If you're a musical theater performer entering the world of cabaret, the greatest challenge you face is to comfortably "be yourself" on stage. The goal is to turn a cabaret club into your living room, to knock down the theatrical fourth wall and simply entertain "in the moment." Well, for Rob Evan of Jekyll & Hyde fame, this is the moment. Evan is not just starring, he's shining in a cabaret show titled The Kid Inside at Arci's Place. Delivering economically written patter in the easiest, most conversational style imaginable and putting his own personal stamp on a program of largely familiar songs, Evan proves to be an accomplished cabaret artist with the considerable advantage of a robust and beautiful baritone voice.
A tall, well-built man (he's a former college football player), Evan automatically commands the stage in an intimate club. With some swagger and an opening power ballad, he could easily dominate the room--but that's not his desire. Rather than attacking us vocally, he charms us. Aided by the accomplished Neil Berg as his musical director/pianist, and backed by a three-piece combo, Evan opens his act with a dreamy rendition of "Pure Imagination" (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Without a break, he then immediately creates the image of a shy, young boy caught at a critical moment during a baseball game in "What You'd Call a Dream" (Craig Carnelia) from Diamonds. Open, vulnerable, childlike, Evan shows us "The Kid Inside" himself even before he sings that exceptional Carnelia tune from Is There Life After High School?
For much of the act, Evan sticks pretty close to the theme of exploring his inner child. Beginning with the persona of a little boy, he brings out a huge, stuffed teddy bear and sings "Simon Smith & the Amazing Dancing Bear" (Randy Newman). After serving prop duty, the bear is handed to a ringside patron to be held and cuddled for a big chunk of the show. Now, Evan is getting older: He's got a crush on his teacher, and so he sings "Magellan" (Carnelia again), capturing at once an innocent yearning and a gently comic self-awareness. The sweet teenager becomes a smirking wolf in "Hello, Little Girl" from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. The arc of Evan's show, directed by Ellie Ellsworth, is clear--and, within the overall structure, Evan sings each song from the inside out. Even "Trouble," from Meredith Willson's The Music Man, is given a playful twist in an impressively focused rendition as Evan leaves the stage and mingles with the audience.
Some of Evan's strongest performances come in the last third of his show. By this point, he has strayed from his "kid inside" theme, but it's worth it to hear his searing version of "Money to Burn" (Wildhorn/Murphy) from The Romantics and "What Is it About Her?" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, which has the effect of an emotional tsunami. Then, as if the woman he was just singing about had left him, a devastated Evan looks for solace in his childhood teddy bear. "Mine!" he says, grabbing the plush toy back from the ringside patron. This leads to his quiet, lovely, tear-stained rendition of Randy Newman's "Marie," suffused with pain, suffering, and theatrical brilliance.
If Evan faltered in his finale, "Being Alive" from Sondheim's Company, he more than made up for it with his soaring encore: "Anthem," from Chess (Andersson & Ulvaeus/Rice). Speaking of which, there are no borders we won't cross to catch Rob Evan's next cabaret act; meanwhile, he's at Arci's Place through June 23.