It took more than 11 months, but we finally saw this year's best cabaret show. Jason Graae, whom lovers of musical theater will remember from his performances in Snoopy, Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, and Forever Plaid, has brought all of his considerable skills to bear in a terrific act at Arci's Place. It is the must-see show of 2000. A one-man musical comedy spectacular, Jason Graae: An Evening of Self-Indulgence packs more laughs in its one hour length than you would think possible--and Graae still manages to periodically break your heart with a ballad.
A modern-day vaudevillian, Graae (rhymes with "hurrah") will go anywhere for a laugh. The jokes, invariably at his own expense, get an extra boost from his gift for playful surprise. For instance, he comes to a sudden stop in his first song, seemingly befuddled after his own comic digression. He then calls out, "line?"--and that gets a huge laugh, because the next lyric is the title of the song he's singing. To give you an idea of just how talented he is, Graae is the only performer in our experience who has ever come close to matching Alix Korey's quintessential delivery of David Friedman's comic classic "My Simple Christmas Wish." He pulls it off because he so expertly personalizes the song; he also graciously acknowledges that Korey owns it, and says that he only got away with performing it on the West Coast (where this act originated) because audiences there weren't familiar with Korey's rendition.
From a comic riff on tap dancing to a hilariously off-key rendition of "Wrong Note Rag," Graae keeps the audience perpetually in stitches, giving us a breather every now and then with a heartfelt ballad like William Finn's "What More Can I Say?" (from Falsettos). Unlike many other comedic performers, Graae has a beautiful voice that is rich and rangy. When he sings a ballad, he interprets it with subtlety and style, in contrast to his exuberant comedy.
It's one thing to have all the tools necessary to put on a cabaret act in which every moment works; there are lots of talented artists who are capable of doing just that, yet few of them ever actually achieve perfection. Jason Graae uses his charm, vocal prowess, and comic timing to maximize every moment in this cleverly conceived and smartly structured show, directed by Heather Lee, with musical direction by Gerry Sternbach.
Graae's all-too-short run at Arci's Place ends on Saturday, December 9. The saving grace for those of you who might not have a chance to catch this exceptional show is that a CD, also called Jason Graae: An Evening of Self-Indulgence, was recorded live at The Cinegrill in L.A. and is available from Fynsworth Alley (you can find it in stores, or go to www.fynsworthalley.com). It isn't the same as being there--Graae should be seen and heard in person--but it will give you a good idea of what you missed. Either way, indulge yourself!