Megan Mullally And Supreme Music Program At The Samueli Theater Last Night

Megan Mullally and Supreme Music Program
October 8, 2010
Orange County Performing Arts at the Samueli Theater

As fabulous as Karen Walker could be, she pales in comparison to Megan Mullally's real life stage divadom. The petite, bespectacled Mullally dispensed with the onstage banter, launching straight into her first song “Up A Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael (opening track on her most recent album Free Again!). She hovered between breathy coos and sultry wails on the meandering standard. 

Drummer Joe Berardi brushed out a gentle rhythm as the arrangement grew fuller with multi-instrumentalist Doug Livingston boisterously joining in on the sousaphone. She followed up this classic '30s tune with a song released more than 60 years later: PJ Harvey's “Down by the Water.” The program remained faithful to the original arrangement of the song, save for the fact that they performed it acoustically. Keyboardist Greg Kuehn expertly tapped out the ominous bassline on the lower keys on his piano.


After her third song, “Shakedown on 9th Street” by Ryan Adams, she finally addressed her adoring, older fans. “Our next song is 'Wind and Rain,' which is a traditional song that's dark and interesting to us.” The duet between Mullally and vocalist/guitarist Stuart Mathis was a chilling highlight, her soprano voice hauntingly crystalline above the spare guitar accompaniment. At the end of the song she added, “By the way, he made the violin out of her bones.” The audience laughed, and she continued her journey through the modern songbook with a cover of Tom Waits' “Mr. Siegal.” She has not yet recorded this song, but her version gives the original a run for its money.

The most surprising choice for the evening was also the newest song: “Charlie Darwin” by indie-folk trio the Low Anthem. Their arrangement was buoyed by Kuehn's mournful harmonium and Peter Jandula's sawing violin. Mullally employed her angelic voice to great effect, ably transfiguring Ben Knox Miller's plaintive male vocals into her high female register. After the song, she mentioned to the audience that she spent the first six years of her life in Costa Mesa before moving to Oklahoma, recalling how it was a shock to live in a place with actual seasons.
The musical odyssey progressed from selections by country greats George Jones and Hank Williams to Billie Holliday and the Rolling Stones. The band hit perhaps their peak of the evening on “St. James Infirmary Blues,” made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. Trumpet player Larry Willams drove the song with his blaring horn intro and Mullally let loose with her most demonstrative, theatrical performance of the evening. With arms flailing, she belted out the jazz classic and the band matched her with a brassy and dramatic attack. It's a world away from Karen Walker's “Unforgettable” with Jack McFarland.
After exiting, Mullally and company returned to the stage for the encore. She grabbed the microphone and said, “Surprise! Everyone knows you're coming back, but I love the theatrical tradition.” She switched gears for the first song, a rendition of Franz Schubert's “Ave Maria” in English. The religious piece showed off a different dimension of her musical styling along with her excellent vibrato. This woman can hold a note. 
The band capped off the night with their take on Billie Holiday's version of “You Took Advantage of Me.” They effected a more forceful approach on the arrangement, and Mullally–while somewhat approximating Holiday's fragile vocals–also kicked the volume and power up a notch. Williams' raucous trumpet and Berardi's unusually thunderous drums brought the song to a fever pitch. “I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know my elbow from my ear,” howled Mullally, which summed up the vibe of the show succinctly. Everyone was swept up in the fervor of the timeless music and old school stage presence.
Personal Bias: I loved the show Will and Grace and I absolutely adored her song choices for the evening. 
Crowd: Let's just say there was no one under the age of 30 years old that attended the show…except for me.
Overheard in the Crowd: “'Sing 'Songbird!”' yelled a woman seated in the audience. Mullally replied, “The Fleetwood Mac song I lost my virginity to?” Another man in the crowd shouted out, “Reenact that too!” Mullally started singing, “For you, they'll be no crying/For you, the sun will be shining,” and abruptly stopped and said, “Hell no!” Everyone laughed.
Random Notebook Dump: After the show, Mullally's husband Nick Offerman from NBC's Parks and Recreation jokingly told me that the romantic message spelled out on the bed for their anniversary surprise might have been written in Tootsie Rolls rather than roses.
Hoagy Carmichael- “Up A Lazy River”
PJ Harvey- “Down By The Water”
Ryan Adams- “Shakedown on 9th Street”
Traditional- “Wind and Rain”
Tom Waits- “Mr. Siegal”
The Low Anthem- “Charlie Darwin”
George Jones- “The Grand Tour”
Written by Lillian Green- “In the Dark”
Written by Sam Coslow and Will Grosz- “Tomorrow Night”
Written by Joe Raposo- “Bein' Green”
Hank Williams- “Lovesick Blues”
Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards)- “Back Street Girl”
Billie Holiday- “Don't Explain”
Traditional- “What Wondrous Love This Is”
Traditional- “St. James Infirmary Blues”
Decemberists- “I Was Meant For The Stage”
Bobbie Gentry- “Fancy”
Franz Schubert- “Avé Maria”
Written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart- “You Took Advantage of Me” 

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