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Meg Flather: Press/Blogs

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)

“Flather’s forte is simplicity. With her unquestionably lovely voice and statuesque good looks and affability, Meg Flather can become a viable presence.”

Donna Coe - N.Y. Post

“She radiates unaffected elegance and natural graciousness and is in full artistic command of her material.”

Roy Sander - Backstage

“Flather has one of those one in a million voices and she uses it to great effect on her ballads… from the liltingly pretty folks song…to the contemporary… to the classical standard. That’s quite a range, but she’s equal to it. She finds a center in herself that pulls it all together.”

Bob Harrington - N.Y. Post and Backstage

“Her voice, clarion-toned and quite lovely, lent itself best to softer, folksy rock ballads, of which there were plenty.”

John Hoglund - N.Y. Native

“Detailing her career path from Clinique counter-girl to Bergdorf Goodman sales pro to hawking cosmetics on home shopping channels in America, Canada and Australia, Flather weaves a brilliantly-rich musical tale as always.”

Andrew Martin - NiteLifeExchange.com

When I heard that Meg Flather was staging a show called Home Shopping Diva—playing off her other career as a long-time cosmetics salesperson in department stores and on television—I was concerned about whether I would be able to buy what she would be selling. I had recently reviewed Champagne Pam’s Dog-Walking Diva show (at the same venue) and while I appreciated Pam’s talent, the heavy emphasis on doggie songs and lyrics detracted from an otherwise wonderful performance. And although I enjoy shopping more than the average guy (even when my daughter is abusing my credit cards), I prayed to the cabaret gods (who hopefully weren’t being distracted with end-of-the-world plans) that I would not be subjected to a set devoted to blatant consumerism.

Those fears were immediately allayed when Flather—looking like a lovely TV host in a black sleeveless top with black pants—opened with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit “I Say a Little Prayer,” which felt like getting deliciously spritzed with perfume by the attractive sales lady in the cosmetics department. After climaxing “Prayer” on a bit of a falsetto, she revealed the first hint of the self-deprecating sense of humor that would color the night. “The perimenopause helped me hit that note.” She would hit all the right notes for the rest of the show.

Flather has been in the cosmetics sales game for more than two decades and is clearly passionate about her work. But she also possesses a healthy perspective that allows her to make fun of herself and the whole home-shopping culture. Her between-songs script— which took the audience on a trip from a Clinique counter at Bloomindale’s to her selling Moroccan mud on QVC at 6 a.m. to her ten years on Canadian home shopping TV— featured an early riff as a saleswoman pushing product like an angry, possessed dominatrix in a white lab coat. Such cheeky irony was reinforced when she sang “Keep Young and Beautiful” (a Harry Warren/Al Dubin song sung by a blackfaced Eddie Cantor in the 1933 film Roman Scandals), with the obnoxious rejoinder, “. . . if you want to be loved.” Flather delivered the song with a subtle rubato reminiscent of the singers of the ’30s.

Her true vocal persona emerged in her poignant folk ballad “Calling You” (written with her drummer John Mettam), about being on location in Australia and missing a loved one back home. Flather’s songwriting style and soothing, expressive and effortless alto is reminiscent of many of her singer-songwriters influences—Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Suzanne Vega, and Annie Lenox, among others. On another Flather/Mettam tune, the honky tonk-sounding “A Song of Roses” (“You’re either given the roses or you grow your own”), Meg channeled a vintage Patsy Cline, complete with an audience sing-along that was helped along by Mettam’s drums, her pianist Paul Greenwood and bass guitarist/husband Jamie Rogers. After the lovely story song “Love [is for sale tonight] at the Five and Dime” (Nanci Griffith), she told about being recruited for Yves St. Laurent at Bergdorf Goodman. By now it was clear that one of the show’s strengths was Meg’s ability to weave her career stories seamlessly between songs that weren’t necessarily about retailing or TV product sales. She followed her St. Laurent tale with “The French Song” (Don Tucker), a clever number in which the entire lyric is disembodied French words and phrases linked together. Flather then did a lovely job on “Back When We Were Beautiful” (Matraca Berg), a wistful ballad sung from the point of view of an aging beauty, but even more haunting were the maternal “Hush, Hush, Hush” (Paula Cole) connected to her own “I Will Wait for You,” which represented that period during her performing and retail life when “all the beautiful boys started to disappear from AIDS.”

When one decides to pursue a combined career in musical theater, cabaret, and sales, disappointment and rejection are facts of life, and one is compelled to keep things in perspective. Meg Flather obviously feels and knows that, which is what made her final song, “Love Is All That Matters” (written with Vicki Genfan), even more resonant. Meg may not always get a home shopping viewer to order the concealer, but as a cabaret performer, she definitely closed the sale.

Stephen Hanks
Cabaret Scenes
May 19, 2011
www.cabaretscenes.org

"The lessons Flather learned are universal, so even if you’re not interested in the arts or fashion industry, readers will find themselves being able to relate to her trials and tribulations...If you’re looking for a heartwarming and inspirational memoir to keep you motivated when the winter blues hit, you’ll enjoy Flather's entertaining novel."

Amanda Ferris - The Absolute Magazine (Dec 21, 2014)
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