Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Most of Marissa Mulder’s patter is not patter at all. Her spoken words introducing songs or connecting songs in “Tom … in His Words” are the words of Tom Waits. This performance choice for her current appearance at the Metropolitan Room results in an engaging evening of song where Ms. Mulder proves unequivocally that exquisite vocal interpretation is more about something one is as opposed to something one does.
This maxim also holds true of the musically articulate work of Mulder’s accomplished band which includes Jon Weber (piano and music direction), Mike Rosengarten (guitar), and Ritt Henn (bass) who, with Ms. Mulder, form a formidable ensemble of epic proportion. These four artists sing and play together with such synchronicity that voice and string are sometimes indistinguishable. This successful collaboration is particularly evident in three songs in Ms. Mulder’s program: “Jersey Girl” (from the 1980 LP: “Heart Attack and Vine”); “Day after Tomorrow” (with Kathleen Brennan from the 2004 album: “Real Gone”); and “Heart of Saturday Night” (from the 1974 LP: “Heart of Saturday Night”).
In all three songs, as well as in the other songs in her program, Ms. Mulder showcases her remarkable ability to interpret the song’s lyrics with precision, her impressive vocal range and control, and her accomplished phrasing. When Mulder sings “And I call your name, I can’t sleep at night,” the listener can experience the visceral longing of the speaker of the song for his “little angel … on the Jersey side.” Perhaps the most haunting song in her program is the “protest song” “Day after Tomorrow” in which the speaker croons “You can’t deny/ The other side/ Don’t want to die/ Any more than we do/ What I’m trying to say, / Is don’t they pray/ To the same God that we do?” It is difficult to imagine lyrics that more clearly exemplify the moral ambiguity surrounding war and Mulder delivers these lyrics with impressive intelligence and pathos.
Tom Waits’ songs are pure poetry and Ms. Mulder “speaks” his words in scintillating song in her rendition of “The Heart of Saturday Night.” “And you got paid on Friday/ And your pockets are jinglin’/ And you see the lights/ You get all tinglin’ cause you’re cruisin’ with a 6/ And you’re looking for the heart of Saturday night.” Waits use of repetition, internal rhyme, and figurative language make this song vibrate with realism and Mulder’s phrasing places that reality squarely in the hearts of the listeners.
Directed by Lauren Fox, “Tom … in His Words” delivers the work of Tom Waits with exceptional power and delectable grace. The word ‘perfection’ pours all too easily off the critic’s tongue; however, in this case, it is perhaps the best word to describe Marissa Mulder’s and her band’s foray into the fractured world of fantasy that is Tom Waits.