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Monday, July 12, 2010

Deeper Dish with Andrea Marcovicci

Andrea Marcovicci has an infectious laugh and a terrific sense of humor. I found the actress and cabaret singer a total joy to chat with on the phone a few days ago - so warm and friendly just like she is in concert. I've been lucky enough to see her onstage twice - back in 1998 in a cabaret evening with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and on Thanksgiving night 1993 in the Broadway play, Any Given Day. Of course, she was just as wonderful singing the Great American Songbook as she was acting opposite Sada Thompson (Family) and Justin Kirk (Weeds).

However, I first became a fan of Marcovicci because she was such a fabulous bitch - which I definitely mean as a compliment. In 1985 the actress starred as Gloria Berrenger on the short-lived nighttime soap opera, Berrenger's, about a rich family who ran a New York department store. Gloria was the "Alexis" of the show as she schemed to hold on to her husband who was having an affair. It was a delightfully addictive drama that, unfortunately, was canceled after only 11 episodes - but Marcovicci did gain at least one new fan from her memorable performance.

The actress first became known when she starred as Dr. Betsy Chernak on the daytime soap opera, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, from 1970 to 1973. Since then she's appeared on such television shows as Hill Street Blues, The Incredible Hulk, Taxi, Arli$$, Strong Medicine and Trapper John, M.D. (in which she got to marry the gorgeous Gregory Harrison). Marcovicci's feature film credits include The Front (1976) - for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture, The Hand (1981), Someone to Love (1987), Jack the Bear (1993) and Irene in Time (2008). She made her Broadway debut opposite Howard Keel in the musical, Ambassador (1972), and also appeared in the musical, Nefertiti, which closed on the road in Chicago in 1977.

Marcovicci has had an amazing singing career, making her Carnegie Hall solo debut in 1993 and having performed for 24 years this fall at the the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room in New York City. Since 1988, she has recorded and released many albums featuring the music of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers & Hart, and she will be celebrating the 100th birthday of composer Frank Loesser (Guys & Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying) here in Chicago when she brings her show, If I Were a Bell: The Songs of Frank Loesser, to Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret this Wednesday through Sunday (July 14 - 18). I am so thrilled to have the lovely Andrea Marcovicci here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

All photos are by Daniel Reichert

Let's begin with Frank Loesser.  What was the very first song of his that you fell in love with?
"Slow Boat to China". But there are lots of Frank Loesser songs that you carry in your bones - that just make you want to burst into song in a parking lot like "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?", "If I Were A Bell", "Two Sleepy People" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Many of these are pop culture songs that you may remember from your childhood or from Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

While you were creating your Frank Loesser show, was there a song of his that you previously didn’t know that you were excited to discover?
"Hamlet". I was once commissioned to create a one-night only show as a benefit for a Shakespeare company in New York. It was about the influence of Shakespeare in musicals and Broadway - and I was stunned to find out that the song, "Hamlet", which Betty Hutton sang in the film, Red, Hot and Blue, was written by Loesser. It was a big surprise - and it's one of my treasures.

How did you end up making your first record, "In Our Time"?
My manager at the time - Ray Fox - wrote this beautiful anti-war song. Back then I was going on marches and to peace celebrations to try to stop the Vietnam War.

What was your very first cabaret performance? And do you recall what you sang?
I sang at the New York cabaret Reno Sweeney on 13th Street. It was a very eclectic evening - I began with "Young at Heart" and then switched to "Life on Mars?" by David Bowie. I was zany in those days, tossing my hair around and never saying a word - I would just glare at the audience with contempt.

What is the most memorable moment you have had while performing onstage either in concert or in a show?
I was doing a concert about singer Ruth Etting, who was married to gangster "Moe the Gimp" Snyder. The film, Love Me or Leave Me, was written about her life, and Jimmy Cagney played Moe. So I said to this gentleman in the audience, "You look like a gangster" - he was dressed in a pinstripe suit right out of Guys and Dolls - and it turned out that the guy really was in the mob.  Afterwards he came up to me and said, "Are you and I okay? 'Cause I would hate to have something happen to you." It was very scary.

Now let’s discuss a few of your television, film and stage performances over the years. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind about:

Love Is a Many Splendored Thing?
Two and a half years of learning how to act.

On the second night there were more people onstage than in the audience - but it was wonderful to be in a show with Howard Keel.

The Front?
Woody Allen - need I say more? It's the film I'm proudest of being a part of.

It closed in Chicago - and it makes me nostalgic for the city. The show should've made it to Broadway - it was grand.

The Hand?
The film would have been more successful if Warner Bros. hadn't made [director/writer] Oliver Stone add more scenes of the hand. Oliver wanted it to be a psychological thriller and not so campy.

My shining hour. I was never given the opportunity before to play the bitch - I was always the wounded bird or victim. It was so much fun to finally play a Joan Collins-type bitch. I loved it!

Performing at the White House?
Mr. Clinton is every bit as charismatic and devastatingly charming that everyone says he is. And the expression "cold feet" really does happen - I couldn't feel my feet when I met him.

What have been your favorite acting roles?
Coco Chanel in the musical, Coco, at 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco and the lead role in the musical, Lady in the Dark.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
Don't fall in love with your leading man so you can concentrate on your own work.

In high school I was:

My favorite comfort food is:
Trail mix

The last good book I read was:
The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich: A Son's Memoir by Howard Reich

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
The Eleventh Hour [a 1962-64 medical drama]

Today I never miss a television episode of:

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
Ella Fitzgerald and the Gipsy Kings.

Three of my favorite movies are:
Notorious, Top Hat and Casablanca.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Noël Coward, Cole Porter and Greta Garbo - she would probably turn out to be dull, but I would still just want to watch her.

What's next for Andrea Marcovicci?
I will be performing my new show, Blue Champagne: The History of the Torch Song, in San Diego next month before bringing it to the Oak Room of New York's Algonquin Hotel in November. It's about the earliest ladies of torch - Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting, Libby Holman and Fanny Brice, among others - and it's just divine.

Thank you, Andrea, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To make reservations to her show, If I Were a Bell: The Songs of Frank Loesser, at Davenport's (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago) this week, call (773) 278-1830 or go online at For reservations to her show, Blue Champagne: The History of the Torch Song, click here for her San Diego appearance on August 8 and call (212) 419-9331 for her Nov. 16 - Dec. 30 engagement at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room in New York. And to learn more about Ms. Marcovicci, check out her groovy website at and become a fan on Facebook.

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