Parents and Children

Maude Maggart at the Algonquin Hotel on Saturday, April 19.

Maude Maggart is a talented, highly proficient vocalist, but it’s her ability to convey sincerity, to feign sincerity, that makes her mesmerizing. To truly convey someone else’s song—or perhaps even one’s own—a singer must be able to act, to play the part, and Maggart is a bewitching interpreter, artfully changing her expression, her bearing, the very timbre of her voice to match the mood of each song she sings.

The effect is all the more charming for being acknowledged as a contrivance. After a fervently passionate rendition of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” for example, Maggart suddenly shifted her weight, adopted a cheeky grin, and disavowed the lyrics’ someday-my-prince-will-come mentality. That kind of reflection turns up over and over in her between-song patter, which might sound pedantic, but in fact, that thoughtfulness, the sense that she really thinks about the songs and how they relate to each other, invites her listeners to hear them afresh. She makes obscure songs sound familiar and old standards sound new and all of them sound breathtakingly beautiful.

The theme for Maggart’s latest show, Parents and Children, was particularly appropriate for my party because Sean and I were there with my parents. A couple years ago, when my brother Michael and I attended a show of hers on a lark and enjoyed it immensely, Mom told me she wished she had been there too, so when I learned a few months ago that Maggart would be performing in New York on their next visit, I immediately called her to suggest that we go. Afterward, I half-regretted the idea—what if they didn’t enjoy her performance, after I’d talked her up so much?—but I needn’t have worried. She entranced us all.

And how could she not? Her diverse set list spanned several decades and flirted with different genres. She sang an old Judy Collins number, for example, as well as Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and Rodgers and Hart’s playful “A Little Birdie Told Me So.” (I don’t usually enjoy whistling—can’t stand it, actually—but her whistled chorus in that last was so playful and melodious that I forgot my own prejudice.) I was particularly happy to hear the elegant, long-lined “Beautiful” from Sunday in the Park with George, a production of which Sean and I so enjoyed last year.

But the highlight, for me, was “The Man I Love,” despite the fact that I, too, rather disapprove of the song’s glamorization of passivity. It’s still a Gershwin song, though—a standard for a reason—and when Maggart stopped playing with lighter, breathier tones and loosed the full richness of her gorgeous voice, I didn’t only believe that she believed. She cast such a rapturous spell that, for one crystalline moment, I believed, too.

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