The show at Don't Tell Mama is called entitled. (lowercase and with period included), and you're entitled to know why you should see it. You should see it despite the fact that it's casual to a fault, played too much to an in-crowd of friends and colleagues. And you should see it despite the fact that the original music written for the show by Sean Michael Flowers and Patrick Vaughn is distinctly mediocre. You should visit this cabaret production for one reason, and one reason only: to see and hear its scintillating star, Brandon Cutrell.
As a cabaret debut, entitled. is an act of great courage, because its star doesn't sing a single song you will know. Flowers and Vaughn have written a few genuinely good tunes for Cutrell, but the rest of the time this young performer is doing everything in his power to turn straw into gold. And faster than you can say Rumplestiltskin, he does it; even if only fleetingly, Cutrell makes some of the show's lesser songs glow.
Possessing a bright, clear, Broadway-style singing voice, this young theater-trained performer is a remarkably poised, quicksilver actor. He looks like he's fourteen but he seems to possess the musical theater skills of a veteran. His talent as an interpreter of lyrics is on dazzling display in the show's strongest segment, written by Flowers. It's a two-song dramatic arc, in which Cutrell first describes an incandescent descent into romance in "I'm Ready" before a slide into heartbreak with "Cleveland." In the first song, by far the better of the two, Cutrell sings with a fluttering poignancy, at once innocent and daring; it's a winsome and winning combination. The second tune has its moments, but Cutrell turns those moments into memories--he's that good.
Cutrell's decision to make his cabaret debut in a show of all original music has its plus side. Rather than performing a show of standards, in which his version of every song might be compared to some classic rendition of the past, his performance of brand new tunes allows him to be judged purely on his own merits. And those merits are many. He has a flair for musical comedy, equally impressive dramatic skills, and a polished sense of timing that he puts to use for both. Just as impressively, he seems to know who he is as a performer. He brings his youthfulness into focus in a song called "The Kids Back Home", and there is an appealing self-awareness in his performance of the show's smartly written finale, "I Have an Ending."
Though the show has a loose and unpolished structure, punctuated by Cutrell's playfully adlibbed patter, virtually all of the songs are tightly directed. The direction by Phil Geoffrey Bond has energy and makes full use of the performer's talents. From the act's sharp, no-nonsense start to a raucous comedy number in which the madcap nature of the tune is enhanced by Cutrell's use of three different microphones, there is always a knowing directorial touch somewhere in evidence. There is also a nicely orchestrated arrival by guest singer Kristy Cates, who sleekly and effectively emerges from the audience mid-song to join Cutrell on "Wherever You Are."
Singer/songwriter Michael Holland was another guest who charmed the audience, both with his patter and his two songs, each of which he performed while playing the guitar. Cutrell, Cates, and Holland are all associated through Phil Geoffrey Bond's Storefront Theater, further suggesting there's a cabaret clique here that is really clicking.
Brandon Cutrell's show can next be seen on Tuesday, July 30th at 9:15 pm at Don't Tell Mama.