By: Paulanne Simmons
At the opening of her new cabaret show, Back When We Were Beautiful,” on February 17, Meg Flather told the audience, “I love songs that tell stories, and I love stories that paint pictures.” The particular stories she wanted to tell and the pictures she wanted to paint this evening at Don’t Tell Mama were all about women. And so, with Tracy Stark at the piano and coming in for harmony, Flather traced the complexities of a woman’s life from first romance to wise maturity.
Flather’s voice, warm and emotive, yet as precise and bright as cut crystal, is especially well suited to express the agony of love, whether in youth (Suzanne Vega’s “Gypsy”) or old age (Phil Hanseroth’s “The Story”). But it’s equally effective when dealing with the challenges of everyday life (Donna Summer and Michale … “She Works Hard for the Money” and Terre Roche’s “Mr. Sellack”).
It’s also a pleasure to watch Flather’s wry sense of humor take over when she delivers Melanie’s quintessential stalker song “Brand New Key,” all the while miming a skater making her way to her beloved. (Flather gives director Lennie Watts credit for that move.)
Although Flather has dedicated this show to all women who are judged by their makeup, their tone of voice and their clothing, she never lets us forget that this is also a personal story. With a total lack of irony, she relates her career in cosmetics, which began at the Clinique counter when she was replenishing her personal supply after her pocketbook was stolen. In a more emotional note, she recounts the challenges faced by her mother when trying to fulfill her dream of a college education.
But always Flather’s stories provide context for the music. The women she describes are bad (Joan Armatrading’s “I Love It When You Call Me Names”) or sweet (Jerry Herman’s “My Best Girl”). They are brave (Flaherty and Ahren’s “Back to Before”) and sarcastic (Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s biting “Keep Young and Beautiful” … if you want to be loved).
Flather’s final message is one of optimism. And so we learn in Mercer and Mancini’s “Moon River,” “We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend.”
Sailing down the river with Flather, making our way to that rainbow is a joy and an affirmation. Best of all, Flather says “Back When We Were Beautiful” will be back. So stay tuned.
Another Show of Back When We Were Beautiful with Meg Flather has been added March 15 at 7pm at Don’t Tell Mama.