Review: “The Lady in Black” at Don’t Tell Mama

Anthony. J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

As I recall, up until the past year or so, I had never been asked or invited to review a musical cabaret act for OnStage Blog. That was until I had been asked personally to attend a blues singer’s cabaret show, playing at the West End Lounge for one night only. Perhaps little known to my readers, I have a great appreciation for old-fashioned blues and soul music, and cabaret shows are, in and of themselves, a type of theatrical performance. So when I was asked to once again review a brand new cabaret show by Mary Elizabeth Micari (aka “Reverend Mary”) this past weekend at the prestigious Don’t Tell Mama, it was difficult for me to turn it down.

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As far as the music act itself, it’s not too different from her previously aforementioned work at the West End Lounge. The selection of songs – ranging from 1910 to 1950 – are a wide mix of blues songs that connect to the theme of the show, and Ms. Micari always makes a point at mentioning how the songs performed in her shows are frequently ones that have not been performed in years. Like in past performances, each song is delivered with passion and confidence, displaying both her strong vocals and her experience as a singer. I am personally a bigger fan of the venue these songs were performed at, as the bright and colorful visuals and atmosphere at Don’t Tell Mama – while still preserving the intimacy that largely makes cabaret performances like these so special – was highly complimentary of the performance, even as she opted to wear black. (Hence the title, obviously.)

Now, here’s the part of the act that separates this from earlier performances: In between songs, she takes out a diary and shares various memories of her adolescence, college years, and beyond. She occasionally veers toward the sad and sentimental, while the bulk of them seem intended for laughs, and in many cases, they are all bound to be relatable to audience members of a wide age range, from 18 and up, who have been through similar romantic encounters. I notice sharing biographical information about themselves is a common aspect of a cabaret performer’s usual act, but here, Ms. Micari seemed to go beyond the usual, delving deep into her past and into some very influential – and in some cases, truly painful – moments in her romantic life. From a personal standpoint, I found this to be both quite admirable, and from a more artistic standpoint, I thought it was refreshing to see a cabaret show that was more than just one song after another with only minor small talk in-between.

If there’s anyone aspect I would have liked to see differently, I couldn’t help but feel that the storytelling aspect cut off a tad bit abruptly. Granted, it says something about the quality of any show, if that’s the only issue I have. Nonetheless, I admit that I would have liked to see something resembling a happy “ending” of sorts, as it seemed that things were still progressing in her life, at the point where she stops describing past memories. However, this was indeed a very entertaining show, and with more shows on the horizon – and possibly a debut album, as well – it seems that “Reverend Mary” will have plenty more opportunity to share her stories through her music in the not too distant future, through at least one potential follow-up act.

 “The Lady in Black” ran for one night only at Don’t Tell Mama on June 9th. For more information on future shows by this singer, please visit www.facebook.com/ReverendMary.