatre Company, an organization founded "out of a need to explore issues of social relevance and to celebrate diversity," Di Pasqua felt it vital to contribute to the ongoing movement to curb anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, spearheaded by organizations like The Tyler Clementi Foundation and the It Gets Better Project. According to the writer, "its purpose wrote itself."

Viggiano initially heard "Three's A Charm" when Di Pasqua began performing it as part of his original music series, THE MUSIC AND LYRICS PROJECT, and soon began singing his work in future concerts. "Three's A Charm" stood out, though, clearly and to the extent where she built a show around it--- and for good reason.

While it's since become a signature song for Viggiano, "Three's A Charm" works even better in the context of TOGETHER. Aside from being, as Gerry Geddes of the Bistro Awards referred to it as in his review, "the only palatable sing-along I have experienced in a cabaret in years," it's no accident it is one of the show's final numbers. A major part ofTOGETHER's purpose is charity. When the pieces were all beginning to fall into place, the performers still needed to find a date in their calendars that wasn't already filled. The first one they found was June 25, right at the end of NYC's Pride, during Pride Weekend. The list of charities was narrowed down and the choice was made: Trinity Church's LGBTQ Youth Programs, such as Trinity Place Shelter, whose mission is to help homeless LGBTQ+ youth and young adults in NYC safely transition from the shelter system into independent, positive, and productive adults.

The show's finale further ties together these necessary wants and brings them all to fruition. "Love and Let Love," written by Michele Brourman and Ann Hampton Callaway, is a song about love in the face of adversity and, on a broader note, togetherness. The number has obvious ties to the LGBTQ+ community, both in its words and in the way it came to be written.

After many unsuccessful attempts to find time in their busy schedule to collaborate, Brourman and Callaway finally united in Los Angeles as Callaway was staying at mutual friend Jill Whelan's home.

"Driving over, I was incredibly nervous," Brourman recounts. After all, Ann can write a great song onstage, on the spot, about anything! I was bringing a lyric that I thought Ann might like but wanted something more immediate to bring to the party."

As Brourman listened to NPR during her drive, a news bulletin stating then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was about to address the General Assembly about LGBTQ+ rights globally was the necessary catalyst.

"I got so excited! I felt proud of her, proud of our country for taking that kind of a stand. I burst into Jill's house full of the energy of that moment."

When the writers couldn't find a transcript or video of Powers' speech online, they got creative in the moment and began throwing lines back and forth. Days later, Callaway sent the first draft of "Love and Let Love." A bridge was added, lyrics and melodies were tweaked, and the song took form.

Cook and Harnar worked together to flip the concept from one to five this time, and arrange the piece so all five performers did the song justice, and vice-versa. According to Cook, Harnar guided the assigning of different lyrics to the appropriate performer throughout the number, each taking turns to deliver its important message.

The ladies of TOGETHER wrote to Brourman and Callaway on June 30 after performing the show for the first time at Don't Tell Mama. Callaway wrote back: "Michele and I believe in the power of music to bring people together and you are poetry in motion conveying that truth."

TOGETHER outside Don't Tell Mama

As TOGETHER came together, "Love and Let Love" became its rallying cry, particularly in challenging times. Consciously or otherwise, this is a show formed out of necessity.

"The message of the song is that nature teaches us that each being in this world is innately perfect and unique, and it is our great calling to honor each other rather than judge and try to change each other," Callaway said. "When five unique artists are drawn to share their gifts and turn five voices into one, hope shines brightly. And that is what we need a lot more of."

"I think there's terrific power in hearing a group of strong women deliver that message," Brourman added. "My hope is that our song will nourish and encourage deeper levels of not just acceptance but appreciation... of all the beautiful ways in which love can manifest."

Each performer was coming from their own unique show, and Cook and Harnar were both coming from many, many shows of their own, as well as others'. TOGETHER was a beast of a different kind for everyone involved, however. But while there was some expectation as far as "self-protectiveness" going in and at the start of rehearsals---all of the vocalists, aside from Sanges, have worked with their own musical director, after all---according to Cook, patience, calmness, and listening to everybody's wants and needs drove the show in the right direction.

"Putting aside my preconceived notions was wonderful in the sense that it allowed me to 'feel' as each of these ladies felt about their songs and interpretations. In the end, it's all about letting the message come through."

Performers became promoters. Seasoned soloists became backup singers. Every aspect of the show's creation was all-hands-on-deck as press releases, stories, bios, and set lists were composed. Individual styles were learned, group numbers were arranged, and number after number was pieced together.


If this all seems too tidy and you're waiting for one or the other shoe to drop, keep watching the clock. An outsider might look at this situation and expect a certain level of competitiveness or even drama. But the women of TOGETHER are complementary in ways that don't necessarily play out on paper. It's obvious when you get them all to talk with one another and you witness the air of palpable joy and respect. And love. Cook describes the group as having its own "super-personality" that developed and has only strengthened as the shows continue.

"You take Josephine's enthusiasm along with Celia's supreme gift for clarity and organization, add Sally's incomparable performing experience, plus Meg and Lisa, who covered every rehearsal with wall-to-wall positivity, and... it just wins."

"It's just one of those ideas that is so right, so opposite any sort of rivalry," Darling said.

It's even more evident when they're all on stage together, individually basking in each other's performances and taking in what they have created as a whole. Whatever the journey each individual vocalist had to take to get to this point, they each expressed the same feeling of working together: any self doubts they had in their own performances were quelled by being around one another.

"The real story is how we worked as a group," Flather explained. "Wanted our peers to shine, sitting in a circle singing our song choices to the others--- very vulnerable stuff, and, yet, we felt so safe. When we struggled individually [and] had our doubts, others stepped in to support. Everything was so exposed."

"I admire the journeys they have each taken to arrive at this moment." Berk added. "The integrity of how they express themselves musically. There is not a false note amongst them."

The ladies of TOGETHER, with John M. Cook behind the piano.

Adjustments have been made from show to show as the group collectively has learned and evolved. One of the more recent ones sings loudest above all else: each artist introduces the one to follow by crediting her award-winning work. Recall how this all was formed in the first place--- as part of an awards show, where there was only one victor. Now, all that remains is the camaraderie. Everyone has their hands on the oar to row the boat.

Where TOGETHER was initially planned as a one-off, it was an easy decision to keep going past that initial June show. And, as the shows have continued, the important charity factor has remained. In its shows since, proceeds for the concerts have gone to The Seeing Place Theatre's #TheEmpathyInitiative and NYC's The Meatloaf Kitchen.

The next show on December 15 at Urban Stages' WINTER RHYTHMS will benefit art, theater, and education through Urban Stages' Outreach.

"Making it about something other than ourselves brought out the best in all of us," Cook said.

Where TOGETHER has brought out the best in everybody involved on this charitable level, it has clearly brought out the best in everybody as performers, vocalists, and people. Harnar summarizes it blatantly as "quite special," and, like the rest of the group, counts it as a major first in his cabaret experience.

And if nothing else at the moment, especially during the holidays and especially in the current political climate, it's respite from the chaos.

"With everything going on around us...all the noise of late, being connected to these strong talents and the friendships is medicine for me," Flather said.

"This is what we need more of at this time in our country and throughout the world," Callaway said. "Coming together. Finding common ground in uncommon ways. It's not enough to talk, we've got to walk the walk. And that's what these five fine singers are doing. Ripples of love are extending from TOGETHER and the possibilities are endless."


TOGETHER: THE 2017 CABARET AWARD-NOMINATED VOCALISTS will perform Friday, December 15 at 7:00 PM as part of Urban Stages' WINTER RHYTHMS. For tickets and information, visit urbanstages.org.

Ashley Steves is BroadwayWorld's Cabaret Editor and an arts and entertainment writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @NoThisIsAshley

Meg Flather’s newest CD, Hold On Tight, features a collection of songs she wrote, either wholly or with composing partner John Mettam. It is an intensely personal album, inspired by the female singer-songwriters of the ’70s and ’80s who first led Flather into exploring her own talents in this arena.

The singer has a voice perfect for the folk idiom that she clearly is totally comfortable in. She offers a clarity in both her enunciation and her interpretation of her work, allowing the listener to concentrate on the lyrics and the message of each work. Without overt emotionalism, she expresses throughout a compassion and a love for those in her life.

“At Midnight There Is You” is a sweet love song that explores the emotion in several indirect references to the steadiness of a relationship, and “He Shares Me with a Lot” expands on this theme with the repeated phrase, “he’s waiting for me.” Akin is “The Secret,” which explores the wonders of the world which truly never desert us: “It never ends, it changes form, the warming sun, the sheltered storm.”

If there is a flaw in this CD, it is in the packaging. A note from the artist about the songs and what led her to write each of these very personal works would be most welcome. On the other hand, the cover photo of Flather gripping her mother’s hand is eloquent and incredibly touching in its simplicity.

The album is musically enriched by contributions by Mettam (acoustic guitar), Jamie Rogers (bass), Robbie Konda (piano/accordion), Susan Didrichsen (backup vocals), and Jon Gordon (electric, classical, acoustic guitar/synth cello/bass/mandolin/percussion).

(This is the first in our web series of conversations between our “Compact Detective” Bart Greenberg and a performer discussing his/her latest CD, how the material was chosen, and why.)

“Women writing their own stories stopped me in my tracks.” — Meg Flather

Meg Flather’s new album, Hold On Tight, is about being in the moment. It’s a collection of songs that she has written in the last few years—inspired by events in her life and events in the world—ranging from her becoming her mother’s caregiver to President Obama’s election. The songs were not originally intended to form an album, but it became a natural fit when the singer-songwriter realized that they all had a common denominator: her own emotional reactions to these situations. “A lot of the songs are about telling the truth sooner.”

Flather has twin influences in her art: her love of musical theater and her connection with the female singer-songwriters of the ’70s (early Carly Simon; Suzanne Vega). For the first five years of her life, she lived in Micronesia, her parents Peace Corps workers. The music she first heard were her parents’ Simon and Garfunkel records and cast recordings her grandmother sent to them, such as The Fantasticks. So, the dichotomy in her musical tastes was set early. (As was her versatility: at 17, she played both Mame and Jesus.)

While at college at NYU as a musical theater major, she also became aware of the active folk-rock scene in the East Village, and what was playing on the radio. And she discovered that singing the pop music freed her and made her a better theater performer, because the former songs didn’t have the same “ghosts” the latter ones did.

She finds that when performing a song, whether her own or a cover, she still approaches it as an acting exercise, creating a character and exploring the dramatic course of the song. And when she prepares a cabaret show, she also examines the arc of the theme being presented. However, over her career she has found to let the “room find you. Don’t try to please them.” For her, it is as important to communicate to her audience as it is to entertain them.

The title track of the CD was written on a day when her mother, who is fighting dementia, recognized her. She considers it a blessing and a privilege to care for her parents (she also saw her father through his battle with cancer). It is a reflection on the need to retain those good moments in life.

“Find a Way to Me” was inspired by a friend’s efforts to aid her autistic son. The mother’s fight for the moment when her son would speak affected Flather greatly.

“’Cause I Do” was inspired by Obama’s reelection as president. She thought, “If I were a mother, how would I explain what was going on in the world?”

The overwhelming sense of being tested by public media inspired “Like Me.”

Two songs in the collection are intended as a tribute to her husband (“He is my rock”) and their marriage: “He Shares Me with a Lot” was intended to be an honest reflection of a loving marriage as two people struggle with family disasters. And “At Midnight There Is You” considers how two partners each day make a choice to remain together.

“I Died” was inspired by the songwriter’s father coming to her in a dream. She feels she has “a cool relationship with the invisible world” and sees a freedom in being freed from those things that keep us anchored here, doing things just to be liked and to earn approval.

The stunning cover portrays her gripping her mother’s hand. This was not taken in some elaborate photo shoot, but was taken with a borrowed “smart phone,” the hands placed against a black blouse spread out on the bed. The simplicity and unpretentiousness of the creation is so reflective of Flather.

Meg Flather will have a second release party for Hold On Tight on September 16 at 7 pm at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th St., NYC. 212-757-0788.www.donttellmamanyc.com. The cover charge includes a copy of the CD. For those who can’t make the show, the songs are available as singles on iTunes and the album will be available shortly.

Flather’s next project: Unexpected Trio (Meg Flather, Tracy Stark, Rosemary Loar), three singer-songwriters presenting their own songs. 53rd Above @ Broadway Comedy Club, 318 W. 53rd St., NYC, www.53above.com.

Meg Flather: “Portraits”

At a time when many cabaret shows are structured around assorted thematic concepts, it takes courage to buck the trend and use one’s inner voice as a touchstone. But Meg Flather, a New Yorker who has served as a QVC ambassador and upscale cosmetics advisor, has the guts to not only buck that trend but reprise the colors of her life twenty-two years ago. And, she does it warts and all. All this is part of Stephen Hanks’ imaginative series “New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits,” a monthly program that has cabaret performers reprising their acts of yesteryear. Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin is associate producer of the series that runs at the Metropolitan Room through 2016. In her recent outing, Flather brought back Portraits and carried it off with aplomb and a knife-edged professionalism that is missing in many cabaret acts today.

The act itself is a potpourri of story songs that she was drawn to at an early age starting in 1985 when making her cabaret debut with pianist Christian Daizey at the old Duplex on Grove Street. After a few incarnations, the show was booked into The Ballroom in 1993, the legendary, now defunct, club in Chelsea that presented star attractions such as Eartha Kitt and Peggy Lee. The act was a big success and received raves. Now, twenty-two years later, she brought it back for one show with the masterful Paul Greenwood as musical director and John Mettam on percussion/guitar. Shaped by Lennie Watts as director, her reminiscences and silly quips explaining her more mature take now on her song choices then made for an engaging and totally fun hour (“… I had no business singing these songs in my twenties!”) With a few nips and tucks, Flather steered it all into the twenty-first century.

As a performer, Meg Flather is dynamic; a terrific mix of intelligence and high energy wackiness who can also break your heart with a gut-wrenching ballad. With a flare for comic timing, she sings in a strong, mid-range alto with a great belt voice whose pitch never falters. Hers is a happy voice with a husky edge that can be sexy and slap-happy at the same time. Every number bears her unique stamp. Many of the songs are prefaced with anecdotes and offbeat references from the past.

Kicking off with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s rousing “I Feel Lucky” made for the perfect start setting the stage for what was to come. “Once In A Very Blue Moon” is a rarely heard story song by Patrick Alger and Gene Levine (recorded respectively by Crystal Gayle and Nicki Griffith) about an old love that still stings (… there is a blue moon shining when I am reminded of all we’ve been through… just once in a very blue moon.) She twists your heart on this without being over theatrical or maudlin. After noting that since she first put together this mix, she’s been engaged, married, separated, divorced – and then again, she declares “… however, I’m wiser now.”

She slid into the John Kromer-Gary Gardner “Soliloquy At 5 AM in The Holiday Inn On I-70.” About long nights waiting for dawn, this story song, in spite of its sardonic underpinning, is a very funny romp. Flather did a riveting job on Harry Chapin’s yearning ode to “Mr. Tanner,” about an aging, working man who just loved to sing and finally took a chance that fell flat. She sang this trenchant homily with straightforward honesty. It was a high spot. She told delightful stories about college and surviving the battles of the 1960s and sang the beautiful “Life Story” a tenderly woven canticle about reflections and regret by Richard Maltby and David Shire: “I chose my way and I’m not complaining.” This was a show-stopper that evoked a huge response from her idolaters in the SRO room.

A poignant story about her aging parents set up “Where’ve You Been?” (Henry-Vezner) that gave Flather her best moment, “where’ve you been? I’ve looked for you forever and a day.” Her wacky story about getting her first job in the cosmetics department of a snobby store with French-named perfumes was sidesplitting. This led into the evening’s most entertaining ditty, “The French Song” (Tucker.) Jacques Brel’s whirling “Days of The Waltz,” once a staple for singer and cabaret legend Felicia Sanders, made for the perfect cap to this show about looking back and moving ahead as it crescendos into a triple time, frenetic finish, “on the first time we went waltzing, we were young and never alone.” Flather asks, “what have I learned in 22 years? … To stay in the moment, maybe dance a little– and maybe a waltz.”

Several other songwriters were part of this mélange of memories including Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian. Her encore, “Leave It like It Is” (Wilcox) said it all and brought back the cool music of the 80’s which, quite simply, summed it all up. The resounding ovation spoke for itself. Through her at-ease humor and by understating flowery or overtly sentimental lyrics, Flather revisited this piece of sentimental kitsch and turned it into something genuinely real and touching.

The next performance of “New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits” will be Karen Oberlin in Frank Loesser – Heart and Soul on January 13, 2016 at the Metropolitan Room.

Meg Flather: Portraits (December 14, 2015)

The Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd Street, in Manhattan

For reservations or information, call 212-206-0440 or visit http://www.metropoitanroom.com

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Meg Flather

Portraits

About halfway through Portraits, Meg Flather’s 1993 cabaret show revived as part of the New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series, I thought to myself, “Why isn’t this woman a Broadway performer, or at least more well-known in the world of cabaret?” After searching YouTube both for the songs unknown to me before last night (Nanci Griffith’s “Once in a Very Blue Moon” and Richard Maltby Jr. and  David Shire’s astonishingly beautiful “Life Story”), and songs I haven’t heard in some time (Janis Ian’s “Amsterdam” and Jacques Brel/Will Holt’s “Days of the Waltz”)—and finding that I preferred Flather’s renditions to anything I found online—the question became more insistent. No one really knows why some people achieve fame in this business and others who are equally talented do not; all one can do is try to explain why a given performer deserves more recognition than she’s received.

After opening with the only number in the show I didn’t love, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky,” Flather sang the melancholy Griffith ballad with admirable clarity and simplicity. In reflecting on the show now over two decades old, she conceded that she had “no business” singing most of the songs in her 20s. Now in her early 50s (though she appears a decade younger), the conventionally attractive Flather, a fixture on home shopping networks, has lived much of the material she once sang not from experience, but imagination. And you hear the raw truth in every lyric. One instance: the hilarious and unapologetic “Soliloquy at 5 AM in the Holiday Inn on I-70” (John Kroner/Gary Gardner) about casual sex post-divorce and pre-engagement.

Many singers claim to be drawn to songs that tell a story. What distinguishes Flather from many performers who sing “storytelling songs” (like Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner,” her nuanced rendering of which packed more emotional punch than anyone I’ve heard sing the song except the luminous Laura Benanti), is her ability to evoke the narrative context of the lyrics. Flather brings the depth and presence of a stage actress to her interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell (without whom “no storytelling song would be complete”) like “In France They Kiss on Main Street”) and Muriel Lily and Nicholas Phipps (“Maud”).

“Days of the Waltz,” with its breakneck speed and tongue-twisting lyrics, showed off Flather’s technical prowess, while at the same time providing welcome relief from the show’s most emotional number, “Where’ve You Been” (Jon Vezner)/Don Henry). Dedicated to her parents, who were married 55 years (and for whom she acted as caregiver), the song could not but induce tears, even if one hadn’t, like me, just lost a 90-year-old father for whom I performed that function.

Whether lighthearted or gut-wrenching, Flather’s autobiographical interludes are always authentic and add to, rather than distract from, her material. “The French Song” (Don Tucker/Art Murray), inspired by Flather’s time in the early 1990s as resident makeup artist at Bergdorf (“when Bergdorf was still Bergdorf”) left the audience gasping for air. The song is collection of French phrases imported to English, all the French Flather knew when working at the legendary but pretentious mecca of makeup. Rarely does lighting impress me, but Jonathan Mercado’s work made a genuine contribution to the show as a whole, as did the superbly talented pianist and Musical Director Paul Greenwood and percussionist/guitarist John Mettam. Under the direction of Lennie Watts, Flather put on a show I will not soon forget.

Meg Flather, Meg & John, Don't Tell Mama, December 21: Speaking of delightfully warm, that's the perfect description of Meg Flather's entire recent show, which also featured John Mettam on guitar as her only accompanist on a mix of 1960s and '70s covers and Flather's own lovely, cleverly written, and melodic folk/pop songs. [Read Remy Block's full review of Meg's show here.] Flather is one of New York cabaret's most underrated performers because she doesn't posture as a cabaret "insider" or shamelessly self-promote. Once again in this minimalist show, Flather displayed her ethereal Joni Mitchell-esque voice and her natural sense of humor, a funniness that is never forced. With her experience as a home shopping brand ambassador on QVC USA and The Shopping Channel of Canada, Flather is a natural on stage, possessing a friendly, conversational way of interacting with her audience. Her sweet, yet hilarious song sendup of Facebook posting ("You like me, like me, like me, like me!") is alone worth seeing the show if, as Flather plans, it's back in early March.

The 25 People in Cabaret to Watch in 2015...  
"11. Meg Flather - Veteran known as the Home Shopping Diva, who still gets her feet wet doing shows."

Meg Flather, Don't Tell Mama, September 30
Singing Songs That Are Man-Made and Meg-Made

Meg Flather may not present a cabaret show quite as often as some of her long-time compadres in the genre, but when she does it is sweet, sensitive, and, ultimately, sublime. Flather offered a deliciously engaging short-run show called Home Shopping Diva in 2011, and this September came back with a one-shot effort called Man-Made that was really two sets in one--half the tunes written by male songwriters and the other half her own compositions to celebrate the launch of Flather's latest and extremely listenable seven-track CD On the Second Floor. And all of the songs were delivered with her folk-infused mezzo, down-to-earth personality, and the adorable stage presence and sense of humor that comes naturally for a lady with years of experience hosting home-shopping TV shows.

With just her guitarist John Mettam joining her onstage, this was Meg unplugged. Flather set the sweet folk-rock tone of the show by opening with the alt-rock band Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," and followed with her own "What Only We Can Know," a lovely lyric about revealing her personality in a journal. During the rest of the show, she seamlessly alternated between the songs by the male writers and her own tunes, with a pleasant and appropriate sprinkling of short anecdotes or personal musings to set up each number. Highlights among the former were a rare rendition of Paul Simon's "Keep the Customer Satisfied" (during which she impersonated a horn solo), a soothing Joni Mitchell-esque sounding "Once in a Very Blue Moon," and a beautiful take on "If" by David Gates of Bread, during which she and Mettam upped the tempo instead of doing it as the conventional--and somewhat pedestrian--slow ballad.

Flather's own songs were a delight, from the wistful, Irish-style ballad "Calling You," about missing a loved one while away, to the uptempo homage to her friends, "If All I Do Is Love You," to "New Dawn," her sensitive tribute to our current President. In setting up the lovely lyric for the ethereal ballad, "My Heaven (a song for Bonnie)" (which is dedicated to her mother's best friend), Flather offered a Field of Dreams mini-soliloquy: "My aunt tells me to 'Forget about out there, this down here is heaven.' So the angels are regular people who do good things every day, which makes this heaven." Was this show heaven? No, it was Meg Flather singing.

SUE'S VIEWS, REVIEWS & NEWS

by Sue Matsuki

April 26th, 2012

REVIEWS

MEG FLATHER's CD RELEASE SHOW/PARTY for Her New CD "ON THE SECOND FLOOR" - DON'T TELL MAMA (343 West 46th Street, NYC - 212-757-0788 - ) - Played by the wonderful Paul Greenwood on piano/backup vocals; John Mettam on guitar/drums/back up vocals/co-arranger; and handsome husband Jamie Rogers on bass/back up vocals.

Talk about connection to a lyric. Some would say, "Oh course she's connected, she wrote it!" But honestly, I was talking about myself as an audience member. Talk about purity in vocals and in energy delivering some tunes with lyrics that would knock the strongest woman off her axis AND let's also talk about the songs themselves and their inspiration. Life is their inspiration. Living as a daughter watching and taking care of her beloved mother Becky as she falls further into her Alzheimer's each day and noting the work of and loving all the caretakers (Angels) in her life that have helped her and her devoted family in this journey was a beautiful thing to witness.

Having come from extreme dysfunction in my own family (as many of us have) and seeing how much this woman is loved by all who surround her and the dignity and grace with which it is all handled makes me "covet" this relationship. When Meg sang her song, "On the Second Floor", which is where her mom lives, I was totally wiped out by the beauty of lines like: " ... a role reversal with no rehearsal" and " ... gather 'round the flame before the fire dims" were stunning. No song that I've heard touches the love and pain of this circumstance like this song.

The other song about this circumstance is called, "My Heaven (A Song for Bonnie)" who is her mother's main caretaker when the family isn't around. This song was so beautiful that upon hearing it at Iguana last week, I asked Meg if I could sing it. This song is about Angels on Earth and totally NOT in any religious way. As a matter-of-fact it quotes how "Angels" are driving our cabs with a compassionate ear or pouring our coffee or, in this case, loving our loved one as if she were their own. Again, beautiful.

Later in the show she jokingly told us (she is SO natural and honest) that her brother wanted her to write him a song but "not one of those therapy songs" which made everyone laugh. Listening to these two songs and the others on the CD, I don't get this from her writing. I get an honest, self-exploring, wide-eyed and hopeful yet often times defeated gal who just writes about her (and many times our collective) lifetime events kind of like Joni Mitchell and Carol King and all the great ladies of pop, folk and soft rock did. I find her music and her candor and her energy refreshing. Did I mention that her voice is from the heavens? She has this pure, straight sound and is always completely "in the pocket" on her vocals that I cannot wait until my road trip on Friday to listen to this CD again. (As you all know, I always take friends in my car with me on my road trips - See my comment about Terese Genecco's new CD below!)

She's amazing when she rocks out or goes to a country groove on a few tunes on the CD like her opening, "What Only We Can Know" and later on when she sang "New Dawn" which is a fabulous political yarn about Obama being elected President and what a great even that was with the "hook" being: "Two little girls are playing on the White House lawn!" My favorite line was: "His hand upon the Bible dating back to slavery." She really looks at life and tells a story which makes a GREAT songwriter to me. Please check out her new CD ... Google her and see how you can buy it. Speaking of buying the CD, at the release party she did something I have not seen anyone else do and I LOVED it! She said the CDs were ours to take and with no pressure, we could contribute to its production costs by putting in whatever we wanted in a cup on the way out. A classy, talented, AMAZING woman that you all need to know!

Sue Matsuki - STU HAMSTRA'S Cabaret Hotline Online (Apr 26, 2012)
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