Theater Mania - 2005
Rising Stars - By Michael Portantiere
It's extremely difficult to make a name for oneself as a performer in cabaret, where many highly talented individuals hold forth in relative obscurity. So when an artist working in this field does manage to attract special attention from the press and the public, you can probably assume that he or she is the crème de la crème. That's certainly true of the two rising stars profiled here. Those who believe that "the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree" can look to Maude Maggart for proof of the aphorism. Her father, Brandon Maggart, appeared in such Broadway musicals as Kelly, Applause, Lorelei, and Musical Chairs; he met her mother, Diane McAfee, when they were both cast in Applause. (McAfee had already been seen on Broadway in Flora, The Red Menace and It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman.) And, speaking of apples: Maude's sister is the wonderful contemporary pop vocalist/pianist Fiona Apple. But Maude has found her own niche, singing in clubs and focusing on songs of bygone eras.
Soon to begin a run in the fabled Oak Room of the Algonquin hotel, she recently completed the second of two engagements at Danny's Skylight Room on Restaurant Row. "It was a lot of work in the beginning," says Maude. "In cabaret, you've always got to build an audience. I got some good reviews, so that really helped; for the last month and a half or so, we were packed." The show featured such songs of the 1930s as "Paper Moon," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Happy Days Are Here Again" along with a few obscure numbers from the same period. "I love to sing everything," M.M. enthuses, "but I think this kind of repertoire suits my voice the best. My sister used to listen to Judy Garland, and I listened to a mix of things: Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone. Because of my mom and dad, I also grew up listening to Broadway stuff. I fell into singing older songs thanks to my mentor, Andrea Marcovicci; she told me that she thought I had a really old-fashioned-sounding voice. She helped me form my first act and she loaned me a lot of her records to listen to when I was putting my next act together by myself."
Her family has encouraged her pursuit of a singing career. "I was living with my dad in California when I first started to sing on open mike nights at the Gardenia in 2000," says the twentysomething Maude. "My dad always said that I should sing because, when I was a kid, I sang around the house a lot. He did, too; we would call out opera phrases to each other. We all lived together until I was seven, and then my mom moved to New York with me and my sister, so I guess we were no longer what you would call a family unit. But my mom and dad were always very supportive." (By the way: Maude's father's grandmother was named Maude Apple -- hence her own name and her sister's. "The name Maude is derived from the French," M.M. notes, "but who knows where Apple came from. Maybe she picked apples and people started calling her that. Also, they were from Appalachia.")
Her rapturously received shows at Danny's helped Maude to win one of the biggest prizes in cabaret: an extended gig at the Oak Room, where she'll be appearing on Monday nights for four months, starting on March 7. (She actually played there for four Mondays last year, but it was a very low-profile stint.) "I'm basically going to begin with the 1930s program that I have now," she says, "but I can vary the material from week to week. The shows that I've done were created in Los Angeles, because that's where I've been living except when I'm working here. In L.A., I work with a man named John Boswell. I don't play piano myself, so I express my ideas about the arrangements to John as articulately as I possibly can and then he translates them onto the piano. I've taken what John and I did and brought it to Lanny Myers in New York. Over time, some things have changed as Lanny's own style and abilities have come in."
Of the musical gems that she's discovered in researching and performing her shows, does she have any particular favorites? "I love 'Remember My Forgotten Man,' which is from Gold Diggers of 1933, and then Ruth Etting recorded it later on. Some of those old songs are really dirty! The CD that I play before my show has great songs from the '20s and '30s, things like Cliff Edwards singing 'With My Little Ukulele in My Hand' and 'I'm Going to Give It to Mary With Love.'" As for her own recordings, Maude has two self-produced albums to her credit and isn't sure what her next step will be. She wonders, "What's the right thing to do? Should I pursue a record company or should I just become as business-savvy as I can and be my own boss? I don't know, so I guess I'll just take it as it comes." For more on Maude, visit www.maudemaggart.com.