Sing Along With Bitch
The word on The Karaoke Show, Steve Tyrell at Feinstein's, Darius de Haas at Lincoln Center, and Lana Rein at the FireBird.
That's not to say that there aren't talented people involved in this production, but the concept of telling The Comedy of Errors as a contemporary tale that takes place in a karaoke bar is a stretch to begin with. And the effort is, at best, cynical. Like its first cousin, the stultifying Donkey Show, The Karaoke Show is theater for people who don't go to the theater. The overlay of Shakespeare is intended to give the show a patina of respectability and intellectual interest but all it really provides is a marketing hook.
It's bad enough that the show is so vapid, but it's also painfully loud. One of us wore earplugs and the other did not (in an effort to bravely report on the true level of sound). Both of us left with our ears ringing. We must admit that the young(er) crowd seemed to be enjoying this silliness, but we only hope that, when they're older, they'll have enough hearing left to enjoy the nuances of a deftly sung Rodgers and Hart tune.
None of the cast members are able to rise about this drivel -- least of all the show's host, Mustang Sally (Julie Danao) -- but some exhibit enough charisma and/or vocal talent to be worthy of watching. Justin Klosky and Jenny Lee Stern are two such actors in need of a better vehicle. See them in something else.
All Sound, No Fury
Steve Tyrell sounds like he's singing his heart out. Listen to him on one of his CDs and you'll swear the man has a sensitive soul and a voice to match; see him at Feinstein's at the Regency, where he's performing with a fantastic backup band through Valentine's Day, and you'll find an entirely likeable fellow who doesn't seem to have a clue about what he's singing.
It's amazing to watch Tyrell perform. He'll sing a lyric that's dripping with heartache and smile as he hits the last note. If your eyes were closed you'd think he was expressing emotional devastation; he sounds like he's lived through all sorts of pain and suffering, plus he's got that kind of lived-in voice. But none of that is in his face: He's just a good ol' boy happy to have the gig, and that's what you see from start to finish. (Tyrell was a music producer who became a singing star rather late in life. A number of his performances have shown up in movies, driving his success.)
Tyrell sings The Great American Songbook, so the material is not to be faulted; nor is the band, which has six standout musicians including the sensational Lew Soloff on trumpet. As when we attended The Karaoke Show, the audience on hand for Tyrell and company at Feinstein's had a great time. They were enjoying the songs, the band, and the sound of Tyrell's voice. They didn't seem to require any interpretation of lyrics, but we did.
One Person's Cole Porter is Another Person's Stevie Wonder
Darius de Haas, on the other hand, can be a great lyric interpreter. In addition, he has one of the finest voices you'll hear and he can easily cross the borders of theater, cabaret, and jazz when he sings. He recently performed in the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse, having put together a program devoted to his favorite songwriter, Stevie Wonder. Gotta love de Haas; don't gotta love Stevie Wonder. Look, it's a matter of taste. We'd much rather hear de Haas sing show tunes and standards, but that's just us. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
Even though we didn't care for his material, anyone can see that de Haas connects to these songs and interprets them with feeling and finesse. He's a charismatic, sexy entertainer and you can't take your eyes off him. One of the things we liked best about the show was the clever way in which de Haas sang his thanks to his back up singers (his sister and his cousin) and each member of his band. It was classy, funny, and engaging.
The Good News
Finally, here's the happiest news we have to report in this column: We stopped in at "The Parlor" on the second floor of the FireBird restaurant and caught up with Lana Rein, who plays the piano there several nights a week including Fridays and Saturdays.
A dynamic classical pianist with a popular bent, Rein happily invites customers to sing along with her -- without a microphone, God bless her! We caught two such singers, a smooth jazz artist by the name of Jim Malloy and the fast-emerging cabaret/jazz singer Mychelle Colleary. No cover, no minimum. It was the best night of music we had all week.