Arts & Culture » Theater

Andrea Marcovicci's lifelong affair with Fred Astaire.

It's as strong as ever in Andrea Sings Astaire.


Andrea Marcovicci's current cabaret act, Andrea Sings Astaire, which is on view in the Sheldon's Savoy Room through Sunday, is the result of a lifelong love affair. "When I was a child in the 1950s and a teenager in the '60s and everybody else was singing Elvis and the Beatles, I was singing Fred Astaire," Marcovicci says. "I've been in love with him since I was five years old. He was the most romantic man I've ever seen."

This one-sided affair came about under particular circumstances. "My father was born in 1885," the singer explains. "He was 63 when I was born. He was a brilliant doctor who had studied medicine in Vienna, but he arrived in America as a Viennese waltzer. Mom and Dad were both exquisite ballroom dancers who moved in a way that was magical. It was so natural that they adored Fred Astaire and wanted me to see his movies as soon as I could. First I was taken to revival houses. Then there started the "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9 in New York City, where they would run the same picture nine times in one week. I would get to see Fred over and over again."

Then the love affair extended from movies and television to the stage. Marcovicci was taken to her first Broadway musical, Peter Pan, at age six. "I clearly remember Mary Martin flying, and I remember coming home and jumping off the bed because I was absolutely convinced that I too could fly. I landed on the radiator."

Marcovicci might have established a career for herself in musical theater, were it not for changing times. She made her Broadway debut in 1972 in Ambassador, an adaptation of Henry James' novel The Ambassadors that closed in a week. "The show was perfectly crafted with beautiful songs," she recalls. "Howard Keel was fabulous in the lead. But Hair had opened in 1968, so the whole wave of the future was upon us, and we were doing the most old-fashioned show possible." Her next two musicals, Nefertiti and Chaplin, closed out of town. "Those were the hardest times of my life," she says. "I thought that all three musicals were very good. But all of that unhappiness led to what I do now."

Now Marcovicci writes her own shows, one-woman plays with music, always constructed around specific themes and often focused on a single composer. She performs these mini-musicals through the guise of cabaret. When last in St. Louis four years ago, Marcovicci paid tribute to Cole Porter. She's just concluded a nine-week run at New York's Algonquin Hotel doing an evening of Rodgers and Hart. "The challenge of doing a composer," she says, "is that only one single voice is going to come out of your mouth. But when I do Fred Astaire, I automatically inherit Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Harry Warren and Harold Arlen, because Fred introduced all their songs. So I get to tell the story of his life, but the music keeps changing."

After her stint in St. Louis, Marcovicci performs with the Carolina Ballet ("I sing while they dance all around me"), then she goes to San Francisco to play the title role in a rare revival of the Alan Jay Lerner/André Previn musical Coco. By year's end she'll be back at the Algonquin (where she's the only living person to have a hotel suite named after her) for the 21st consecutive year. The love affair continues. 

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