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Meg Flather: Press/Blogs

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.

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, 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.

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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