Working in the Theatre: Marie’s Crisis

[title music] [sings We Both Reached For The Gun] You can’t really come to Marie’s Crisis just one night and think, “oh now I’ve gone to Marie’s Crisis.” Each pianist does have their own repertoire
and style and group of regulars and followers [music] It’s a place where we all can just come
and be the nerds that we are inside and nobody else really understands. [music] Marie’s is the island of misfit toys for people who love showtunes. It’s a place where people can come and
sing and have camaraderie and make everything go away and just have a happy,
singing, gay old time. [sings We Both Reached For The Gun] The first time I came here, I sat against the wall by the piano and ordered a drink and thought I was in heaven. Honestly, I moved to New York three months later and I spent more time here than I did in my own house. Marie’s Crisis Cafe itself was opened in early twenties prior to the building’s existence Thomas
Paine died and that’s partially why Marie’s Crisis gets its name from – Thomas
Paine’s “The Crisis Papers.” We only do showtunes so it’s strictly musical theatre 24/7. The only rule is to have a good time and participate. [bartender banter] The music has changed because the shows have
changed. But the old tunes, they’re the best. You know, some of these classics. “Oklahoma!” Lordy, I love it! Marie’s Crisis is a place to keep the Great American Songbook alive. We try to keep the music alive that is going to be transcendent and last for decades. So that the
next generation is gonna know “Someone To Watch Over Me.” You know, Broadway and show music has always been very important to me, but it’s not as central in American
culture as it used to be. People would go to the show and hear the songs and then they would hear them on the radio and dance to them in the clubs and then home and play them on the piano. [sings All That Jazz] The argument is that it was the rise of
rock and roll in the fifties when rock n’roll became the popular music of
America as opposed to singers of standards like Sinatra and Doris Day who would cover showtunes. Well, nobody plays Sondheim on the radio anymore. I think “Send in the Clowns” with the last Sondheim song that actually made it to the top 10 and even if it did. Showtunes are very special, in that they come out of a specific time, a specific character, specific place, so you never get tired of the
emotion because it’s new each time you sing it. [sings All That Jazz] I came here in 1987. I was working as a court reporter. I used to sing in the courthouse hallways between sessions and one of the lawyer said “I know the place you should go.” I’ve been
here for over 26 years the longest of any piano player by over 10 years. [sing “There Is Nothing Like a Dame”] When you walk by, you can’t really see what’s going on in here. So it seems a little scary. But a friend told me to come in. So I said I’ld try it. I came in at happy hour, 5:30/6:00. I finally realized what it was. It was a sing-along piano bar. Which is the only one we really have anymore and it was only showtunes. So then I was like “oh this is right up my alley.” After a couple years of college, I decided I wanted to move to New York and study acting. I was told, you should go play in a piano bar. And I really panicked because I didn’t have four thousand musical
theatre tunes from memory. [sings] I had a suitcase full of fake books and all this
stuff and I came with all that that’s what I used like first few months I
played here. [sings] I read, I use an iPad as opposed to some people who play from ear or from memory. So because I know the canon, I can read
most anything for musical theater so I had a whole of 600 scores or something like
that on my iPad, that I can pull from at anytime. I’m an audition pianist, so sometimes I have to sightread things that I’ve never heard of before. The craziest
request this person came up to me and said “can you play a Beyonce song?” I said “I don’t know what Beyonce songs.” She handed my a $100 bill and I said “what Beyonce song would you like?” So I played Single Ladies here one night. It’s interesting to see which of the new shows that come along really catch on at the bar. For
instance even though Bridges of Madison County didn’t have a very long run on
Broadway, it’s very popular here at Marie’s Crisis and people often has to sing songs from it. We play a lot of My Fair Lady. People love the Disney musicals, Lion King and Aladdin and Seasons of Love can always get the
crowd together. The big popular shows here are like Sound of Music and Little Shop and
Cabaret in Chicago. It’s kind of hard to escape without singing those. [sings Suddenly Seymour] The most difficult thing about the job is probably having to hear Suddenly Seymour four times a night. I think that’s the most painful thing. [more Suddenly Seymour] But everything else is golden. I haven’t gotten tired of anything yet. Even Do Re Me. I still sing along. [sings even more Suddenly Seymour] It always depends on the crowd, what musicals people want here. The younger crowd tends to want the newer musicals. The people who knew more musicals tend to prefer the old musicals. When I became a pianist, I thought to myself “I’m going to learn the songs that I wish the pianist played.” One thing I do to prepare for shift is I make sure I learned all the songs that I didn’t know
from the last shift so if someone asked me for a song I didn’t know it, I always
make sure I go home and learn it by the next shift. I try to play nine songs they know and one
song they don’t so they can learn about the theater. Although a lot of people come to
Marie’s wanting to sing, a lot of people are shy so you to coax them
out of their shell. You have to ask them what their favorite musical is,
what songs you know really well, what musical high school maybe. You know,
you’re in the belly of the beast here there’s no mic. It’s just you in a cage
and people are screaming your face and there’s something so fun and insane about it. [sings Big Spender] You have to really kind of read the
crowd and and read it quickly so that you can keep people’s interests up and keep the noise
level down the people will keep singing. Sometimes I’m a little mean with the crowd
just a jokey way because the meaner I am the more they like me. Which is why I often thought about the fact that I’m a piano bar dominatrix. [music] I’ve had people come in under the wood and sit on my lap. You have to
concentrate. You have to play while you’re talking to somebody else and making eye
contact with customers so makes it personal for them. I think it is probably the reason musical
works anyway. You know, it makes no sense people just bursting out the song for no
reason in the middle of a show but we love it anyway because we connect with
it somehow somehow just the you know exuding pure emotion is what music does. [sings Wig in a Box] Whenever a new piano player comes on, shifting
between happy hour and the evening shift the bartender who has been happy hour bartender will go onto the floor and will do a solo and pass around the piano players tip bowl and get everyone excited about the rest of the night. [sings Wig in a Box] It really is a bar like you see in the movies where people are regulars. People come, they make friends. This is what I call the Fellini version
of the Waltons. It is a place where you can go and feel at home and do the
things you love to other people just don’t understand. [sings Our Love is Here to Stay] I get a lot of lawyers. I get
psychiatrists. I get social workers. They are people who love musical theatre and would
like to do it for a living, but just can’t because they have support a family or
something like that. I try to come once a week because church for me. My family wasn’t very
religious, but my mom always took us to the church that had the best choir because we all loved to sing and so now you can come here and get all the choral singing without all
the Jesus stuff. [sings They Can’t Take That Away From Me] Good evening and welcome to Marie’s, where show-tunes come to die. I’ve been coming to Marie’s Crisis since really like 1980. It wasn’t a welcoming place for women back then. It was still pretty much known as
men’s bar and women weren’t welcome. I remember when I first started coming in. It took a while but eventually the regulars who were here they began to accept me and like me, but
the life has changed. If you come in on a Saturday night when it’s just
wall-to-wall people and they’re just all these people from everywhere they’re just SINGING
to their hearts content. It’s really sweet and marvelous. I love it here. As a woman, there’s not that many places it’s comfortable to walk in
alone. I remember thinking it wasn’t just a matter of feeling accepted but
actually feeling invited. Zooey Deschanel was in here. And somebody walks by and says, “Aren’t you?” and she just says “No. It’s not me.” He walked away. She turned to me and went “Shhhhhh.” It’s really great to sing in a group. There’s just an energy and an interconnectedness you don’t find
anywhere else or anyway else. [sings Popular] It’s very important for all of us to
have this in our lives. That’s why we, you know, whether at some point we were the
kind of people who you might have made fun of for loving musical theater, we sought each other out. Found this place and it’s a home for us. [sings New York, New York] Before coming here, I was always a bit of the odd one, even among friends, because I knew lyrics to
like Zip from Pal Joey and I would just break into it randomly. People found
it really odd that that’s what I would think of and I found this community here
that understood that and that even though, you know, I’m this random twenty
three-year-old I know these things and they are proud of me for that and they
understand me in a way that I guess a lot of other people I’ve met outside do
not. If someone’s having a bad day and they need to take two hours of their life to just calm down and realized that life’s ok. It just takes you out of everything and then takes everything away and it
takes you to imaginary place where for a moment you can be anything you want to
be through song and that’s why I love musical theatre. [sings Over the Rainbow]


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