Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

May 6–13, 1999

noises off

Book Her

Even in the world of slashpersons, where dual occupations rule, the double life of chanteuse/community relations manager Marilyn Flanagan seems a tad unlikely.

by David Warner

In the latter role at Center City's Barnes and Noble, she navigates the ever-thickening thickets of the publishing world to develop special events with appeal to bookstore customers.

As a vocalist, she's sung for Mayor Rendell and President Clinton, recorded a CD and established a loyal local following. On May 7 she gets her first big concert date: opening for McCoy Tyner at Electric Factory's new venue, the Gershman Y. A versatile and engaging performer, she can be demure, jazzy, tough and touching in the course of a set, or a conversation.

Meeting over lunch near Rittenhouse Square, Flanagan, 32, looks almost nothing like the glamorpuss on the cover of her CD. Lovely in a down-to-earth way—pink sweater with pearl buttons, straight blond hair—she's preppy with an edge. She chats up the actor/waiters, one of whom has suggested she do some Shakespeare programming at the bookstore; not exactly groundbreaking advice, but she treats it like gold. It's her job.

"They're my community and I'm relating."

One of the reasons she's so good with strangers is that she's been performing for them since she was a kid. Raised in Langhorne (Bucks County), she went pro at the age of 16, singing in musicals at the Bucks County Playhouse. (Showbiz runs in the family: Her grandmother was a Ziegfeld girl, one brother's a jazz musician and another's an actor/screenwriter in L.A.) After college in eastern Pennsylvania, she pursued a singing career in "dive bars in New Jersey, where they'd sooner spit in their beer as listen to you," then moved to New York, where a temp job for a special events firm sometimes included the bonus of singing for parties at posh NY nightspots (the Rainbow Room, the Plaza). She then won a gig that became a turning point: "band chick" in a touring top-40 band called Innervisions.

"Short shorts, bustier tops… I knew my life was hitting an all-time low when I was singing 'I Will Survive' in the Poconos."

So when the band came off the tour, she decided that rather than stay in New York and sing at weddings, she'd live in Langhorne with mom. A singing engagement at, of all places, the Princeton Barnes & Noble brought her into contact with that branch's community relations manager at the time, novelist Rachel Simon, who hooked her up with a similar position in Langhorne, leading eventually to the Center City job.

Flanagan has a knack for making serendipitous connections. Neil Jacobsen, the booking agent at Electric Factory who asked her to open for Tyner, is also a bibliophile; he used to call her up at the bookstore to chat about literature. As for Mayor Rendell, he's been "a great fan, a supportive friend" ever since she first performed at the City Hall Gala four years ago. It was Rendell who suggested Flanagan sing for Bill Clinton during the Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner here last fall. "I was out of my mind. When the Secret Service man asked me for my ID, I pulled out my CD and said, 'Here!'"

That CD hasn't found a national distributor yet. And, says Flanagan, having lived in "financial havoc" for so long, she's in no hurry to quit her day job.

But her career is definitely long past the band chick days. This month, in addition to the Tyner gig, she's at the intimate New Hope club Odette's May 14 and 15 and the Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival May 22; her CD, Live at Odette's (available at Barnes & Noble, natch), was recorded guess where. Could Live at the White House be far behind?

Bomb share… The timing was apt. Just at the moment when the old Chinese music teacher was throwing the movie's titular Red Violin onto the bonfire, the lights went up in the Prince Music Theater and the film festival's opening night crowd was asked to evacuate—all because of a mysterious little white box on Chestnut Street.

No one seemed to mind very much. As one onlooker commented nonchalantly, "So the bomb squad's gonna come. Let's go get drunk."

The box was soon deemed harmless. But it wasn't long before the rumors (and the jokes) had started snaking through the patrons' party at Toto like a Minas conga line. My favorites:

Most likely bomber: Linda Blackaby

Second most likely bomber: "Must have been an angry failed screenwriter," said Roland Legiarde-Laura of the Nuyorican Poets Café. "Happens all the time in New York." (Winners of the Set in Philadelphia screenwriting competition have their scripts read at the Nuyorican.)

Most likely ending to the movie: Samuel L. Jackson gets the damn violin.

And there was also some good news in circulation.

A few years back City Paper's festival coverage focused on young filmmaker Frank Cardon (who has since changed his last name to Villegas) and his powerful autobiographical film about growing up in the Philadelphia barrio, Teen Dreams. His mentor Eugene Martin (winner this year of the aforementioned Set in Philadelphia prize) reports that Frank works regularly as a film editor in NYC and is developing his first feature. He'll be part of Martin's young filmmakers' panel on Sunday, May 9 at noon at International House.

And a style note: Loved those pastel maracas. Very Michael-Graves-for-Target.

Flying high… The benefit for dancer/ choreographer Louise Gillette at the Painted Bride on Monday night raised almost $20,000 to help her continue her dance work while battling a brain tumor. It was a program of almost zany range: from the playful (Stephen Welsh's Nautical Dash, Gillette's Backyard Circus, Headlong's familiar Car Alarm) to the astonishing (Adam Battelstein's Figure Stick, Ed Groff's Implicit Consent) to the playful and astonishing (Kent De Spain's North American Travelogue II—who knew people could move wearing so many layers of clothes?). With fine work as well from Leah Stein and Matt Neenan, the event seemed to do exactly what Gillette wanted it to do: It brought the dance community together in a big way. No wonder she looked so radiant at the curtain call.  

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