by: Sandi Durell
When I told a friend I was going to 54 Below to hear songs that Meryl Streep has sung, they gave me a funny look as if I had lost it, saying “Meryl Streep is an actress, not a singer.” Be enlightened – Mary Louise Streep, born in Summit, N.J. in 1959 has been singing since the age of 12, having studied as a classical singer. It took a creative thinker and Streep aficionado like Scott Coulter to unearth the history, films and songs to prove the point . . . which he did brilliantly in a one-night only treasure trove of songs featuring some of Broadway and Cabaret’s top talents.
If you were asked in what movie did Meryl sing for the first time and what song, you’d probably be scratching your head like most in the filled-to-capacity room. Well, I won’t keep you guessing – it was 1985 Silkwood and the song . . . “Amazing Grace” which, during the evening, was sung by MAC Award Winner Georga Osborne, while Elizabeth Ward Land, starring in Amazing Grace currently on Broadway, sang “Slipping Through My Fingers” (Mamma Mia!).
The evening progressed as a mash-up of music rather than a timeline, while our most congenial and glib host not only presented insight into legend Streep’s many films, Academy, Golden Globes, Emmy and SAG Awards, but showed off his gorgeous tenor tones opening the evening with “Drift Away” (Ricki & The Flash) accompanied by Michael Holland on piano/guitar and Steve Doyle on bass.
A powerful Regina O’Malley covered not only Into the Woods with “Children Will Listen/Stay With Me” but later returned with Streep accents from movies including Doubt, Iron Lady, Julie & Julia to name a few; Danette Holden was lewd and lusty in her short frilly dress, showing off great acting chops with “Me” (1990, Postcards From the Edge).
Molly Pope was direct and honest with “He’s Me Pal” (1989, Ironweed); Broadway bound composer Marcy Heisler gave a soft, sweet and passionate rendition of “You Don’t Know Me” (1990, Postcards From the Edge) – a composer who sings as well as she writes!
In from Nashville was Coulter’s long time friend Carla Lawson (they went to Junior High School together), who described herself as someone who sings in a bar with a lot of chicken wire in front, and wowed the audience with Shel Silverstein’s “I’m Checkin’ Out (of this Heartbreak Hotel)” – (1990, Postcards From the Edge).
Tony Nominee Sally Mayes came to the rescue (Tex Arnold on piano) singing Weill/Brecht’s whimsical love-hate “Surabaya Johnny” which she learned in a couple of days, proving her prowess as a great actress and singer. (Streep appeared in the 1977 musical Happy End where she sang this).
The most successful movie musical ever, Mamma Mia!, came alive as Caitlyn Caughell knocked “Dancing Queen” out of the ballpark with Scott and Michael doing backup vocals and, from the current Mamma Mia! cast, Mary Callahan hit the bell in a powerful rendition of “The Last Midnight” from Into The Woods, returning for another audience pleaser, the title song “Mamma Mia!”
From Broadway’s recent laugh-a- minute comedy, It Shoulda Been You, Lisa Howard soared on “The Winner Takes It All” (Mamma Mia!). She will be going solo at 54 Below when she debuts in October.
And the bottom line is – to all who don’t know about Meryl Streep, the singer, let’s hope that Scott Coulter and 54 Below reprise this evening! Oh, what a night of music and talent!
254 W 54TH ST, CELLAR, NEW YORK, NY 10019