Melissa Marshall lights up Tango’s Lounge every Thursday evening
There’s a savviness and veteran quality that brings out Melissa Marshall’s versatile vocal talent and amiable personality. It’s evident in the playful banter she intersperses into her performances, and the skill with which she sizes up those attending the shows she and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Petiani put on every Thursday evening at Tropicana’s Tango Lounge.
“It worked!” she jokes when a lounge patron just happens to stand up after her rendition of Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet.” And following Petiani’s cool interpretation of Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” she quips, “Around here they call ’em nor’easters.”
Marshall is originally from hurricane country, Miami, and the daughter of a South Florida entertainment director who routinely conducted orchestras for many of the biggest names in show business from the late 1950s through the early ’70s. At the recommendation of her agent, she migrated to this area about 23 years ago and was part of a select society of entertainers who worked the casino circuit before the arrival of 24-hour gambling. Like Petiani (a Cape May native whose former band Then & Now was a mainstay on the South Jersey club scene), Marshall has remained an integral part of the landscape ever since. But you might say her show business start was a little slow to develop.
“I was actually very, very shy growing up,” says Marshall, who was voted the 2010 Atlantic City Weekly Reader’s Choice Nightlife Awards recipient for Best Lounge Act. “It really wasn’t until I was maybe about 19 or 20 that I said, ‘OK, this is what I want to do.’ I was really on the fence up till then. My father [Jerry Marshall] had me in the recording studio at age 10 or 11, but I found it very grueling and stopped, and did not pick it back up again until years later.”
Early in her adult life she had aspirations of either becoming a psychiatrist or entering the field of advertising, but the bug to perform bit her following a dare from a friend.
“I failed a dare, and [as a consequence] had to sing in a dining room,” she says. “It finally just came out of me and I’ve been singing ever since.”
Marshall began singing in bands before seizing the leadership role and assembling her own seven-piece band that toured a sizable stretch of the country. She abandoned the rigors of the road in the mid-1980s to settle into the A.C. club and casino scene.
“I consider myself an independent contractor, but when I’m performing at a casino I’m that casino’s employee,” she says. “I represent them and I have to represent them in a very good manner. I have to make the people who come here feel welcome, I want them to enjoy themselves, I want them to come back and I want them to remember me. Let’s face it, they don’t have to be here and drinks can be a little pricey in casino lounges, so if you can get them to sit down and stay awhile, you’re doing your job.”
Their act drew a sizeable showing on a recent Thursday evening (5-7:40pm) at Tango’s — an open-air lounge that sort of serves as the Trop’s gateway to The Quarter — including many who took in the show from the courtyard. Marshall and Petiani never work off a pre-conceived set list, but try to assess what the audience might be in the mood to hear.
“The main thing that I try to accomplish, and that I’ve tried to accomplish my whole entire career, is being able to accommodate every type of music and do it as well as I can to every age bracket,” she says. “You’ve got every [adult] age bracket in here, and you’ve got to be able to keep the interest of people in their 20s through their 90s, sometimes all at one time. You’ve also got to become very good at reading what it is they want to hear, taking them from one point to another, and melding it all together so that they enjoy themselves.”
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