It’s been a stellar double-header this week at NYC’s 54 Below (for award-winning vocalist Eric Michael Gillett. He not only presented his own show, “Careless Rhapsody: An Evening Dedicated To The Lyrics of Lorenz Hart,” but the multi-talented star of Broadway (”Sweet Smell of Success,” “Kiss Me Kate”) and New York’s cabaret circuit directed Tovah Feldshuh in her show, “On, Off, and Now Under Broadway!”
Gillett has a strong voice and is at his best when he uses it forcefully; Lorenz Hart’s love songs seemed an unlikely repertoire. His progression of suites moved from numbers about Friends and Lovers (”I Could Write A Book”), Falling in Love (”Blue Moon” was a standout), New Love, The Heart to Heartache . He used his full baritone voice in “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” with near perfect phrasing. The set continued to pick up with “Have You Met Miss Jones?” a selection is his well-crafted new love suite. He communicates the wit and wisdom of the songs directly to the audience. His gifted musical director Don Rebic and bassist Dick Sarpola are pros who complemented Gillett masterfully.
Knowing how amusing and insightful Gillett’s patter can be, I wanted to hear more of it. Instead he sang mostly uninterrupted suites of love songs paying careful attention to each word and phrase. Gillett shared that they had a lot in common with Hart, who inspired the evening. He has related to the composer ever since he first heard the Mamas and the Papas do “Sing For Your Supper” from “The Boys From Syracuse.” “He’s a society marginalizer for those of us who have moved past our middle ages,” Gillett said. “For me Larry Hart’s music and lyric writing will live forever. He found a place to put his stuff, his feelings about love and passion. He was an unremarkable looking man (unlike Gillett) with a disproportionately large head, who didn’t trust the idea of an unfettered heart.”
Gillett did a heartfelt job on “Careless Rhapsody” from “By Jupiter.” A trio of terrific female vocalists – Eva Kantor, Bailey Means and Marissa Mulder — joined him for his encore and his favorite Rogers and Hart song, “Sing For Your Supper.”
After the show, Gillett reflected on Hart as a man and talent. “He explored his insecurities. The question for me is had he lived in a different era, would he have been as good, or would he have been freer and not as good a writer?” Gillett clearly focused on Hart’s lyrics. He wondered aloud, “Why are we alone? Why do we choose safety over risk?”
The 60-something Gillett shared that his selections in the seven song sequence, “Falling in Love,” which began with “Falling in Love with Love” and ending with “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” said everything. “It’s the story of my life.” Perhaps his show through the musical selections reveals as much about Gillett as Hart. The set ends on an optimistic note.
Cabaret fans will want to catch one of Gillett’s two upcoming performances (February 26 & 27 at 7 pm) of “Careless Rhapsody” directed by Arthur Masella at 54 Below. (Www.54below.com).
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