Brandon Cutrell
Brandon Cutrell
Feinstein's at the Regency goes to the head of the nightlife class for being as commercially savvy as it is far-sighted. Some time ago, the club began to offer special, one-night only performances by up-and-coming entertainers on what would otherwise be dark Monday nights at this ritzy boite. For these shows, the room knocks down its usual hefty cover charge to something more middle class and lowers the minimum in order to entice audiences to experience cabaret artists who are new to the art form or are simply less famous than the club's usual headliners.

The policy would appear to be working. Recently, rising star Brandon Cutrell got his shot at Feinstein's after having been favorably reviewed last year at The Duplex by Stephen Holden of The New York Times. Cutrell's friends, family, and fans came out in large numbers to support him. The evening paid off for the club in the short term but, even more important, Feinstein's did its part to help bring a talented entertainer to another level. The rest, of course, was up to Cutrell.

A Feinstein's credit means a lot in the entertainment world, and all concerned knew what was riding on this performance. Cutrell arrived on stage to one of the biggest ovations we've ever heard at this venue, even for stars like Rosemary Clooney and Brian Stokes Mitchell. He gave his supportive audience good reason to cheer: With his great sense of humor, strong acting, and considerable vocal skills, he delivered the kind of show that turns "promise" into national bookings.

Supported by musical director Ray Fellman at the piano and Julie Danielson on bass, Cutrell took command of the room and let the audience know unequivocally that "Tonight's the Night" (Gershwin). Entirely comfortable on stage, he made the transition from hosting the raw and rowdy Mostly Sondheim open microphone gig on Friday nights at The Duplex to a still sassy but controlled presentation; his downtown personality remained intact, but he skillfully tailored it to make it appropriate for Feinstein's. Nor did he buckle under and come up with a program of songs to appease the uptown sophisticates. Instead, Cutrell won over any doubters with a carefully chosen mix of great material written largely by contemporary songwriters such as Alanis Morissette, Todd Almond, and Tim DiPasqua.

Under the wise direction of Phil Geoffrey Bond, the show -- titled Baggage -- fully displayed the singer's personality, with obscure songs like "Halley's Comet" (Chuck Coleman) and "My Old Addiction" (David Wilcox) used to excellent effect. Perhaps most successful of all was a story/song arc in which Cutrell shared his Indiana roots: "I Know This Town" (Cheryl Wheeler) and "I Am a Town" (Mary Chapin Carpenter).

In his enthusiasm, Cutrell talked a bit too much and the evening was a tad too long. But that's understandable, given that this was the first time out of the gate for this show. The rough edges will surely be smoothed over easily, and soon: In July, Cutrell will cart his Baggage to the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Café. (Phil Bond has taken over as booking manager there.) For this performer, the future is now.

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[To contact Barbara & Scott Siegel directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]