With its unique musical blend of pop arrangements and show tunes, Give My Regards captures the influence of contemporary music on today's Broadway wannabes while also expressing a surpassing love of musical theater. Lennie Watts is, indeed, giving his regards to Broadway, and not a little bit of his heart. The show tells its story almost exclusively through show tunes, many of which have been sung by Watts in out-of-town productions. From a very hip opening that cleverly intertwines a dozen famous Broadway songs to a character-driven "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" from Guys and Dolls, the act provides a wide variety of styles and attitudes. You even get Lennie's hilarious take on "Circle of Life" from The Lion King (John/Rice).
One would not usually expect a man to sing "Something Wonderful" from The King and I, but Watts has a gift for setting up a song beautifully. He quietly notes that this famous tune always reminds him of his father; while it's not his strongest performance, it provides a lesson in winning over an audience. Watts also has a gift for patter. For example, his story about going to Korea to play the Cowardly Lion in a production of The Wizard of Oz could easily be the centerpiece of an award-winning comedy act. His dry, deadpan delivery, coupled with exquisite timing, suggests he could be a very successful standup comedian if he wasn't already a standout singer.
Colette Hawley makes her directorial debut with this show and she starts her new career with a dazzling display of originality. There's a runway extending from the stage (cutting down the seating capacity of the room) that is used very effectively. The act also boasts a large number of backup singers, all of whom add considerably to the show. The three most prominently employed are Julie Corbett Leon, Karen Mack, and Deb Rascoe. They are joined later by Eric Pickering and Randy Lester. Orchestrating all of this with considerable flair is musical director Steven Ray Watkins, who also plays piano and conducts the gifted keyboardist David Maiocco and the stylish drummer Joe Mowatt. When these forces combine, the sound of the show is truly lush.
One of the distinguishing elements of Give My Regards is the tension between its robust sense of humor and its underlying, wistful sadness. Lennie Watts is a very talented man but the show is largely about how he has yet to get his big Broadway break; he makes us laugh about this even as he demonstrates an unshakeable commitment to his quest. In the face of failure, Watts is heroically defiant. So, despite the jokes and the often thrilling renditions of show tunes, the subtext of this act is extremely moving. Audiences are leaving the back room of Don't Tell Mama with the feeling that they've seen a very special show...and they have.
Give My Regards can be seen again (and again) at Don't Tell Mama the next two Sundays, April 28 and May 5 at 9pm.
[Ed. Note: Beginning next week, the Siegels will be providing increased coverage of the NYC cabaret scene for TheaterMania. The "Cabaret Notes" column will appear every Tuesday and Friday as of April 30. You can also find additional cabaret reviews by the Siegels at Stu Hamstra's www.cabarethotlineonline.com]