Sharing Life Through Song
Actress & cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci finds inspiration and strength from love, music, and loss
by Mark Rebernik
As the house lights dim, an anticipatory hush blankets the room. Then, a spotlight follows an elegant figure in a flowing black dress as she approaches the grand piano. Her sparkling blue eyes capture the spotlight illuminating her porcelain skin. Andrea Marcovicci, veteran songstress and actress, begins her homage to America’s legendary cabaret singers in L.A.’s premier cabaret, The Gardenia Room. She sings the songs, and recounts the sometimes outrageous, often tragic lives, of such singers as Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting, and Libby Holman. Though legends in their own time, they are largely forgotten today as our collective consciousness is cluttered by the endless—and noisy—accoutrements of the Internet age.
The next morning, Andrea and I meet at a quiet Sherman Oaks café in the San Fernando Valley. To my surprise, this quintessential native New Yorker, who has appeared regularly at the fabled Algonquin Hotel for over twenty years, has been a Valley resident for years. Her husband, actor Daniel Reichert, lives in his own home a few doors away and together they raise their fourteen year-old daughter, Alice.
Raising a teenager is undoubtedly Andrea’s most challenging role. As her daughter nears adulthood, how has she dealt with the looming threat of the AIDS epidemic to her own child’s life? “We talk about it openly,” Andrea says. “When we watch TV together, I’ll stop the show and ask, ‘Are they being safe…what do you think?’ Thank God for TiVo! Alice’s public school also deals with these issues a lot.”
Andrea first gained notoriety as Dr. Betsy Taylor in the television soap opera Love Is a Many Splendored Thing from 1970–1973. In a sense, she followed in her father’s footsteps, as he actually was a doctor. In 1976, she costarred with Woody Allen in The Front, and was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance. She’s appeared in countless television shows, most memorably on two episodes of Taxi, where she portrayed a pill-popping jilted lover who is seduced on the rebound by the lecherous Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito).
“The people on Taxi taught me how to be funny,” Andrea confides as she digs into her breakfast fruit salad. “Jim Burroughs, the director, said to me, ‘You don’t have to try to be funny. Be the person you’ve always been on television, just overdo it.’ Well, I got so many laughs, it was like catnip! Actually, I’m famous for playing the victim, the wounded bird. After I did the soap, I auditioned for Cry Rape, the story of a rape victim, and—surprise—I got the part.” Andrea’s currently appearing in Henry Jaglom’s latest film, Irene in Time, along with Tanna Frederick, Victoria Tennant, and Karen Black.
More than acting, it is through her music and song that Andrea so deftly channels her own personal feelings of loss and pain. Some of her most deeply felt emotions are rooted in her life experiences during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. “I saw the epidemic at the very beginning because I was around dancers,” she explains. “There were all these strange precursors to what we later realized was AIDS. The mid to late eighties were a terrible time. All the way through the nineties I did so many benefits. It was an absolute blur of activity.”
Then in 1989, Andrea lost her best friend, photographer and lighting designer Daniel Adams, to AIDS. “We adored each other,” she says remorsefully. “We dated before he realized that he was gay, and then he became my closest friend in the world. He got sick quite early—in 1985. Danny died just five feet away from me. Not in my arms, but in the arms of his lover. The moment I heard his last breath, I saw his spirit leave him, dancing. After that, I took control of my life and my career. Never again did I wait for some overweening authority figure to come into my life to be my boss. The moment I saw Danny’s spirit dance, I said to myself, ‘I’ll do this with the rest of my life.’”
This epiphany of personal empowerment was Andrea’s pillar of support as she slowly built her successful singing career. Often, it’s simply Andrea and a piano player, but her impact on her audience is more personal, more profound than any grand production number could ignite. But Andrea still considers herself an actress who sings, as opposed to a singer who acts. Is this what makes her a cabaret singer, as distinguished from any other kind of singer? “A cabaret singer, like an actor, is a storyteller,” Andrea explains. “There’s a through line in their performance—a beginning, a middle and an end. Cabaret singing is a tried and true art form. They will talk to their audience as much as they sing for their audience. They’ll tell you the history of a song and look directly into the listeners’ eyes to connect with them,” she says. “In fact, cabaret singers used to sing from the audience. The great Mabel Mercer would even sing at your table. It’s really a great tradition of give and take. I’m so grateful for YouTube, because collectors of rare footage have put their films on the Web site so that young people can rediscover these great performers.”
But in this age of personal empowerment, can people still relate to women singing songs about being a victim? “Women? Frank Sinatra is the ultimate torch singer!” Andrea asserts. “Because of songs like ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ and ‘Only the Lonely,’ every generation of young men, when they get their hearts broken, will discover the American popular songbook.
We all fall in love and we all make mistakes and we’re all vulnerable to loss. I wouldn’t want this great part
of American musical history to go bye-bye because some of the feelings expressed in these songs are ‘inappropriately’ desperate.”
Does faith help her to cope with grief? “I wish that I could get some strength back from my faith,” Andrea sighs. “I’m a lapsed Catholic and I’m missing something in my life. If my faith were something I could be proud of, if I could believe again in a faith that stood up for its people and wasn’t so stupid, maybe I could go back….” She halts and then whispers, “I’m going to cry….” Her eyes glaze over with tears.
Can a performance summon up emotions that are too overpowering? “Perhaps, but I don’t necessarily think that the show must go on,” says Andrea. But what do you do, I ask, if the show doesn’t go on? “Well actually,” she admits with an ironic smile, “the show does go on. I sing through it…you have to deal with it and put it into song and hopefully, you don’t go too far.” Andrea smiles wistfully. “There’s no better place than the stage to put your heart, as long as you have the strength to back it up. It’s great and fabulous—and awful.”
For more about Andrea Marcovicci and to see her upcoming performance schedule, check out her website at www.andreamarcovicci.com.
Photo © Daniel Reichert. All rights reserved.
Mark Rebernik is a writer, actor, and lawyer and lives in Los Angeles. He interviewed Swiss microbiologist, Dr. Amalio Telenti for the March 2008 issue.