Conference Call: Michael Garin & Mardie Millit: "Michael & Mardie...And Other Delights" at Urban Stages
After reading Michael Garin & Mardie Millit’s bio on their website, I couldn’t resist accepting the opportunity to interview them! Their bio is one of the more fun bios I have read: “Michael and Mardie serve up a 40-oz. tallboy of musical innuendo, pick-up lines and clever repartée that goes down with surprising ease. In the best tradition of piano bar, these neo-modern lounge artists don't fight the scene—they make it. Self-described as "Steve and Eydie meet The Three Stooges," the Manhattan piano/vocal duo have been known to stir up delicious mayhem wherever they go….”
1. This Thursday you are performing in Urban Stages Summer Melodies with your show Michael & Mardie...And Other Delights. How did you become part of this festival?
Mardie Millit: Like most things in New York, there were several connections. Our friend Victoria Ordin, who works for Urban Stages, introduced us to Tom Toce, the producing director of the festival. I performed solo in the finale of the Winter Rhythms series last December, and when I saw he was planning Summer Melodies, I immediately asked if Michael and I could perform this show we’d just written for the Provincetown CabaretFest. Also, it turns out that I got my Equity card long ago in a TheatreWorks USA production of his musical, Curious George. Show business is kind of a small town.
Michael Garin: I blame Patricia Fitzpatrick of the Provincetown CabaretFest. She said "We'll pay you if you create a show." So we did. And she did.
2. What are you looking forward to most about performing this show in this festival?
Mardie Millit: We’re looking forward to returning to the classic cabaret format here in New York. We’ve been performing what you might call a nightclub act around town for the last 14 years, in places like the Rainbow Room, the Monkey Bar, and the dear, departed Elaine’s, where we performed every Sunday night for the last three years of its existence. In those places we took requests and based our song choices on reading the room in the moment. So from night to night our repertoire could change radically, since between the two of us we do a little of everything from Mozart to Beyoncé.
In Other Delights, though, we have a set group of songs and commentary that follows a through-line. But we can’t work entirely scripted; each of us loves to break the other one up, so there’s always a lot of room for improvisation.
Michael Garin: Being on stage with Mardie Millit is the most fun in the world. Imagine Bea Lillie meets Carol Burnett, but with a hand grenade.
3. What is making you nervous?
Michael Garin: Rehearsals. Because that's what makes or breaks a show. Fortunately, we got this.
Mardie Millit: I think everyone worries about attendance, no matter how many advance tickets have been sold. There’s always the fear that you’ll be like the teenage girl who throws the elaborate sweet sixteen pool party and then no one shows up. Not that that happened to me or anything. (NOTE: That totally happened to me.) And there’s every performer’s desire to be liked and understood – but without that feeling of risk, the performance wouldn’t be exciting.
4. What should audiences know about this show before attending?
Michael Garin: We're just a couple of lovable knuckleheads who put on a terrific show.
5. Let's play with the title of the show Michael & Mardie...And Other Delights. In addition to your incredible voices, what are some other delights you want to let fans know about you?
Mardie Millit: Michael and I both grew up in small towns (he in Greenbelt, MD and I in Shadyside, OH) dreaming of being a part of the glamorous NYC nightlife we’d seen in movies and on TV. Our greatest desire as performers is to bring back that era in our work — whether the song is by Cole Porter or ABBA or Shaggy. We consider ourselves entertainers first. Whether we’re goofing around with original material or impressions, or singing a Broadway ballad, we want you to be able to lose yourself for a little while, and maybe leave in a better mood than when you came in. It’s something we take very seriously, this commitment to fun, in a world where “relevant” is the current watchword. I think talent and integrity and humor are always relevant. That’s what we aspire to.
Michael Garin: I've got nothing to add other than my first three show biz jobs from auditions were because I played spoons.
Mardie Millit: But WITH INTEGRITY.
6. How did you first come to meet each other?
Mardie Millit: I’ll take this one. We met at Birdland in 2005, at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, an “extreme open mic” that still happens every Monday night. My pal Billy Stritch is the regular pianist there, so I sang every week back in the early days. It’s the kind of thing where you might hear some kid from Iowa who’s never been onstage before....followed by Liza Minnelli or Chita Rivera.
The night Michael and I met, I sang “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” from On a Clear Day, and that song is in our current show because it’s one of my all-time favorites. A few songs later, Michael performed one of his more bizarre original songs (I think it was one called “Eat a Dog”), and I turned to the tourist next to me at the bar and said, “That guy’s a horse’s ass. I think I love him a little bit.”
I introduced myself when he came off stage, and I started singing occasionally with him at the Monkey Bar the following week. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
7. Your website states that you "Serve up a 40-oz. tallboy of musical innuendo, pick-up lines and clever repartée that goes down with surprising ease." What was the pick-up line that won you each over when meeting?
Mardie Millit: It wasn’t exactly a pickup line, but after I introduced myself to him, we sat at the bar telling each other terrible musician jokes (example: Q: What do you call a drummer in a three-piece suit? A: The Defendant) until we were laughing so hard we got shushed out of the place. Nothing’s sexier to me than a smart, funny guy anyway.
Michael Garin: For me it was when I made a horrible joke that failed (as it deserved to) and Mardie immediately called out in a spot-on Rocky the Squirrel impression..."Again?!? Now here's something we hope you'll really like!"
8. What is the best part about performing together?
Mardie Millit: The feeling of synergy that happens when we hit that groove together. And that’s always been there; it’s only strengthened over time. It’s pretty cool to watch the love of your life do something you’ve never seen him do before, AND get to ride that wave yourself.
Michael Garin: Watching a major talent like Mardie Millit come into her own and dazzle. She's brilliant, beautiful and hilarious. Soon, everyone will know. We could remake A Star is Born as a comedy because nothing would please me more than to cede the spotlight to her.
9. You are also described as "Steve and Eydie meet The Three Stooges." What was your favorite Steve/Eydie song and which stooge do you like best?
Michael Garin: I love Eydie's Spanish stuff. Especially what she recorded with Trio Los Panchos. My favorite Stooge is Larry Fine.
10. What are some other projects you have coming up that you can tell us about?
Michael Garin: I'm into my third year as house pianist at the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca. (Tuesday through Saturday from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.) And because busy is good, I'm writing music and lyrics for a stage adaptation of Ed Sorel's bestseller, Mary Astor's Purple Diary. Also, I have a Middle Eastern all-star band called The Habibi Kings. We will be at the Roxy on July 5th and at Birdland Theater in January 2020. Like I said, busy is good.
Mardie Millit: I sing with the Habibi Kings too — I even learned to pronounce Farsi so I could sing the fabulous Persian hit “Gole Sangam.” In October I’ll be playing "Berthe" in Pippin with Dream Productions, a repertory company I’ve been with for a couple of years, at the Laurie Beechman, and I’m working on a solo cabaret show that’s a juxtaposition of Mister Rogers and Stephen Sondheim. We’ve also got some more bookings of this show percolating. It’s good to be in the Happy Business.
More on Michael:
If you've spent any time in New York City after 9:00 p.m. in the last two decades, chances are you're already familiar with Michael Garin. You may have heard him playing piano and singing in such legendary boîtes as The Monkey Bar, The Rainbow Room, Café Feenjon, the notorious VIP Room at Limelight (where he performed for and with such luminaries as Frank Zappa, James Chance, David Lee Roth, and Kool & the Gang), and Elaine's. He has been hailed in the press as "a virtuoso musical wit" (Stephen Holden, The New York Times) who "presides over the best party in town" (David Finkle, the Village Voice).
With his on- and off-stage partner, the singer-comedienne Mardie Millit, Michael performed weekly at Elaine's for the last three years of the restaurant's life. Satirical, witty, acerbically intelligent, Michael has a number of specialty songs that he's known for. His repertoire is massive and eclectic: everything from Middle Eastern and Yiddish to standards to music from classic and obscure cult films to early rock and R&B. Will Friedwald of the Wall Street Journal calls him "perhaps the most extreme polymath I've ever encountered."
Michael's other credits include running the cabaret and writing original music for the Williamstown Theatre Festival (where he accompanied Elaine Stritch, Jane Krakowski, and Nathan Lane, to name a few). His two CDs, The Song of the Alpha Male and Tulsa is Just a Slut Spelled Backwards, are available on iTunes and at cdbaby.com. He co-wrote and co-starred in the hit Off-Broadway musical Song of Singapore, for which he won both the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards.
With Song of Singapore co-creators Robert Hipkens and Erik Frandsen, Michael is currently developing the '60s cult film comedy John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!for the musical stage. Academy Award winner William Peter Blatty has written the book based on his novel and screenplay.
Michael recently served as Associate Producer for the award-winning documentary film Buried Prayers, and His original song, "Elevator," is featured in the major motion picture 23 Blast, directed by Dylan Baker.
Currently Michael is working on music and lyrics for a musical based on legendary illustrator Ed Sorel's bestselling book, Mary Astor's Purple Diary.
More on Mardie:
Equal parts Lucy, Gracie Allen and a young Bette Midler, the vocalist and comedienne Mardie Millit, "besides being easy on the eyes, has an impressive vocal range that stretches from Porter to Puccini" (Tom Gates, Palm Beach Society Magazine).
Mardie held forth every Sunday at Elaine's, the world-famous nightspot, for three years, where she became known for her late-night duets with TV and movie heartthrobs and even a former head of the CIA. She has also made regular appearances at the Monkey Bar, Birdland, the Metropolitan Room, 54 Below, and Joe's Pub, both as a solo performer and with partner Michael Garin.
Mardie created the role of Jenny "Iceberg" Ericson in the stage adaptation of Academy Award winner William Peter Blatty's John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! Her other stage credits include Gerda, the Nazi coloratura in Billy Stritch and Mark Waldrop's Lily and Lily, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Musetta in La Bohème, Christine in Maury Yeston's Phantom, Sophie in Terrence McNally's Master Class, Sarah in Guys & Dolls, Maria in The Sound of Music, and a host of experimental off-off-Broadway plays, including the Fringe Festival hit Moonchild, wherein L. Ron Hubbard met Satan.
Most recently she appeared as Joanne in a sold-out run of Sondheim's Company at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, and she continues to make guest appearances at nightclubs and cabaret venues all over NYC.