Scott Raneri

November 22, 2019 | By | Add a Comment

The Marvelous Mr. Marzo (written by Joey Virgo and directed by Mark Copron) is one of those cabaret shows that is also a confessional monodrama. But instead of telling and singing of a troubled romantic relationship or a battle with personal demons, singer and actor Scott Raneri relates the tale of a family secret that was unearthed after he took a DNA test that proved that the man he’d assumed was his paternal grandfather was not. His actual grandfather was the presumed grandfather’s close friend.

There’s something about the revelation of a long-kept-hidden secret like this one that thoroughly fascinates audiences. If not, why would such a revelation serve as the plot point in classic dramas going way back to Sophocles’s Oedipus, not to mention the scenarios of daytime TV serial dramas? I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether I was told the whole truth about every limb, branch, and twig of my family tree. In Raneri’s case, revelation of the truth caused some fallout both for him and for others in the family. It turns out that the big reveal about his lineage was only one of multiple secrets to be exposed about the grandmother.

The juicy story didn’t seem to have quite enough juice to fill out a cabaret show; at points, Raneri and scriptwriter Virgo include segments about Raneri’s own love life and career obstacles. While there’s some attempt to tie these story elements to the grandma secret, they still feel tangential. This problem certainly doesn’t ruin The Marvelous Mr. Marzo; it just makes the narrative seem a bit sprawling.

Happily, Raneri has a likeable stage presence, and he holds our attention with his talents as storyteller and singer. He has a deep, warm singing voice with a good deal of flexibility. His musical performances run the gamut from deeply sincere to jaunty and suave to saucily bawdy. In some songs he tends to sing long stretches on the loud side—something he may want to adjust. But he creates some fine suspense in the spoken passages, and at one point in the Nov. 14 performance, he revealed a fact that made me gasp.

He begins with three songs in a row that deftly set up the basic outline of the story before he delivers any patter at all. “Secret” (Catherine Pierce) is an ominous warning about how the truth will out because people tend to feel compelled to share secrets with others. Next up is the more-lighthearted “Operator” (William Spivery, based on “Operator, Operator” by Wynona Carr), in which Raneri (making some lyrical adjustments) puts a call in to Jesus in heaven to check in on his errant grandmother. Finally, there’s “Who Am I?” (Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, Herbert Kretzmer; from Les Misérables). Here, Raneri answers the musical question he’s posed by proclaiming, “I’m Butch Marzo’s grandson.”

In subsequent numbers, he speculates about what Butch’s philosophy of life and love may have been, singing Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “When in Rome (I Do As the Romans Do).” And with “He’s a Tramp” (Peggy Lee, Sonny Burke), he wonders what his grandmother really felt about Butch.

The show touches on the ways various members of the family were affected by the shocking news. In a segment focusing on his mother, he notes that she insisted he take piano lessons as a child. He then sits in for musical director Brad Ross at the keyboard, accompanying himself while singing “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans), segueing into “Mama, a Rainbow” (Larry Grossman, Hal Hackady). I found this to be the most affecting sequence in the set.

In addition to the fine support he gets from Ross, Raneri is fortunate to have David Ashton (woodwinds) and Marco Panascia (bass) with him at this show. The orchestrations by Ben Morris include particularly lovely work on a version of Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around.”

The Marvelous Mr. Marzo
Don’t Tell Mama  –  October 14, 27, November 14, December 7

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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